King Louis XI is a wise and old king and Frollo is the Chief Justice. Frollo gazes on the gypsy girl, Esmeralda, in the church during Fool's Day and sends Quasimodo to catch her. Quasimodo, with the girl, is captured by Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, who frees the girl. The courts sentence Quasimodo to be flogged, and the only one who will give him water while he is tied in the square is Esmeralda. Later, at a party of nobles, Esmeralda again meets both Frollo, who is bewitched by her, and Phoebus. When Phoebus is stabbed to death, Esmeralda is accused of the murder, convicted by the court and sentenced to hang. Clopin, King of the Beggars; Gringoire, Esmeralda's husband; and Quasimodo, the bellringer, all try different ways to save her from the gallows. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
Charles Laughton's boisterous portrayal of Quasimodo and Maureen O'Hara's charm as Esmerelda are two of the things that make this version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" a fine production that still works very well. Most of the versions of the story have been at least watchable, because the Victor Hugo novel provides so much good material to work with, much of it well-suited for cinema. This adaptation, though, is one of the best at making good use of what it offers.
It's interesting to compare this picture with the 1923 Lon Chaney version - not for the sake of ranking them, since both are fully worthy of attention in their own right, but because they offer somewhat different strengths, and because they emphasize somewhat different aspects of the story.
Chaney and Laughton are both quite effective as Quasimodo, each giving an interpretation of the character that corresponds to the actor's skills. Laughton brings out Quasimodo's feelings and perspective quite well. In this version, for example, the flogging scene is longer and more detailed, and it is one of Laughton's most effective scenes. Chaney is particularly good at reacting to the other characters and their actions. Both give the character a distinctive and memorable look.
O'Hara is also one of this adaptation's strengths. Patsy Ruth Miller was good in the Chaney version, but O'Hara has the advantage of spoken dialogue, and she makes the character of Esmerelda her own.
While the Chaney version especially emphasized the atmosphere, this one has quite a bit of action. The tumultuous climactic sequences are done quite well, and they leave a vivid impression. Overall, this is a very satisfying adaptation of the fine classic novel.
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