Movie Name: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date(s): September 2, 1923
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) watches over the city of Paris from the bell tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Controlled by Jehan Frollo (Brandon Hurst) the brother of the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo (Nigel De Brulier), Quasimodo finds himself the victim of Jehan’s whims and lust for a young gypsy named Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller). As Esmeralda falls for Phoebus, Jehan sets out to claim her for his own with Quasimodo as his tool. Quasimodo also begins to fall for Esmeralda, and when Esmeralda’s life is endangered, Quasimodo will do what he has to do protect her.
Directed by Wallace Worsley, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a black-and-white silent movie based on the 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (commonly called The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo. The film is considered a classic and due to a lapse in copyright, the film is in public domain.
I have a hard time with silent pictures and generally have to pace out viewings. I have seen many images from this version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I do love the original novel by Hugo. The movie was almost lost due to the age of the film and there has been work to restore the film which exists in various forms.
Notre-Dame de Paris is a tricky novel with a lot of story aspects to it. Due to the iconic Quasimodo, the character obviously became the star of the book though the book has many equal supporting characters. I’ve never seen a good adaptation of the book because the book takes so many twists that lead to tragedy that is such a downer (the book has almost all the characters dying).
The movie beefs up the romance and allows Esmeralda and Phoebus to have a happy ending (which of course means doom for Quasimodo). The movie also decided to avoid controversy by putting the lustful role of Dom Claude Frollo on his brother Jehan and keeping the archdeacon a “good man”…the Walt Disney 1996 production struggled with this and was criticized for having the sex fueled character (though they made him a judge).
Lon Chaney is the reason for watching the movie. He really plays up Quasimodo and has great fun bringing him to life. With the silent film, the overacting almost works and you have to think that Quasimodo was supposed to be almost deaf himself so the overacting natural for the character. There are conflicting reports whether the make-up was harmful to Chaney though the hump allegedly only weighted ten to fifteen pounds. The supporting cast also is stronger than many silent productions and the actors do a good job trying to pull all the plots together.
The movie feels pretty big for a movie from this period. The sets are big and impressive and the movie when cleaned up looks quite good. The design of Quasimodo is good and emphasizes the horror of the character’s physical deformity while still giving him personality.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is worth seeking out if you are a fan of classic horror or silent films. The original story wasn’t really a horror film and more of a love story…this gets buried a little, but the movie still ends up a rather strong film from a classic period of Hollywood.
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