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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hunchback of Notre Dame


Charles Laughton - Quasimodo
Maureen O'Hara - Esmaralda
Cedric Hardwicke - Judge Frollo
Edmond O'Brien - Gringoire
Thomas Mitchell - Clopin
Alan Marshal - Phoebus
William Dieterle - Director
Pandro S. Berman - Producer
Sonya Levien - Screenwriter
Joseph H. August - Cinematographer
Alfred Newman - Film Score
Victor Hugo - Original Novel

Laughton as Quasimodo The greatest of all cinema versions of Victor Hugo's novel was made in 1939 by RKO Radio Pictures. Under the superb direction of William Dieterle, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as this version was also called, was less of an historical drama and more of a horror film than was the Unviersal film of 1923. Esmeralda was played by red-haired beauty Maureen O'Hara, High Justice Frollo (who never quite made priest) was played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke and, though Lon Chaney, Jr. tried to secure his father's old role for himself, Quasimodo was prtrayed by corpulent Charles Laughton.

The RKO publicity department was cautious not to release advance photographs of Laughton's Quasimodo make-up and shots of his face existing today (with the exception of blow-ups from the actual motion picture film) are exceedingly rare. The studio thought it best to let audiences be thoroughly shocked by the first, sudden, full-face close-up of laughton in the film, which they certainly were.

Fortunately for laughton, make-up techniques had advanced since the days of Lon Chaney and, though a wire arrangement forced him to shamble about in a hunched over posture, he essayed the characterization with little discomfort. Latex covered two thirds of his face, requiring three hours of application and thirty minutes to remove. While not a grotesque as Chaney's make-up, Laughton's Quasimodo visage was in its subtle way even more horrifying. His nose was upturned like that of a human pig and one eye stared blankly from its socket, located noticeably lower than the other. After the application of the facial maku-up, a two-pound hump of papier-mache was attached to his back. A reddish wig and a coarse sack cloth shirt worn over tights completed the bizarre guise.

O'Hara & Hardwicke Laughton, less acrobatic than Chaney, shuffled through the gothic magnificence of Notre Dame, leanding bits of humor to his characterization which only made his Hunchback the more pathetic. The plotline follows Frollo's treachery in trying to steal the love of Esmeralda, with the scen of Quasimodo swinging down upon a rope to carry her off Tarzan style absolutely thrilling. The ending, however, diverged even farther from that devised by Victor Hugo and both Esmeralda and Quasimodo survive. In a memorable and poignant final shot, Quasimodo speaks to one of the stone gargoyles, wondering, "Why was I not made of stone?" Then the camera smoothly pulls back until Quasimodo is but a moving speck, perhaps another gargoyle as seen from this distance, upon a high edifice of Notre Dame.

The story was filmed again under its original title Notre Dame de Paris in 1956 by paris Film Productions and released by Allied Artists the following year. (In America the film was given the more commercial title The Hunchback of Notre Dame.) This French/Italian co-production was made in color and wide screen and was directed by Jean Delannoy. The strikingly beautiful italian actress Gina Lollobrigida portrayed an earthy Esmeralda in this 1956 production while the latest Quasimodo was enacted by Anthony Quinn.

--DONALD F. GLUT, from Classic Movie Monsters, 1978

A selection of The Hunchback films.

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A selection of The Hunchback in books.

A History of Horror

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