The story of Quasimodo, the hunchback bellringer of the Notre Dame cathedral in 15th century Paris, who rescues a gypsy girl from the evil intentions of her guardian. — Genre: Horror — Rating: NR — Release Date: 1-JAN-2002 — M... more »edia Type: DVD« less
"Even granting my utter lack of objectivity in evaluating this Hunchback after knowing it for 45 years (during which I must have seen it close to 50 times, including two viewings in the past two weeks), it remains brilliant in every respect. Laughton's performance remains unmatched and the gold standard for Quasimodo interpreters. The 19-year-old Maureen O'Hara is as fresh and lovely and humane as in my earliest recollections. Sir Cedric Hardwick (an apt handle for the Jean Frollo character, no?) is a perfect, pinched-nostril'd villain. RKO's production values are second to none, and Joseph August's photography (coupled to Dieterle's film sensibility and scene framing, so touched by German cinematic impressionism) is absolute perfection. So too is the heralded Alfred Newman score, perhaps the finest marriage of musical phrase to filmed sequence to that point in film history--swellingly Wagnerian at emotional highpoints, but lean, linear, and distinctly 15th-16th century when period atmosphere is called for (listen for Tielmann Susato and other renaissance masters, skillfully woven in). But, in the end, it's Laughton and Paris and the brilliantly recreated cathedral that stand at the picture's center. Unspeakably beautiful and, in the end, unbearably heartbreaking.The DVD transfer, however, is something of a disappointment--only three stars for its quality, particularly in the first reel. But don't get me wrong--it's more than simply "watchable" and looks as good as anything else from the period you you might run across on TCM; it improves from the picture's middle third on, and the sound is fine. The DVD extras are extremely valuable for recounting many production details; indeed, what I had always thought to be spectacularly wrought matte shots were, I learned in the included production documentary, a 5-acre recreation of 15th century Paris, designed from old woodcuts and drawings. (The otherwise fine documentary sadly omits all mention of cinematographer August, who shot a number of pictures--Gunga Din, They Were Expendable, The Informer, The Devil and Daniel Webster--that are as often remembered for their distinctive "look" and as for their "film classic" status.) And the Maureen O'Hara interview, for those of us who grew up smitten with her, is a sheer delight--more than a half-century later and as flashing and beautiful as ever. Film buffs make a big to-do over 1939 as "Hollywood's Greatest Year." Everyone else will agree once they get a load of the filmography of 1939 that's included here as an extra. It's just a list, but what a list.Permesso...a biographical aside: Dieterle's Hunchback, which holds a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons, but especially because it led directly to twin additions: to books, and to movies. As a little boy, my love for this story story naturally led me to read my first adult "chapter book"--a 35 cent Bantam translation of the Hugo novel. I've been book-addicted ever since, transposing my library browsing to the adult stacks and leapfrogging the entire body of classic juvenile literature that I eventually wound up reading to my own children. And movie-addicted, too--also as a boy, I hunted down the Lon Chaney Hunchback in a NYC repertory film house, saw the (inferior) Tony Quinn version in the theater, and since have seen, I suppose, every subsequent remake. And I also saw almost all of those wonderful 1939 pictures, mostly on Million Dollar Movie, the old NY WOR program that showed a movie about 16 times a week (twice a week day and three times a day on weekends).Generally, a movie held as dearly in memory as I have held this simply cannot doesn't sustain its recalled impact on re-viewing--it may seem dated, or trite, or visually uncompelling, emotionally vapid, saccharine, etc., to a contemporary film lover. But the Dieterle/Laughton Hunchback remains an indispensable film, here presented in an outstanding package, and at a bargain price."
Laughton's "Hunchback" the overlooked film CLASSIC of 1939
forrie | Nashua, NH United States | 03/05/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That's right! 1939 is considered the greatest year of Hollywood films. Gone With The Wind (color), The Wizard of Oz (color), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights and The Hunchback of Notre Dame to name a few.With this competition and a horror theme "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was lost in the shuffle.In summary this masterful movie has been digitally restored and placed on DVD for superior picture & sound. Victor Hugo's "Hunchback" was perfectly cast with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo the deaf & disfigured bell ringer of Notre Dame. The beautiful Maureen O'Hara (US debut at 19)as the gypsy girl, Esmeralda. The villian Frollo (the Chief Justice of Paris) played expertly by Sir Cedric Hardwicke. The story, the sets and castings chemistry rival any of the before mentioned films of 1939.To appreciate Hollywood's Golden Age and the acting talent which was at its Paramount watch and enjoy this greatest film Classic of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)"."
A great actor for fundamental questions
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 03/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the most popular piece of French literary folklore by Victor Hugo. The film is a fair adaptation of the novel. The core of it is a love story between a gipsy girl Esmeralda and a poet Gringoire. But it becomes intricate because this gipsy girl causes love in many hearts. First of all in the captain of the guard, Phoebus, then in the bellringer of Notre Dame Quasimodo, and most of all in the « prime minister » of Louis XI, King of France. This love story will get to a happy ending but due to causes and thanks to means that go beyond the simple love story. For one it is the invention of the printing press that changes many things. It enables Gringoire to publish a pamphlet that causes the people of Paris to intervene in a decision that the king is supposed to take, that the king is lobbied to take by the nobility in order to end the sanctuary right French churches had in those days. The people will support this sanctuary right and win : the king will listen to public opinion. The question is essential because this printing press brings a new circulation of information and hence a new power to the people. The second important question is that of justice which should be decided by common sense and not by torture or ordeals. Justice will be met in the end, but after a very tortuous process. Finally the question of using force to impose one's will, be it the force of the army for the nobles or the force of violence for the people is severely criticized as ineffective. It goes against common sense and common sense means information. This also means trust : to trust the common sense of the people and the common sense of the king. The film has another great interest in the acting of Charles Laughton who performs marvelously in his role of Quasimodo, a deaf hunchback who is absolutely ugly but has a heart of pure gold.Dr Jacques COULARDEAU"
Laughton is Amazing
firstname.lastname@example.org | Atlanta, GA | 11/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Charles Laughton is one of the great actors of all time. Watching this version of Vitor Hugo's novel it is not hard to see why. Laughton looks like he was born to play Quasimodo, the deaf and disfigured bell keeper of Notre Dome Cathedral. Wearing heavy face make up and a body suit, Laughton literally transformed himself to play the part. This novel has been adapted several times for the screen , but this is the best one. The performances are on the whole excellent. Particularly Cedric Hardwicke as the cold Chief Justice of Paris. Maureen O'Hara also gives a strong performance as Esmeralda. The direction of William Dieterle is very good, although he concentates a little too much on the subplots at times. On the whole this is an excellent film, that despite it's age, hardly seems dated. The story is a timeless classic and so is this film. Watch it just for Laughton's performance."
Martin Asiner | jersey city, nj United States | 11/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When director William Dieterle transformed Victor Hugo's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to fit the big screen, he succeeded in capturing the power and sweep of an age that was characterized by individual examples of humanity lost in a sea of inhumanity. Much has been said about the universality of the Beauty and the Beast theme that has marked many past and future books, movies, and television series. Here, Dieterle makes use of the considerable talents of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Frollo, all of whom play out their lives against a brute Parisian government that seemed determined to crush any opposition. One of the less acknowledged aspects of the Beauty versus Beast contrast is the theme that the beauty of Esmeralda and the beastiness of Quasimodo are not limited to those two alone. The very system that wrecks the lives of the poverty-stricken populace puts on a facade of saintliness that makes its inner core of corrupt ugliness all the more stark.O'Hara's Esmeralda is sweetness personified. She is a lovely gypsy woman who unhappily catches the eye of a lecherous Chief Prosecutor, sanctimoniously played by Hardwicke, who commits a murder only to frame Esmeralda, who has rejected his advances. Hardwicke plays the Chief Prosecutor in a way that brings to mind every corrupt official who has ever been caught with his hand in the till. He sees nothing wrong with using the full weight of his office to humiliate and condemn a woman who has done nothing to deserve this. Enter Quasimodo, a hunchbacked and deaf bell ringer whose appearance frightens others to the same extent that Esmeralda's captivates these same others. Early on, she takes pity on him by giving him water after a savage lashing. Later, he shows that his inner being is far more decent and sensitive than the hypocrites that cry out for his blood. The trial that condemns Esmeralda as a murderous witch says a great deal more about the repressed ugliness of the judges even as they mouth pious and empty phrases that can only caricature but not capture the spirit of their criminal justice system, which in any event, stacks the deck against anyone whom the church accuses of misdeeds. Frollo's perfect diction,his sonorous phrasing, and his impressive robes linger in the audience's mind as a truly terrifying symbol of evil. The people of Paris themselves have two faces as well. As Quasimodo is being whipped, nearly every voice is raised against him. The mob of Paris was as unthinking then as when, centuries later, Madame Guillotine lopped off countless heads during the French Revolution. Yet, these same Parisians could storm a church where they mistakenly believed the King's soldiers were headed to arrest Esmeralda and take her for hanging. The theme of outer appearances hiding its inner opposites makes an unexpected appearance when Quasimodo intervenes and kills many of these same Parisians who want only to save Esmeralda from the King's soldiers who have been given new orders to save her. The final scenes of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME are full of unforgettable savageries made even more unforgettable by their lack of necessity. Quasimodo laughs maniacally as he repells the church door crashing mob. At the end, only Esmeralda finds a measure of closure as she is reunited with her lover. But for Quasimodo, all he has is the certainty that Esmeralda is safe from the rampaging mob, the lecherous criminal justice system, and an uncaring royal army. Quasimodo's closing line as he addresses the stone gargoyles atop the bells of his beloved church--"Why can't my heart be as stony as thee"--well evokes the paradox that often virtue comes with a high price tag. For good-hearted men--even human gargoyles like him, Quasimodo emerges as a man whose humanity dwarfs all those around him."