The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Article #73 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-28-2001
Posting date: 10-11-2001

When the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral is sent out by his friend Jehan to kidnap a gypsy woman named Esmeralda, he is captured by the guards and sentenced to a public flogging. He gains an attachment to Esmeralda when she is the only person to give him water to drink after his flogging. Then when Esmeralda is arrested for the attempted murder of the guard Phoebus (an act actually performed by Jehan), the hunchback takes it upon himself to rescue her from execution.

This is not my favorite rendition of the Victor Hugo tale, but it comes a close second. Lon Chaney is a wonder as Quasimodo the hunchback, and the scenes of him climbing up and down the walls of Notre Dame in his Quasimodo get-up are amazing; on top of being a consummate actor and make-up artist, he must have possessed a great deal of athletic prowess. Unsurprisingly, changes have been made from the original story, particularly in turning Phoebus the womanizer into the hero of the piece; in fact, the movie spends entirely too much time with this character, one of the less interesting ones in the story. Nonetheless, this is one of the better versions of the novel.


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