The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)

Article #123 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-17-2001
Posting date: 11-30-2001

A hunchback saves the life of a gypsy girl from the gallows.

This French/Italian version of the classic Victor Hugo novel is one of the few (I can’t say the only: I haven’t seen them all) versions that doesn’t change the ending of the novel, where a certain crucial character dies, so this movie certainly has that going for it. Yet, despite this faithfulness to the source, I put it a distant third behind the Chaney and Laughton versions of the story. Whereas those versions really make me feel like I’m in the time and place of the story, whether with the crowds of people at the festival of fools or high in the rafters of the cathedral, this version simply leaves me with the feeling that I’m watching actors playing roles on a set; in other words, the illusion of reality never takes hold of me. The dialogue also sounds overwritten and artificial, though the dubbing is partially to blame here. I also feel the character of Clopin is reduced to a clown; I expect more from the King of Thieves than I get here. I never once feel a glimmer of the awe I felt when I saw the crowd scenes in the other two versions; this movie is puny in comparison. And though both Gina Lollabrigida and Anthony Quinn do well in their roles, it’s not enough to overcome the weaknesses of the production. I guess it all comes down to the fact that if I want to see a cinematic version of the novel, I’ll pick either the Chaney or the Laughton version. If I want to enjoy a version that was faithful to the original story, I would most likely go back and reread the original novel before I would watch this adaptation.


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