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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Charles Laughton , Maureen O'Hara , William Dieterle    Unrated   DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Of the many film versions of Victor Hugo's novel, this classic from Hollywood's golden year of 1939 remains the best, rivaled only by the 1923 silent version starring Lon Chaney. In his triumphant attempt to create a performance as memorable as Chaney's, Charles Laughton played the lovelorn Parisian hunchback Quasimodo under a disfiguring costume and gruesome makeup that rendered the actor almost unrecognizable. The result is a gripping and heartfelt portrayal of the misshapen bell ringer who falls desperately in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (played by Maureen O'Hara). The lavish production also greatly benefits from exquisitely moody black-and-white cinematography, brilliant medieval set design, and the atmospheric direction by German expatriate William Dieterle, whose style was heavily influenced by German films of the era. The DVD release includes the original theatrical trailer plus an additional audio track with authoritative commentary by film historian Paul Mandell. --Jeff Shannon

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Old but New June 21 2007
Format:VHS Tape
At the odd time you may be able to spot the old style of acting, but this movie is not boring. The twists and turns and novelty of it is gripping.
You never know what is going to happen next... and you're always surprised!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Grim,filled with pathos and terrific acting!! May 25 2004
By ellafan
This version of "THoND" is in my opinion,the best ever made.Charles Laughton epitomizes all the sadness,frustration and anguish the Hunchback feels when he falls in love with the beautiful Gypsy girl who showed him kindness..The supporting cast is wonderful,with Sir Cedric Hardwicke excelling as the Chief Justice who falls under the spell of the lovely Gypsy girl,Esmeralda,played gently and kindly by Maureen O'Hara.
When you begin watching this movie, you forget it is Charles Laughton.The make-up he wears is grotesque,and he is unrecognizable,but even through all the make up you can feel the gut-wrenching emotions he so ably portrays to the viewer.
Any classic film lover will most certainly already have this masterpiece on his/her DVD shelf.If you don't already have it,please give it a try.You will not be disappointed.Then,after you watch it,check out"The Beauty and the Beast," by Jean Cocteau,1948.Another classic love story not to be missed.
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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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good movie Aug. 7 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Charles Laughton's performance of Quasimodo is excellent, instilling not only sympathy for the character, but also a sense of how the character's deformity caused him to be abused by not only the common people, but by a clergyman also.
It's not really fair to compare this version with the Lon Chaney silent. Chaney's performance is the stuff of legend, but this version is excellent. The visual quality is much better. The Chaney version is a classic, but it was a one-man show practically. Laughton's version has many fine performances by other actors also.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Movie acting doesn't get any better than this! Feb. 8 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Charles Laughton delivers what is,unequivocally, one of Hollywood's greatest performances. His "Quasimodo" embodies all of an actor's craft. Hidden and hard unrecognizable under heavy makeup, the performer manages to convey the spectrum of human emotion.
A young Maureen O'Hara as the beautiful "Esmeralda" and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the sinister "Frollo" are equally as mesmerizing.
Acting 101 should make this required viewing and no film library is complete without it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hunchback and Christ have interesting parallel's Oct. 2 2002
By A Customer
The Hunchback, at the top of the church, looks down at people and yearns to spend a little bit of time with them. He is warned that he will be tormented and rejected. Still he yearns to be able to spend even a short amount of time with normal people. So did Jesus.
- The Hunchback is to be rejected for his appearance, for what people see when they look at him. Jesus gets rejected because He has no status, no religious training, no formal schooling. Jesus also gets rejected for what He sees in people.
- The Hunchback does descend, is ridiculed, mockingly crowned king, then tortured. He does develop a friendship in the midst of the pain. Yet, when he asked him for help, his mentor turns his head away, magnifying the loneliness, the rejection. That also happened to Jesus. He developed friendships with the disciples, He cried out on the cross, "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?!
- The Hunchback helps Esmerelda, a woman of ill repute. She befriends him, and helps him with his pain, later. The same is true of Jesus and Mary Magdelane.
- The Hunchback, in his part of the story after the crowning and release from the crowd, while accepted and trusted by only a few, is shown to be very loving. So was Jesus, after his crowning, death and release.
- The Hunchback is accepted at the end, first by a child, then by the crowd. Jesus tells us of a child-like faith that can accept him, and when he returns, he'll be accepted, too.
- Oh, back at the start, when they were born, their mothers were pursued, and in both cases there was an attempt to kill the baby. Who wanted to kill the baby? A combination of government and religion!
- Was Victor Hugo a closet admirer of Jesus Christ? I am not so sure, but he may have been influenced by the Christian saga more so than we have been led to believe!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars ANOTHER 1939 CLASSIC.
Unlike Lon Chaney's completely barbaric figure, Laughton's interpretation of Quasimodo is the type of character from a nightmare dropped into reality (of a sort); his portrayal... Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2002 by "scotsladdie"
5.0 out of 5 stars AFI's Great Love Stories: #98 The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Certainly the 1939 film version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is more of a love story than the classic silent film starring Lon Chaney. Read more
Published on June 12 2002 by Lawrance M. Bernabo
5.0 out of 5 stars A great actor for fundamental questions
This is the most popular piece of French literary folklore by Victor Hugo. The film is a fair adaptation of the novel. Read more
Published on March 25 2002 by Jacques COULARDEAU
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless, In Every Dimension
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... Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2001 by Paul Frandano
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best of the best
In viewing 1939's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," one must forget the novel upon which it is based and just enjoy it for what it is--one of the greatest films in a year of... Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2001 by Viktoria Ironpride
5.0 out of 5 stars "Why was I not made of stone like thee?"
Forget the rest; this is the best of all the numerous versions of Hugo's classic. Lon Chaney Sr. simply isn't in the running (excellent actor that he was), for Quasimodo is... Read more
Published on April 2 2001 by john salonia
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughton's "Hunchback" the overlooked film CLASSIC of 1939
That's right! 1939 is considered the greatest year of Hollywood films. Gone With The Wind (color), The Wizard of Oz (color), Mr. Read more
Published on March 5 2001 by forrie
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