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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Charles Laughton , Maureen O'Hara , William Dieterle    Unrated   DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 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
Format:DVD
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Hunchback and Christ have interesting parallel's Oct. 2 2002
By A Customer
Format:DVD
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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5.0 out of 5 stars ANOTHER 1939 CLASSIC. Aug. 25 2002
Format:VHS Tape
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 tends to nudge the audience, making it aware of his own quintessential humanity - so much so - that what we see ultimately becomes a sentimental conception. As a historical pageant which displays such bustling characters as the beggars and tumblers, the King and courtiers, the clerics and guardsmen, etc., the film works well. Although some people deny this film masterpiece status its reputation suggests, this version of the Victor Hugo novel has several things going for it: impressive sets, superb camerawork, elegantly stylized direction and a detailed study in grotesquerie from Laughton. The script restored some of the compexity which was lacking in the 1923 Lon Chaney silent, thereby interweaving the plot with subtle strands of court, state and church intrigue, most importantly the sinsiter undercurrent of clerical lecheries represented by the remorseless pursuit of the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara, astonishingly beautiful in her American debut at 18) by Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke).
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By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
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. Victor Hugo's novel is turned in a very complex love story, with Esmeralda (the fetching Maureen O'Hara in her first big role), the gypsy girl catching the eye of not only Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), but Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), the Chief Justice. The fact that the girl is married is of little concern. I have always had problems with the Hunchback's make-up, specifically the fake eye on the disfigured face, but there is no doubting the strength of Laughton's performance. O'Hara pretty much has to stand around and look beautiful while those who are enthralled with her play out their deadly little games. Forget about the dense Freudian overtones and just focus on the metaphor of the young man who falls in love with someone he can never, ever have.
Most romantic line(s): (1) "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" (2) 'Why was I not made of stone--like thee?"
Two Tear-Jerking Scenes: (1) When Esmeralda gives Quasimodo water upon the wheel and (2) when Quasimodo watches the lovers together. Okay, maybe these are more like heavy sniffling scenes.
If you like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," then check out these other films on AFI's list: #34 "Beauty and the Beast" and #24 "King Kong." Why? Because these are all variations on the Beauty and the Beast idea where the problem is that the man is too much the monster. Only rarely does this type of story have a happy ending.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent
Published 3 days ago by guylaine
5.0 out of 5 stars Old but New
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. Read more
Published on June 21 2007 by plainlytruth.com
5.0 out of 5 stars Grim,filled with pathos and terrific acting!!
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... Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by ellafan
5.0 out of 5 stars Good movie
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2003 by Alan Beggerow
5.0 out of 5 stars Movie acting doesn't get any better than this!
Charles Laughton delivers what is,unequivocally, one of Hollywood's greatest performances. His "Quasimodo" embodies all of an actor's craft. Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2003 by Reginald D. Garrard
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
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