If you didn’t know any better, you might think that the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was filmed on location, I know that’s what I thought at first but that is not the case.
This film was shot completely on set at the RKO ranch in the San Fernando Valley. The sets were designed after a 400 year old wood carving of Paris. The sets are one of the strongest visual aspects of this movie. They transport the viewer to 15th century Paris, with the narrow streets, Notre Dame in all its’ glory, with its’ accurate nave and it’s raised platform complete with stairs, Both the raised platform and the stairs are no longer a part of the actual Notre Dame due to time and erosion. Erosion and structural changes to Notre Dame are some of the reasons why films shouldn’t take too much lead from Notre dame in it’s modern state if their doing a period piece (I’m looking at you here Disney).
All the attention to the details of the sets are one of the strongest aspects of the film and this helps keep the film in classic movie nostalgia.
Next time: Lighting!