Is the highly regarded 1923 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame a good version and a good movie? I think it’s an admirable version but I don’t think it’s a good movie.
It’s an admirable version because it’s one of the few versions where we see a somewhat moody Quasimodo. Quasimodo has a edge to him in the book and this version showcases that aspect. It also has an Esmeralda who is winsome and innocent. She is not really concerned for blight of the gyspy but she does has a does have a concern for social justice but not to the same extent that the Disney version or the 1939 version have. But despite her more care-free attitude she is still likable. I also appreciate that they tried to do something with Esmeralda’s mother even if it was very little. I also enjoy the Clopin in this version.
I don’t find it a great version because the characters lack any depth or complexity they had in the book especially with depiction of Frollo. Frollo in the book is fueled by sexual impulse but he had had an internal conflict that made him interesting. This Frollo, who is more charateristically Jehan than Claude with the Esmeralda obsession tacked on, is just a old pervert who lacks any internal struggle. Since Frollo’s obession is core of story and fuels the plot having Frollo who not interesting makes the story less interesting.
So because the story lacks interest the film suffers. There is nothing to really to pull the viewer into the world and since the characters lack complexity and depth there is nothing to make us really care about the characters. But what really kills this movie is the pacing. The pacing of this movie is terrible, it’s slow and very boring. It just lacks any substance that the book has. I found watching this movie a chore.
This movie gets a pass for being good for a few reasons. Number one it launched Lon Chaney’s career as one of the most famous actors of the silent era. Number two the production values. The production was well done. Number three, the movie was a big deal in 1923. Back in the 20’s movies were created quickly and were made to make a quick buck. The 1923 version was created with care and it did pave the for bigger movies. But despite these reasons it’s not a very enjoyable to sit through.
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