It can be hard to judge acting from a film that is decades old from the vantage point of the modern era. The 1930’s had a very different style of acting and therefore different criteria for what was consider good and bad. So with that in mind I’m going to look at the acting from the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
I would say the acting is good across the board. No one hams it’s up nor under acts. The actors have grasp of how their characters are suppose to behave in the film. They even muddle through some of the more awkward dialogue far better than actor’s of today.
Esmeralda looking at the Virgin Mary (Maureen O’Hara) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame
Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) – This was O’Hara’s American debut and was still fairly new to film but not to acting in general. Despite looking very Irish and not very Gypsyesque, she does well in the role. She plays up concern for her people but she demonstrate a coy side. I don’t think the role is particularly demanding on the acting front nor do I think it’s the best performance of her long career but it was a great debut for her for American audiences. I will give her credit, she did her own stunts (not just in this film but all her films). The stunts in this film were when Quasimodo swung down to rescue her from the gallows and where he lifted her over his head claiming “sanctuary”. The lift was the most dangerous of the two stunts. She and the stunt man where about 40 forty feet off the ground which was cobblestone and without a safety net.
Quasimodo declares SANCTUARY for Esmeralda (Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame
Quasimodo is crowned King of Fools (Charles Laughton) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame
Quasimodo(Charles Laughton) – Laughton excels in the role. Quasimodo is the most technically and psychically demanding role in the film. Laughton shines though all the make-up. He doesn’t make Quasimodo morose or monstrous instead he plays the role more pitiable and human. I do enjoy with mannerism especially during his brief reign as King of Fools and after his abdication and ringing the bells with his feet.
Jehan Frollo 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Jehan Frollo(Sir Cedric Hardwicke) – Hardwicke’s plays Frollo with a restraint manner and never teeters into the fevered obsession that the book Frollo exhibited in the book. However other Frollos have played him in this manner so it’s not a huge deal plus Hardwicke’s Frollo makes you forget that aspect of Frollo’s personality. Despite this restraint there are scenes where you can feel craziness behind the facade of control. Like any second he could lose that control and become raving mad and it would still feel in character.
Jehan Frollo, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Gringoire and Clopin (Edmond O’Brien, Thomas Mitchell) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame
The other actors Edmond O’Brien, Harry Davenport, Thomas Mitchell, Alan Marshal and Walter Hampden are all good in their respective role and in the case of O’Brien made a great film debut.
The acting is good and there not too much I can really say other than what I’ve already said without getting into 30’s acting conventions.
Next time Staging