So I’ve looked at the 1939 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame from many different angles, and my overall consensus is despite all it’s imperfection it’s still a great adaptation. It captures the tone book and despite it’s departures from the book at least it has respect for the source and doesn’t try to hit the audience over the head with a moral. The film is solid and despite my nitpicking is well done and stands as one the best Hunchback films made to date. Click here to get your very own copy of this Classic Hunchback Adaptation

Quasimodo Cheers Charles Laughton Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939 picture image

Quasimodo Cheers Charles Laughton Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939

 

Now a funny story about an episode during filming; William Dieterle had a thick german accent and one time instead of ordering 200 monks for a scene, 200 monkeys were sent and took over the set, and you can imagine the mess and chaos of 200 monkeys. Makes me wonder what Dieterle asked for and  cats for the office scene.

New Movie next time – Another heavy hitter in the Hunchback world, a film that took cues from the 39 version and not only is it more popular but most  people associate Hunchback with this film, That’s right Disney’s 1996 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Hunchback of Notre Dame Disney 1996 picture image

Disney The Hunchback of Notre Dame

In no particular order The Novel vs the 1939 Version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame

SPOILERS

Aristotle the Goat 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Aristotle the Miracle Goat 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Goat – Djali is not in every adaptations, so having a goat named Aristotle to fill in for Djali is not a big deal. But here the thing, Djali is a double for Esmeralda and they have a sisterly bond with each other  but Aristotle seems more Gringoire’s goat than Esmeralda’s (the name Aristotle point more to Gringoire’s taste than Esmeralda’s). Also he comes into film out of no nowhere and exits just as quickly, the audience gets no closure on what become of Aristotle.

 

 

Esmeralda Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Esmeralda Maureen O’Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Esmeralda Doesn’t Die – It’s rare that Esmerlada actually kicks the bucket in the adaptations and if she does in fact live it’s because she’s paired up with a male, either Gringoire, Phoebus, or on rare occasions Quasimodo. If Esmerlada does die it’s beause like in the Book she leaves Notre Dame, if she stay put she lives, of course there are exceptions to this rule (albet not many) but this is typical order in Notre Dame adaptations. In the 1939 version she paired up with Gringoire.

 

 

Frollo is a crazy cat "lady" Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Frollo, the a crazy cat “lady?” Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Frollo Loves Cats – This bit confounds me. Frollo’s office is full of cats. I have no clue where this comes from. In the book he has a “lab’ of sorts because he practices alchemy but it not full of cats. I’ve tried thinking of reasons why these couple seconds of film exist and here they are

 

 

 

 

  1. He trying to cover for his lie he told Esmeralda about that liking animals.
  2. He actually does like animals and this could the reason why he adopted Quasimodo in the first place.
  3. To show untrustworthy/evilness, cats are often used to illustrates with bad guys. But it’s not that necessary to show this, Frollo is a bigoted pervert, I think the audience got he was bad with out the visual aid of cats.
  4. To Show he’s Crazy.

There is no reason why his office should be fill of cats but it is and it not a accident, a movie just doesn’t fill up the sets with cats, there must be a reason or some inside joke.

 

Phoebus (Alan Marshal) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Phoebus (Alan Marshal) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Phoebus Dies – Most of the time like in the book Phoebus is not killed and no one really cares about that bit of information in the course of the trial but sometimes the accusation is enough. However in the 39 version he does dies and you the viewer are not suppose to care. It’s rare for Phoebus to die but this not the only adaptation where Phoebus dies.

 

 

 

The Esmeralda and Gringoire at the end (Maureen O'Hara, Edmond O'Brien) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

The Esmeralda and Gringoire, Maureen O’Hara, Edmond O’Brien 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Esmeralda and Gringoire are in Love – Esmeralda and Gringoire develop a romantic interrest in each other. In the book they were “friends” Esmeralda like him enough but didn’t think much of him and he preferred Djali. He preferred Djali more that he saved Djali over Esmeralda leaving her in the hands of an insane Frollo while she is being hunted by guards.

 

 

 

Bell Charles Laughton  Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Bells of Notre Dame Charles Laughton Maureen O’Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Quasimodo has  a Boy Bell – Kind of on the same lines as Frollo’s cats, it’s just a weird little add in. Quasimodo bell’s in book were ladies but in the 1939 version he has one boy bell “Guillaume” (French for William.) Consider that Quasimodo uses the bell in lieu of ladies, I guess this male bell is when Quasimodo is feeling curious.

(Edit 2104, there is a bell named Guillaume in the novel)

 

 

 

Jehan Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Jehan Frollo, Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Gringoire, Edmond O’Brien 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

 

Frollo and Gringoire– In the book Frollo was Gringoire’s teacher, here they don’t even know each.

 

 

 

 

 

Esmeralda looking at the Virgin Mary Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Esmeralda looking at the Virgin Mary, Maureen O’Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Esmerlda loves Notre Dame – In the 1939 version Esmeralda really seems to be a fan of the Virgin and here (to my knowledge) is the fist time she prays to her for her people    (it started the trend). In the book she prays to Mary because she is afraid and being in Notre Dame she simply pray to the closet deity but that’s at the end of the book.

 

 

 

 

Bells 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Bells 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

No Whistle – In the book Quasimodo gives Esmeralda a whistle just in case she ever needs him but in this film he tells her to just ring the bells. In both cases she take him up on his aid, but most adaptations go for the bells over the whistle, one less prop to deal with.

 

 

 

Frollo confesses his feelings to Esmeralda Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Frollo confesses his feelings to Esmeralda, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maureen O’Hara, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

No Jail Scene -Ah, the jail scene, one my favorites, I tend to judge the adapations base off of this scene, well I wish I could because a lot the adaptations don’t have this scene or it’s very water down. The jail scene is when Frollo goes to Esmeralda whose in jail and confesses his confusion and torment for her. It’s a very long scene as Frollo gives a detail  explanation of what his desire did to him and his actions as a result. In the 1939 movie the party scene or what I refer to as the “Tree Scene” fills in for the jail scene. Frollo corners Esmeralda against a tree and tells her that he basically confused, thinks about her all the time and can’t sleep. He doesn’t want people to see her dance and then threatens her. Doesn’t have the same impact as the book but at least it’s something.

 

Trial by ordeal (chance) Esmeralda and Louis Maureen O'Hara, Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Trial by ordeal (chance) Esmeralda and Louis, Maureen O’Hara, Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Interruptions during the Trial Scene – The trial puts me over the edge, there’re too many things that happen in the course of it.  Quasimodo admits that he is the murder. I get why he does it; to show his love for her. But it a happens and goes way and is never mention again, seems to be a trend in this film. Then there is the Trial by Ordeal, for me this is even more off putting than Quasimodo’s interruption. The film loves Louis and uses any excuse to give him screen time. I get why he’s doing it; the Archdeacon asked him to but The Trail of Ordeal is more by chance, she blindfolded and must touch a dagger  hers ( the guilty one ) or Louis’ (the innocent one), not much of ordeal and again it doesn’t amount to anything but at least its mention again by Louis so it doesn’t add anything other than Louis.

 

Gringoire's Appeal for Esmeralda 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Gringoire’s Appeal for Esmeralda 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

The permits, petitions, & Nobles – At the beginning of the the 1939, we learn that Gypsies need a permit to live in Paris, Esmerlada doesn’t have said permit hence she seeks sanctuary towards the beginning of the film. In the book nobels are not a big deal and there are no petitions. In the 1939 version the Nobel are pissed that Esmeralda didn’t die because she killed “one of them’ so they make a petition to end sanctuary and also Gringoire makes an appeal to the king to free Esmeralda. In the book the whole sanctuary debacle is due to a rumor that Frollo made-up to get Esmeralda out of the cathedral and in his power, but the rumor went too far (ie the Court of Miracle attacks Notre Dame to save her and the Louis thinks it to an attack on him and orders for Esmeralda’s death, otherwise he wouldn’t have cared.)

 

Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) alone at the end 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Quasimodo alone at the end, Charles Laughton, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Qusimodo alive at  the end – Sometimes Quasimodo lives, sometimes he dies, and sometimes it’s implied that he dies. If he lives it can be sad because most of the time (two exceptions) he watches Esmeralda go off with another man, if he dies it can mean that in death he gets to be with Esmeralda like in the book, or if he dies then he dies and it’s sad. Quasimodo seldom gets a happy ending. In the 1939 not only does he live but he watches Esmeralda leave with Gringoire and he left alone to lament that he isn’t made of stone. Defiantly one of the more tragic endings for Quasimodo

 

Frollo stares at Esmeralda's chest for 15 seconds (Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maureen O'Hara) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Frollo stares at Esmeralda’s chest for 15 seconds, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maureen O’Hara, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Frollo rounding up the Gypsy girls – So being a High Juctice, the 1939 version shows Frollo doing Justice-related  tasks; going to meetings and being a judge. The film also shows him exercising some of his power, he rounds up all the Gypsy girls in order to find Esmeralda. This scene is meant to show his obsession for finding her. In the book he didn’t have the power to arrest people, he just stalks her old school style.

 

 

 

Extra's hair 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Noble Ladies 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Nobles vs Beggars – The film mentions the clash between beggars and nobles and that the noble are just thieves that plunder countries while beggars engage in petty crimes. This clash is no where in the book and really is just in this one adapations. So basically the movie hates nobles.

 

 

 

Next time conclusions+

So how does the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” hold up against Victor Hugo’s novel? Well first let’s identify some MAJOR differences.

Jehan Frollo 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke picture image

Jehan Frollo, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke

The First difference is Frollo. Hugo’s Frollo has been spilt into two characters. This was not the first film and certainly not the last film to do this, but to my knowledge  it was the first to make him a High Justice and the last to separate him between brothers. If you haven’t read the book, Frollo has a younger brother name Jehan. Jehan is quite licentious while Claude, the older Archdeacon, is the lusty priest. So splitting the Frollo character into brothers isn’t a stretch. The reason why Frollo is spilt into the  pious brother and lusty bad younger brother is the same reason why Quasimodo is crowned the “King of Fools” and not the “Pope of Fools”; The Hays Movie Code. The Movie Code (Censorship)  that was in affect back in the 30s didn’t allow the church to look bad in any fashion (among other things).  I give the film some credit, it tries to remind the viewer that Frollo should be a priest, or at least he wants to be a priest.

ESMERALDA: Who are you? You’re not a priest, and yet you look like one.                          FROLLO: I am what I wish to be.

Esmeralda and Frollo (Maureen O'Hara and Sir Cedric Hardwicke) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Esmeralda and Frollo, Maureen O'Hara and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Though him being a priest wanna-be doesn’t make me believe in his torment of “wanting” Esmeralda. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to combat his emotions, he goes from “I want you” to “you must die” in record time and doesn’t think twice. Whereas Hugo’s Frollo runs the gambit of emotions for Esmeralda. Plus it’s not important that he is in deep torment because the film is not really concerned with Frollo, Frollo is a necessary character because he is the catalyst for the story. Without Frollo, the book would have ended with Feast of Fools, the adaptations need him as a character but the lengths of his development are left to film. The ‘39’ Frollo gets some development but not enough. Instead characters that are lesser in significance get push to the forefront due to the next major difference of the movie.

 

Printing Press 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Printing Press 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

The next big difference is modernity and the conflict between old vs new. The book did  have a rather long chapter/essay called “This will Destroy that”(translations may vary) which was about how books will destroy the church and architecture. So instead of the cathedral being the conduit to teach the masses the stories and the history of the christendom, books would take over that role. But the film pushes this way too far and distracts from the main plot, hell the film opens with a scene that rehashes “This will destroy that” just with a positive spin.  Also because the film takes a modernity good-old fashion bad,  Gringoire, Clopin, and King Louis are made into more prominent characters despite being lesser characters in book especially Louis, whose hardly a character at all.

Esmeralda Smiling, Maureen O'Hara 1939 HUnchback of Notre Dame  picture image

Esmeralda Smiling, Maureen O'Hara 1939 HUnchback of Notre Dame

But these are not the only character that are tweaked. Esmeralda is very different than in the book. In the book she is a naive, innocent, flighty, and pone to giving into whims. She also had a very different back story, a back story that seldom gets into adaptations. The only part of her backstory that can be compared to the book is that she came to Paris on the  Feast of Fools in the movie, and in the book she had been in Paris a for over a year and was beloved amongst the people of Paris. In the movie, her motivation is for her people and she has a strong sense of empathy instead of love of dancing. It is interesting to note that when Esmeralda has these characteristic, Frollo is a High Justice who seems to hold more power than the king (in the 39 movie, he rounds up all the Gypsy girls in the Court of Miracles and the Disney he burns all of Paris). I suppose the caring, empathic Esmeralda is a counterpoint to the   powerful, racist Frollo, but it’s a striking difference to her character in the book where  she is a naive, simple, winsome child, who is unaware of her own charms. The 1939 characterization of Esmeralda she isn’t naive and she does at least in the 39 version, use  girlish charms to get Louis to help her. She’s not above turning on the charms to get what she wants but doesn’t do it with Frollo, perhaps she didn’t know Frollo was in a position that could have help her. At least in the book she was afraid of him, hence she didn’t want to have anything to with him. In the 1939 version she doesn’t seem to exhibit any strong feelings towards, she neither likes him nor hates him, but she strikes an accord with him about animals. So I guess she could have turned up the feminine charms towards Frollo had he not been a bigoted pervert.  The main reason why Esmeralda is never depicted as she is in the book, is she would come off unlikable, (a shallow, simple, young girl) so the film always has to tweak her character to make her likable. If she cozen up to Frollo, the villain, she wouldn’t have been as likable and has the only main female character, she has to likable.

more book vs movie next time

So let’s talk about Lighting. Besides the functional side of lighting (i.e. lighting the sets so you can see the sets and actors) there is mood lighting and this is what I’m going to touch on because it’s more fun.

For the most part the movie is pretty tame in the lighting department despite William Dieterle being  part the of German Expressionism movement but  there is great example of chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro  (Italian for light and dark) utilizes  the contrast between light and dark  for  pure dramatic effect.  During the scene where Frollo confesses his confused love/lust for Esmeralda. As he pins her against a tree his face is fully illuminated while the back ground is let darker; text-book Chiaroscuro.

Example of Chiaroscuro Frollo Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame  picture image

Example of Chiaroscuro

Example of Soft Lighting Esmeralda Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame  picture image

Example of Soft Lighting

Example of Hard Lighting Frollo Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame  picture image

Example of Hard Lighting

Moodiness Esmeralda Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Moodiness

 

Clopin King of Beggars Thomas Mitchell 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Example Bottom Lighting

 

There is a moodiness to certain scenes and sometimes characters would get   lighting treatment (i.e softening, harding, bottom lighting or chiaroscuro)  but I would say that at the time of the film’s release the lighting came off more dramatic. After all Dieterle was part of the German Expressionism movement which was the predecessor to Film Noire ( which by it’s very nature is moody) so there is mood but for a modern viewer the dramatic isn’t as striking except in the confession scene, that was a slap in the face with lighting.

See ya next time – It’s time for Book vs the 1939 version 

 

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).

Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Notre Dame

Front Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Front of Notre Dame

Facade of Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Facade of Notre Dame

Nave of Notre dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Nave of Notre dame

15th century Parisian Street 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

15th century Parisian Street

Another view of 15th century Parisian Street 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Another view of 15th century Parisian Street

Crowd scene 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Crowd scene

 

 

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!

 

So next up is staging, where things, mainly actors, are position in scenes of a movie. As I was looking at the costumes I noticed something, a lot of the shots are medium or close up unless it was a big epic scene or an establishing shot . This makes it hard to get pictures of costumes but it also makes staging difficult to review. Another factor that makes staging reviewing difficult is that the editing cuts between shots are very frequent, though the cuts are not insane or abnormal. Also other than establishing shot you don’t get a feel for the spaces the characters occupy, not even Notre Dame.

 

Watching the Play 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Watching the Play

Gringoire's Play 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Gringoire's Play

So it’s hard to gauge the characters’ movement in the film space. For the most part I say that the characters use the spaces logically  but it’s hard to gauge where the characters are in relation to each other in the space in a given scene. A good example of this is during the Feast of Fools. First you see Louis and Frollo sitting in the royal box watching the festivities. From their vantage point they can see Gringoire’s play. The beggars start to complain  that they’re not get money because of the play.

Beggar in long shot 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Beggar in long shot

Beggar and Clopin Medium shot 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Beggar and Clopin Medium shot

 

 

(Edit Alert; in the longer shot as Clopin walk up you can’t see the stage but when the scene cuts to a medium shot of Clopin and the beggar the stage can be seen).


Clopin puts an end to Gringoire’s play and then on the same stage the King of Fools contest begins. As the contest starts we Louis and Frollo talk about it how ugliness is fascinating and how the noble seem interested.

 

Extras 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture iame

Extras watching the King of Fool contest

Phoebus in armor (on left) Alan Marshal 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture iamge

Phoebus (left) watches Esmeralda

The scene cuts to nobles looking at the stage, it is in this line up of nobles that Phoebus is seen making a comments about Esmeralda who is dancing.

 

 

 

Esmeralda spots an eyes staring Maureen O'Hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Esmeralda spots an eyes staring

The crowd drags Quasimodo to the stage  1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

The crowd drags Quasimodo to the stage

As she dances it’s hard to make out where the stage is but it seems to be to left.  Louis and Frollo in their box are watching her and looking slightly to the right, as well as Gringoire. Louis and Frollo have to be somewhat close to her as Louis throws her some money without much effort and Quasimodo is hiding under the royal box  and Esmeralda can see him staring at her. The crowd then drags Quasimodo to stage which looks like a long distance from the box.

The distance could be attributive to Quasimodo trying to escape the crowd or it’s because the Director William Dieterle was a student of German Expressionism which likes twisting scales and playing distortions. It any case this scene it has some logic but you can’t get a feel for the space. Where is the royal box? How far is it from the stage? Where is Esmeralda performance in relation to the stage and the royal box? These are questions that the film never quite answers because it’s to hard to decern the space, the movement and spacial relation

Next time  Sets!

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 picture image

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 picture image

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 picture image

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 picture image

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 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke picture image

Jehan Frollo, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame Sir Cedric Hardwicke

 

Pillory Scene cutaway Gringoire and Clopin (Edmond O'Brien, Thomas Mitchell) 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

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


Let me first say that I love costumes, I’m a sucker for period films with their pretty costumes. With that being said, with one major exception, the costumes in the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” are middle of the road. They help define the setting of the story and characters. But most of the costumes are not recognizable within film nostalgia (save for one).

Walter Plunkett's design for Esmeralda 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Plunkett's design for Esmeralda

The costumes were designed by Walter Plunkett. Don’t know who Walter Plunkett is? Well even if you don’t know his name you may know his costumes, Walter Plunkett was the costume designer for “Gone with the Wind”. Perhaps designing grandiose Southern Belle/Victorian bustles is a tad more fun than designing costumes for medieval Parisian and Gypsies.  To the film’s credit it did have a ton of extras to cloth and they all look their parts.

 

Esmeralda's Maureen O'hara first costume 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Esmeralda's first costume

Esmeralda's second costume Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Esmeralda's second costume

Movie Poster Esmeralda Quasimodo 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Movie Poster featuring Esmeralda's costume in color

Esmeralda– The Gypsy Girl, obviously a gypsy dresses differently than a non-gypsy medieval person, how else can she be so easily identified? Esmeralda gets about three costumes though one is a plain white linen chemise she wears before she’s almost hanged. Her costumes are stylized and by no means accurate, like most costumes in movies, it’s time’s interpretation of whatever period the film is depicting. Esmeralda’s main dress is a long skirt with some patch work detail, a blouse (I suppose it’s moonlighting as a chemise) it looks like it has a slight sheen and also has fringe detail and a corset with some spangle detail. As for accessories she has a necklace and bracelet and of course being a gypsy dancer a tambourine. Her second outfit is a blouse with an embroidery detail at the neck and on the sleeves. She sports a long skirt with more embroidery. She also has a belt with a rather large buckle and a head scarf. Both of these design are derived from Plunkett’s design. As for the color of these costumes my guess would be her main one is red (though one movie has it’s a as purple and another movie poster has it as red) and I would guess her performance outfit is a blue skirt and a white blouse (though who can tell through shades of grey but the two costume are different shades of grey. Her costumes do read gypsy but they’re not overly gimmicky.

 

Quasimodo make-up Charles Laughton 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Close up of Quasimodo's make-up

Quasimodo on the Pillory Chalres laughton 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Quasimodo's Hunch

King of Fools Quasimodo 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

The Crown for the King of Fools

Quasimodo – As I mention there was a major exception to the run of the milliness of the costumes and while technically this applies to make up it still counts. The make-up for Laughton’s Quasimodo was masterful. A collaboration between Laughton and Make-up artist Perc Westmore and costed $10,000. Laughton & Westmore went through numerous versions and they were rejected by Laughton. He wanted his face loop-sided, so a mask had to pull the right side of face up and the left side down. A false eye was placed on his cheek and Laughton wore a colored contact in his right eye to make it look cloudy. The hump weighted 4 pounds and made of aluminum scaffold filled with a foam rubber and covered with a thin layer of elastic. Laughton wanted it to be heavy so that he could feel physical pain of walking. He also had an inch added to the sole of his left show so one leg would be shorter that other creating a natural limb. (this information is from Maureen O’Hara’s book “‘Tis Herself”). For Quasimodo the only requirement is the physical look and Notre Dame, Quasimodo can be in Tux and you would know who it is. One more thing on Quasimodo’s get-up, the King of Fool crown is a nice blend of a crown and jester’s hat.

 

Jehan Frollo  Sir Cedric Hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Frollo's costume

Frollo – The villain, he wears all black and has a severe look, straight almost square cut to the hair  (he’s a squareロ ). It looks to me that he wears velvet which is the blackest fabric and there is very little details to break up the costume so it looks like stab of black. He has a hat that has a built in cowl and has a fur trim a round his neck. All black, all severe, all rich fabric, his character is very clear  he’s rich, powerful and EVIL (or just an antagonist).

 

King Louis XI  Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

King Louis's Costume

Louis– I’m going to mention Louis because he’s a counterpoint for Frollo because Louis also wears all black but he has many details to break it so the black reads as a power color and not evil. He looks like a medieval kings, some regalia but more casual. He also sports a hat with jewelry, more jewelry, and a fur vest. Black but approachable  yet kingly.


Gringoire Performing Edmond O'brein 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Gringoire as a Harlequin

Clopin with hat Thomas Mitchell 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Clopin's Feather Hat

Phoebus in armor Alan Marshal 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Phoebus in armor (on left)

Archdeacon Claude Frollo Walter Hampden 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Archdeacon Claude in less than period vestments

The Rest – Gringoire and Clopin wear pretty standard tunics nothing too special except Clopin has a big old feather in his hat. Gringoire also get a harlequin outfit for his performance at the party and it’s pretty standard.  Phoebus a suit of armor and it looks very silly. Phoebus also has some party garb it a cape and tunic basically none special not like his armor.  Claude the Archdeacon’s costumes looks more current(even by modern standards) than what a priest of 1400’s would have wore.

 

 

The buckle 1939 Maureen O'hara Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

The Buckle on Esmeralda's costume

Female Extras 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Extras with 30's hairstyles

Fleur de Lys Helene Whiteney 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Fleur in Chiffon

Finally being a film from the late 30’s there are costumes and accessories peppered throughout the movie that look more 30’s than medieval. Claude’s vestment (seen above), Esmeralda’s belt buckle (belts were more for swords not fashion), the extra’s hairstyle (note the length and curls) and Fleur, a glorified extra that gets a name, her dress screams late 30 design so much so that it stands out in my mind despite the fact that you only see it for a moment. The dress is made from what I can guess is a chiffon. Chiffon is not even remotely a fabric that would have been used in the 1400s. Chiffion was invented in the 18th. (Fun fact – Chiffon is french for “rag”).

More on another aspect of Mise-en-secene next time – Acting


The first aspect of Mise-en-Scene of the 1939The Hunchback of Notre Dame”  that I’m going to look at are the Props. Why Props? Well to put it nicely it’s the least impressive aspect of the film. This film has very little in terms of props. Fact is, some definitions of Mise-en-scene lump props and setting together and while some of the “props” in this movie are more like set pieces, the sets of this movie need their own post. So anyway on with the Props.

 

A Bell of Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

A Bell of Notre Dame

Quasimodo and the Bells charles laughton 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) and the Bells

The film being a period has tons of props to help create the look and feel of Paris in the late 1400’s but only a hand full of these props are actually important for the characters and the story. Two of the most important “props” (I would consider them more like set pieces, but I’ll address them here) are the printing press and the Bells. Being a Hunchback of Notre Dame film there must be Bells. The Bells in this film are very impressive they look like cathedral bells. The bells that Charles Laughton (Quasimodo) had to ring were roughly about 100 pounds (true factoid – the huge bell Emmanuel at Notre Dame is about 13 tons). There not much to say on the Bells in this film they look like huge cathedral bells  the sound like Bells but that’s because the sound recording is bells from Notre Dame..

 

printing press harry davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

The Printing Press

Then there is the printing press, the movie symbol for progress, again this thing is so big that it more a set piece than a prop  and again I can’t say to much on it it. Like the bells, it is well executed and looks on point to how Gutenberg’s press looked. The printing press does have a major importance in the film but the film hits you over the head with this fact every chances it gets. So it really does become annoying.

 

 

Aristotle the Goat 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Aristotle the Goat

Esmeralda and Aristotle share a moment   maureen O'hara  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) and Aristotle share a moment

Now the props that were more than set pieces, the props with purpose. Starting with the Goat, Aristotle or the miracle goat.  Aristotle can perform math much like his counterpart Djali (from the book). Aristotle is the main reason why Esmeralda is on trial for witchcraft. The poor goat gets the short end here, Aristotle is brought in because I guess the script writers forgot that there was a goat and that the goat was a main character in the book and added it at the last second. So Aristotle is brought in and you never see or hear mention of him after Esmeralda is recused. So the purpose of the Goat is to solidify Esmeralda as  potential witch but here the thing, It’s never really clear to whom Aristotle belongs. Gringoire seems to have more to do with Aristotle than Esmeralda. Gringoire introduces him and Gringoire has concern for him (he brings him a cabbage while Aristotle and Esmeralda are in jail). Aristotle just seems to exist to bring trouble to Esmeralda. Aristotle takes off for Esmeralda just before the murder and lingers with her  and during the trial, Aristotle nuzzles her which is further the witchcraft accusation. It also seems like that Gringoire both named Aristotle and more than likely taught him to count. But since Aristotle’s backstory is non existent  the audience is left just to assume Aristotle is Esmeralda’s goat, and since Aristotle comes and goes and his one function is to implicate Esmeralda as witch  for medieval types during the trial. Therefore the goat is a prop and I wish they had gotten a white goat, apart from accuracy to the book, a white goat would have looked better for a black and white film.


Daggers in the "Trial by Ordeal" 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Daggers in the "Trial by Ordeal"

Esmeralda's Clean Dagger maureen o'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Esmeralda's Clean Dagger

Another prop used to showcase Esmeralda’s guilt are the daggers. There are two daggers, Esmeralda’s and Louis’. Esmeralda’s dagger is the “murder weapon” though when Phoebus is found dead and Esmeralda is found with dagger in hand with  Aristotle her Dagger is clean. Louis’ dagger was used during the “Trial by Ordeal” that he subjected Esmeralda to in an effort to clear her of murder but she failed. Unlike the Esmeralda’s dagger, Louis is used to show that he a good king who at least tried to help, but further than that the dagger does nothing.

 

bellboy 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

The Bellboy

Gringoire's pamphlet 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Gringoire's pamphlet

Other props in the movie that are featured and slightly important that I’ll mention quickly are Bell Boy, the pamphlet and a whip. The Bell Boy is used in the Court of Miracles to test Gringoire thief skills, he fails to steal from the prop and as a result marries Esmeralda and they fall in love. Paper and books are seen throughout the movie, they go hand-in-hand with the printing press that is a symbol of progress. The big piece of paper is Gringoire’s pamphlet that help pardon Esmeralda (though another piece of paper damned her, the nobels’ petition but they didn’t use the press so their old fashion and therefore they suck) Lastly, the Whip, Quasimodo is whipped on the pillory and when Esmeralda gives him water and pity, he fall in love with her. The whip is symbol for oppression and since this film is about modernization and progress the whip serve as a counterpoint to have crappy the medieval time period was.

More on Mise-en-scene next time – Costumes

 

Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Set of Notre Dame 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

 

So if the plot of the 1939 version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the weakest aspect then what are stronger aspects? The Visuals. The Mise-en-Scene (stuff in front of the camera)  more than makes up for the weak plot adaptation. The break down of Mise-en-scene is in five parts; Lighting, Sets, Costumes, Props, and Staging/perfomances. For the most part all these areas are handled with masterful attention, then again it’s no surprise considering how much RKO Radio Pictures put into movie to one up the 1923 version ($250,000 in 1939*)

Over the next couple of posts we’ll look at the Mise-en-scene  of the film.

First up – Props

* Today this would about $180,000(IMDB), the amount of the 1939 budget comes from Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography “Tis Herself”