The Frollo character in the 1923 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is the worst depiction of the character in any of the prominent adaptations. What do I mean when I say the Frollo character? Well he is the character who acts on his lust for Esmeralda and gets the plot moving. What makes Frollo a compelling character is his inner struggle about desiring a girl and even if he is not a priest he needs to be battling against something that is contrary to his way of being/thinking. Either it’s his own pride of his purity or his bigoted opinion of the Gypsies. This is the hallmark to his character, without it all you have is a creepy pervert and that is exactly what this Frollo is; an evil creepy pervert.
This version is the first time the Frollo character was split into two characters who are brothers; Jehan, the younger is the licentious lecher (the Frollo Character) and the saintly older Claude (or in the case of the 1923 version Dom Claudio). This method was employed in the 1939 version however it worked in that movie as Jehan Frollo had depth and some complexity. In the 1923 version there is no depth to Jehan, he is nothing more than a spoiled perverted brat.
In a nutshell, Jehan was a priest but he decided he preferred sins to virtues. This brief bit of backstory is presented in one inter-text card. So what could have been an integral part of the movie is reduce to a sentence. Now to be fair, movies in the early 20s didn’t really flesh out villains, they were bad, so at least we get a text card that somewhat acknowledges the book. However even giving the movie a stylistic pass, Jehan is still weak. Maybe if he delighted in his evil or in his desires that would have been more enjoyable as a character. There are a few moments of hammy 20’s over-acting that are enjoyable but other than that he just very weak and not very memorable. He is just devoid of any interest, personality or passion. All he is a creepy perverted stalker.
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Yeah, had Jehan been sitting with a harem of girls around him, drinking and living it up and then saw Esmeralda and she turned him down…and then Jehan decided that he must have her and would stop at nothing until then, that would make some sense and add some depth to the character.
But sadly, there’s not much to the character. Instead of having some evil vice or back story of an explanation for why he had given up the priesthood; Was he caught plowing a nun? Did he see Esmeralda and try to make a move and suddenly he decided that if he weren’t a priest she’d want him? He’s just bland and the character doesn’t make sense…in fact 1923 story didn’t even need the character. With or without the character the movie had more to do with social class system than the inner turmoil of the Frollo character.