Hint: Pay attention to grey tones
provided by flash-gear.com
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.
Next -ConclusionFollow thehunchblog
Besides Quaismodo’s make-up and Lon Chaney is there anything else that this movie has going for it? Yes, yes there is, the Sets. The sets are well done.
The sets for the 1923 version of the Hunchback were built on the back-lot of universal. To create the cathedral they built the set up to the row of statues. The upper portions of Notre Dame in the long shots were the results of a floating miniature. A floating miniature means that they would hang the model in front on the camera to force the miniature to match up with the set to look like a whole. It’s a trick of the camera that isn’t used to much these days. But the result look seamless.
The production also used age old film tricks like matte painting to give the sets more depth. In the picture above, everything beyond the chest is a painting
Also strategic positioning of extras helped to give the sets more scale.
According to the DVD commentary, the Notre Dame set was used at the end of Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. Notice how you don’t seen the upper portion of the church that was filled in bu the floating miniature
So the set are great but does that couple by Chaney, his make-up and one of my favorite Esmerladas make this a Good movie?
Find out Next timeFollow thehunchblog
The Costumes in the 1923 version of Hunchback are for the most part good. They look appropriate to fashions of the late middle ages. However with the exceptions of Chaney’s make-up for Quasimodo the costumes are not spectacular. There is no one costume that stands out and is memorable. They are just nice and appropriate to both the characters and the times. However there are two costumes I would like to discuss in addition to Chaney’s make-up since Chaney is the main selling point of the film.
Lon Chaney was a genius with make-up. It’s not wonder that he has been dubbed the “Man of a Thousand Faces.” His most memorable transformations of his own face in his film career were the Phantom and Quasimodo.
For Quasimodo, Chaney looked at illustrations by Hugo to get an accurate look. For his cheeks Chaney used cotton and colodium. Colodium is a skin sealer. What he would do is paint spirit gum, which is an adhesive, apply a wad of cotton to it and then cover it with colodium. The process was repeated to build up the cheeks to the desire look. This also allowed Chaney to reuse the cheeks for a few day with minimal effort. For the hunch he wore a 15-20 pound plaster hump. The hump was held in place by a leather harness that attract at the waist. It also had straps at the shoulders that attached to the belt to keep Chaney in a hunch position.
He also wore a rubber suit over the harness in the pillory scene. He covered it with hair to give Quasimodo an animal-like look. Early in the film he had hair on his knuckles but he did away with that as the filming went one. Chaney also employed false teeth and a wig.
I don’t think the Quasimodo’s look has aged as well as the Phantom’s make-up but Chaney did help solidify movie make-up and set a precedent for the look of future Quasimodos so I do give kudos to the make-up in this version.
So there are a few costumes I want to discuss, three of Esmeralda’s and Marie’s costumes. Esmeralda has four costume changes but I want to look at three, her normal outfit, prison dress and her robe. The Costumes were supervised by Gordon Magee, that they only costume credit I found.
Esmeralda’s normal gypsy costume is based on a 1891 illustration. You can see it in the vest, short sleeves, the shoes and the mid calf hem line. While I like this costume as a whole it is inaccurate to the Romani convention that ankles should not be expose but their is another force at work in Esmeralda’s costume; the 1920’s.
Esmeralda’s costume has a more shapeless silhouette, long beaded necklaces and the sleeves look straighter and look more like modern t-shirt.
However Esmeralda’s prison dress and her robe look more like a product of the 20’s. Her prison dress has a shapeless silhouette and the way it cinches in at the waist and puffs over is very 20s. Plus the short hemline. Hemlines that hit mid-calf was the style in 1923 for hem.
However the robe is the worse offender of Esmeralda’s costumes. In a deleted scene from the movie, Quasimodo trades candles for clothing for Esmeralda to wear. He gets a robe or a “dressing gown” that has a fur trim and looks to be made of velvet with a satin belt.
Number 1; robes didn’t not exist at this time in Europe.. Robe/dressing gown came in to fashion in the 18th century because orientism was fashionable. Number 2; given the materials, fur, satin and velvet, it’s doubtful that a mere chest of candles could be traded for a garment made from these materials. Beside those issues, the robe features the signature 1923 hemline and the shoes. The shoes that Esmeralda wears with the robe are flats with a flower detail. Clearly not shoes wore in the middle ages.
However the worse offender of the 1920 style in a costume is Marie’s. Marie is Clopin’s wife. Marie actually has two costumes but they’re very similar. Both are very shapeless dresses that flattened out her chest which is the classic 1920 silhouette.
One has almost kimono-esque sleeves that have a scallops detail at the edge. Both hemlines hit at the ankles but one it’s a handkerchief hem, so the longest point hit the ankle.
Handkerchief hems were popular in the 1910-1920’s and it was seen in Ancient Greece. While it was used in Antiquity it was not at all popular in 1482. The other one is pointed with a scallop edge which makes it appear shorter. While Esmeralda’s costumes harken to the 20’s, Marie’s flaunts it to the point that it looks really out of place.
The costumes are appropriately medieval for the men and the women’s costumes are mixed with the style of the 1920 to make they look more stylish regardless of period appropriateness.
Pictures came from the Philip J Riley Book
Next Time – The SetsFollow thehunchblog
The performance in the 1923 version are for the most part are good. There are some delightful moments of hammy 1920’s acting. Like when Jehan walks in with the cape up to his eyes. The only thing hammier would have been if he twisted his mustache and tied Esmeralda to a train track.
Chaney excels as Quasimodo. His best moments are when he is watching Esmeralda dance and she shun him for his ugliness, Esmeralda giving him water on the pillory, and his death scene.
In her book, Pasty Ruth Miller told a story about how Chaney told her that it wasn’t important for her to live the role but to make the audience feel the emotion the character. So Chaney wasn’t a much a of method actor.
What it really comes down to in the 1923 version of Hunchback, is with the exception of Chaney, is that acting is good, not amazing, not terrible, it’s just good. I’m not offended by it but nor I’m particularly moved by it except for a few instances.
Next Time – CostumesFollow thehunchblog
The 1923 version of Hunchback is brimming with glorified extras. So let’s just take a moment to recognize them and their contribution to this movie.
In order of billing in the little booklet that comes with the Ultimate Edition DVD
Madame de Gondelaurier (Kate Lester) – As Fleur de Lys’ aunt, she is Phoebus’ future aunt-in-law. She throws Phoebus a gala ball for his promotion where Phoebus declares his undying devotion for Esmeralda. But instead of casting Phoebus out she lets him stay and takes care of him when he is wounded and depressed. What a lovely door-mat she is.
Louis XI (Tully Marshall) – Unlike the Louis in the 1939 version this Louis is cold and unfeeling. The only thing he does is confers a promotion on Phoebus and remarks on the rabble.
Monsieur Neufchatel (Harry Von Meter Harry L. Van Meter ) – This guy is like the second most important character in Notre Dame. Really the movie should have been called “The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Monsieur Neufchatel.”
Actually he is just Phoebus’ soldier friend. The most memorable this he does is tell Phoebus they have to go back to the barrack, and he gets a billing for that.
(behind the scenes fun- I had to search through the script which is in Philip Riley book
to find this characters because the movie never says his name and the commentary was no help.
Marie; Queen of the Gypsies (Eulalie Jenson) – She is Clopin wife and a mother figure to Esmeralda, that is all. She does try to stand up to Clopin in support of Esmeralda’s affections of Phoebus but to no avail.
Fleur de Lys (Winifred Bryson) – Phoebus’ lovely fiancee who knows he is a ladies man but loves him anyway. Phoebus doesn’t feel much for her but she still takes care of him when he is wounded and depressed. But Phoebus doesn’t care and runs off with Esmeralda. That jerk.
Next Time – Performances
In my Gringoire review, I said that the 1923 version of Hunchback adhere too much to the book that is it is detrimental to the film and while it’s true with Gringoire, it’s even more true with the addition of Sister Gudule. Her being in this movie makes not sense to anything and it doesn’t add anything to the story.
Ok, if you have read the book you would know who Gudule is. She is Esmeralda’s biological mother and is a french women from Rheims. She is in very few versions of Hunchback since she takes some of Esmeralda’s mystery away. However, in the story Gudule is part of the whole dark/tragic destiny theme. In the 1923 version she adds nothing.
So what does Sister Gudule do in this movie apart from nothing? Like in the book she is a recluse who lives in a basement. She hates Esmeralda and yells at her through a window. Shortly after she is introduced we’re are given her backstory about how her beloved little daughter was stolen by gypsies and how she prays for her child’s return while her child’s little shoe to comfort her. Unlike in the book, Gudule was a noble and gave Esmeralda a necklace which Esmeralda still wears. So Esmeralda is really a noble this whole time.
The next time we see her she is yelling at Esmeralda while Quasimodo is being whipped and we see Esmeralda is afraid of her. She tells Esmeralda that she should be whip instead of Quasimodo.
The last time we Gudule is when Esmeralda is being taken to be hanged. She runs up to the wagon and grabs her and manages to pull of Esmeralda’s necklace. She then realizes that it is the same necklace and instead of thinking that the gypsies stole off her daughter and gave it to another little girl she just happens to know that Esmeralda is her daughter. She tries to help by walking a few paces but then dies. And that’s it.
The mere fact that Esmeralda is never made aware of her mother makes Gudule pointless to the story. It’s all build up for a necklace and a scene where a woman dies. More than that Gudule scenes can be edited out so easily. If you look at the Gudule part during the pillory scene, Esmeralda walks in and Gudule yell at her. Esmeralda walks off in a panic but in the very next shot Esmeralda is calm, like whole interaction never occurred. Maybe Gudule yelling made her empathic to Quasimodo but she was empathic already as evident by her saving Gringoire.
So she does nothing. She just pads out the movies. If the movie had a more tragic tone she might have worked but the movie isn’t tragic. To be fair maybe in 1923 this film was a considered a tragedy which would justify Gudule but it’s also considered a horror so I guess this movie has some genre confusion. Either way Gudule was wasted.
Next Time; The OthersFollow thehunchblog
Dom Claude in the 1923 version of Hunchback represents the religious aspect of Frollo’s character. He is also the brother of the evil Jehan though they don’t interact much. In fact if it wasn’t for a few text cards you wouldn’t really even know. In the 1939 version the brothers actually had scenes together.
Basically this guy is a saint. He’s kind and sticks up for the little guys i.e. Quasimodo and Esmeralda. In fact despite Quasimodo being Jehan’s “Slave” Quasimodo spends more screen time with Dom Claude and generally seems to like Claude better.
He is also well respected. This is proven by Clopin’s interaction with him where Clopin seem to back down to him.
Basically his ONLY function in this film is to give plot exposition because after it has to go somewhere.
Next Time; Sister Gudule or “Godule” as she is creditedFollow thehunchblog
Gringoire wears many hats in the realm of Hunchback adaptations. Sometimes he the hero, sometimes the narrator, sometimes he is the comic relief and sometimes he is not even there. In the 1923 version in addition to being comic relief, Gringoire is Phoebus’s side kick. That’s right in order to justify Gringoire being in the movie they made him more or less Phoebus’ sidekick. As Gringoire spends more screen time with Phoebus and doesn’t even speak to Esmeralda.
Gringoire’s only function in the movie is acting as a liaison between Phoebus and Esmeralda. Gringoire’s introduction is thrown in during the feast of Fools and all he really does is make does reaction shots to Quasimodo. The next time we see him is when he gets in trouble with the Court of Miracles. In this version no marriage takes place instead Esmeralda orders the Court to let him go. After that Gringoire starts acting as the middle man for Esmeralda and Phoebus. In one scene he delivers a message to Phoebus from Esmeralda. Phoebus then awards him with food but Phoebus’ constant joy keeps preventing Gringoire from eating. The scene is enjoyable and funny and it is unfortunately Grigoire most memorable scene. After that he tells Phoebus Esmeralda is in Notre Dame and didn’t hang and we see him at the end where is happy that everything worked out for the lovers.
Beyond his comic/sidekick role, Gringoire doesn’t have much of personality. He is a poet, he likes food and hates to die. So I guess in this capacity he like the book version. Unfortunately I think this role could have been easy removed from the movie. If there is no marriage their is little point to the Court of Miracle scene. That scene and Gringoire were only in the movie because they tried very hard to maintain the book and even when the movie went in a different direction they still tried and still and more less failed.
If Gringoire wasn’t Phoebusâ€˜ sidekick there would be nothing for him to do and the movie tries to keep almost detrimentally close to the book. The film good have eliminated him and it really wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Next Time – Dom ClaudeFollow thehunchblog