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

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


So after looking at the plot overview let’s review it. The first thing to look at is the script. The script  of 1939 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame was written by Bruno Frank and Sonya Levien. Frank wrote an adaptation and Levien wrote a screenplay based off that adaptation. The thing to keep in mind about Frank’s adaptation is that he was a German author, poet, dramatist and humanist of Jewish descent. He fled Germany because he feared the Government  and lived in Austria and England before going to America in 1937. He then starting working in Hollywood as a writer. So given the political environment of the late 30’s along with Frank’s experience it’s no wonder that the Hunchback of Notre Dame parallels Europe of the late 30s. Considering Frank’s background as an author/poet/humanist it’s understandable why Gringoire is co-hero with Quasimodo.

Speaking of Quasimodo and scenes that feature him, most of his lines are  pretty much verbatim to what Victor Hugo wrote. The film also likes to insert him wherever it can: Louis commenting on the Bells and asking about the Bell ringer, the girl crying to grandmother about seeing him, scaring Esmeralda away from Notre Dame, confessing to Phoebus‘ murder, and him alone at the end. Clearly the film compensates for Quasimodo isn’t the main character in the book.

One of the major problems with the plot is that because there is this push towards modernity, which Louis and Gringoire represent, there are lot of scenes that are either completely added, like opening scene or added to much larger parts of the film so that Louis and Gringoire can be featured more. Quasimodo’s flogging and Esmeralda’s trial are good examples. The pillory scene cuts away to other characters and sometimes just random extras, but it mainly cuts to Gringoire and Clopin, who are talking about the truth about beggary and Gringoire wanting to help Quasimodo, so he prolonged in the scene further by seeing Claude. Esmeralda’s trial has interjects made by Gringoire pleading for common sense, Quasimodo confessing to the murder, and Louis giving Esmeralda a “Trial by Ordeal” the “ordeal” is more chance, basically she just has to touch the right dagger (Louis) to be freed but she fails. These add on don’t add much and if they accomplish anyway it weak character develop at best.

Quasimodo on the Pillory Charles Laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory cut 1 -Gringoire and Clopin Edmond O'brein Thomas Mitchell 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory cut 2- extras   1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory cut 3 -Quasimodo Charles Laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory cut 4 - whipper  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory cut 5 - Gringoire and Clopin Edmond O'brein Thomas Mitchell 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory 6 - more extras  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory 7 - to Quasimodo Charles Laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory 8 -Frollo in a meeting Sir Cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory 9 - Gringoire and Clopin Edmond O'brein Thomas Mitchell 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Pillory 10 - Frollo on the scene Sir Cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Pillory 11 - Gringoire and Claude Edmond O'brein Walter Hampden 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image pillory 12 -Gringoire and Esmealda  Edmond O'brein Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Pillory 13 -Esmeralda and Quasimodo Charles Laughton Maureen O'hara   1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

 

all these pictures are all from the “pillory scene” and now for the trial

Trial extras  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Aristotle the Goat 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Quasimodo confesses to the murder Charles Laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Extra leaving trial  extras  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Frollo watches from a spy hole Sir cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Frollo-vision of Esmeralda being tortured Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Louis at the Trial Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Louis and Esmeralda Maureen O'hara Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image Trial by ordeal/chance Maureen O'hara Harry Davenport 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

this scene does not have as many ADD-ons as the pillory scene  but when Quasimodo comes in it just falls apart and having Louis there makes it worst.

Another  big problem is Frollo’s obsession/lust for Esmeralda comes off very contrived. He sees her dance, he stares but I don’t think he is  enchanted by her at that moment. Their discussion in Notre Dame is just there so he can talk to her. He starts by letting his prejudices and superstition about her and her people be known and thne he stares at her breasts for more than a few seconds. And while that part is quite amusing, it seems so forced, it almost like he bored of talking to her. After that the talk takes a dive because they strike an accord over a mutual love of animals, for no explain reason Frollo keeps a dozen cats in his office, I guess this would explain why he took in Quasimodo in the first place. Anyway it seemed that Frollo and Esmeralda could be have friends if Quasimodo haven’t scared her and he tried to kidnap  her. A side point about the kidnapping, at the point where Esmeralda fled from Notre Dame she apparently lived in sanctuary because she didn’t have a city permit and would be arrested for not having one, so seemed like the “kidnapping” was only to take her back to safety. It’s good thing the guard who recused her didn’t ask for her permit, actually the permit thing is never mention again, it completed its’ mission for the plot. Anyway back to the Frollo/Esmeralda dynamic, given his tepid feeling and her lacking of feeling anything towards him, this makes the confession scene odd. Esmeralda and Gringoire are performing and for some weird reason Frollo is hosting. He asks Gringoire if he is ready to perform. When Gringoire is out the way , Frollo makes his move and confesses his confused little feelings. Now prior to this scene Frollo tried exactly once to find Esmeralda, he had all the Gypsy girls in the Court of Miracle arrested and then released  because Esmeralda wasn’t there. So he didn’t  shown his powerful obsession/lust, so it hard to buy his torment. Prior to this we know that Esmeralda doesn’t have any strong dislike of Frollo, so I don’t buy her fear in this scene either. Then she goes off with Phoebus and Frollo kills him again I don’t believe he was pushed to murder. Since Frollo is the catalyst that causes the story to take motion, the Frollo/Esmeralda dynamic needs to strong, not there because the it was in the original.

I do like that the theme is old vs new and embraces the sprit of progress, it’s a nice change of pace for a Hunchback movie. The cliche theme for Hunchback films is “beauty is on the inside”. But the theme does tries to hard it assert itself and competes with original too much. I think the plot suffers because of this and ultimately the the plot and the screenplay are the weakest element of the film.

Next time we’ll look at the Mise-en-scene for the movie.  see ya then!

The 1939 version The Hunchback of Notre Dame opens with text about the current times and how Great Louis IX but there is superstition /prejudice that wants to “crush the adventurous spirit of man”. From the get go the film tells us that in addition to Qusiamodo being a prominent character,  Pierre Gringoire  and King Louis XI are very important characters as they represent modernity while Frollo is provides the superstition /prejudice and Esmeralda works as something for the character to fight for or agianst. Gringoire is also who the author (in this case Frank) identified with which is why he get more scene time and importance in film’s events.

The over-all theme of the film is the changing world and this old vs new but the overt undertones are taken from political environment of the late 30’s, (i.e the opinion of the Gypsies and their need for city permits in late 15th century Paris)

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

King Louis XI ( Harry Davenport)

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

Jehan Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke)

Despite the add-ons to the over-all story  the plot is the same. King Louis (Harry Davenport) Jehan Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) Chief Justice, are a sort of odd couple.

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

Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara)

They are forever talking of this old vs new, Louis loves it and Frollo hates it and in the opening scene they talk of the new invention, a printing press. Frollo wants to destroy it and Louis considers it a miracle. Frollo then vows he will protect France from the press as he protect it from witches, sorcerers and Gypsies. At that moment,  Esmeralda a young Gypsy (Maureen O’Hara) arrives in Paris so that she may speak to the king about the blight of her people.

She arrives during the Feast of Fools. At the feast a young idealist poet Pierre Gringoire (Edmond O’Brien) is performing a play that meets with harsh criticism.

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

Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien)

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

Phoebus (Alan Marshal)

In addition to the general merriment, the highlight of the festival is the crowning of the King of Fools, which is reserved for the ugliest face in Paris.

Esmeralda spots an eye staring  maureen o'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame

Esmeralda spots an eye staring

Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Quasimodo (Charles Laughton)

Quasimodo King of Fools  charles laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Quasimodo King of Fools

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Esmeralda dances she sees Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) the misshapen hunchback of Notre Dame staring at her, he is pulled out of hiding and  is crowned King of Fools. The Feast ends when Frollo, Quasimodo’s care taker, forces him back to Notre Dame.  Esmeralda is then forced to take refuge in Notre Dame because she Gypsy with out documentation.

 

Esmeralda looking at the Virgin Mary maureen o'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Esmeralda looking at the Virgin Mary

Esmeralda and Frollo in Notre Dame Maureen O'hara Sir cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Esmeralda and Frollo in Notre Dame

Frollo stares Esmeralda's breasts for 15 seconds Maureen O'hara Sir cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Frollo stares for 15 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

 

She then encounters Frollo who find her while he is visiting his brother Claude (Walter Hampden) the Arch-Deacon of Notre dame. Frollo expresses  his  superstition & prejudice against the Gyspies and demand she leaves.  He also demonstrates also a growing fascination with her, After seeing the good in Frollo (he likes animals, especially cats).

Frollo is a crazy cat "lady" Sir cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Frollo is a crazy cat "lady"

She asks Mary to speak to the King, Louis as it happens in Notre Dame and agrees to review her request about her people.  Frollo takes Esmeralda to the bell tower because she now lives in sanctuary but flees from Notre Dame because Quasimodo frightened. She is pursued by Quasimodo while Frollo hides in the shadows, she is rescued by Gringoire and Phoebus. She is immediately smitten with Phoebus.


Clopin King of Beggars (Thomas Mitchell) 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Clopin King of Beggars (Thomas Mitchell)

Gringoire balancing a chair in his mouth Edmond O'brein 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Gringoire learns a life skill

Gringoire then stumbles into the Court of Miracles and after almost being  hanged by Clopin, (Thomas Mitchell)

 

 

 

Just then all the Gypsy girls are arrested because of Frollo obsession with Esmeralda but just as the guards descend on the Court, Esmeralda sneaks out to see her people and tell them about the King.

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

Quasimodo on the Pillory

Esmeralda gives Quasimodo a drop of water charles Laughton Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

A drop of water

Quasimodo is sentenced to 50 lashes and public disgrace. Gringoire tries to help but  can’t do anything and as Quasimodo begs for water Esmeralda gives him some water and a little pity. After that Quasimodo falls in love with her.

 

Frollo confesses to Esmeralda Sir cedric hardwicke Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Frollo confesses to Esmeralda

Phoebus and Esmeralda get comfortable  Maureen O'hara Alan Marshal  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame picture image

Phoebus and Esmeralda get comfortable

Claude can't be brothers with a murder  Sir Cedric Hardwick Walter Hampden 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Claude can't be brothers with a murder

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a party where Gringoire and Esmeralda are performing, Frollo confesses his obsession to her. She runs off  and finds Phoebus, who is later murder while with Esmeralda. Frollo confesses to the murder to his brother but Claude refuses to help him.

 

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

Esmeralda and Aristotle share a moment

Quasimodo confesses to the murder charles laughton 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Quasimodo confesses to the murder

Frollo watches from a spy hole Sir cedric hardwicke 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Frollo watches from a spy hole

Frollo-vision of Esmeralda being tortured Maureen O'hara 1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Esmeralda being tortured

Esmeralda is on trial along side her goat, Gringoire tries to make the court see common sense and Quasimodo confesses to the murder. However she is tortured and despite her innocence she confesses and is sentenced to death. Louis tries to intervene on behalf of Claude but he can’t do much.

Quasimodo proclaiming  SANCTUARY for Esmeralda Charles Laughton  Maureen O'hara  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

SANCTUARY!!!!!

 

 

On the day her execution Quasimodo saves her and claim sanctuary.

 

 

Beggars are ready for the attack  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Beggars are ready for the attack

Enraged, the nobles try remove sanctuary as Esmeralda has killed “one of them”. Clopin and Gringoire debate on the best method of saving her; words or force. Both methods are tried. Louis reads Gringoire pamphet while Clopin attack Notre dame. As  Clopin attacks Notre Dame Louis discover that Frollo is the real murder.  Quasimodo defends Notre Dame and is sucessful, even if the people attacking were trying to protect Esmeralda.

 

Quaismodo throws Frollo out the window  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Quaismodo throws Frollo out the window

 

At his moment of  victory, he finds Frollo pursuing  Esmeralda and  Quasimodo throws Frollo from the cathedral.

 

 

 

 

Esmeralda and Gringoire leave Notre Dame maureen O'hara Edmond O'brein  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Esmeralda and Gringoire leaving together

 

Esmeralda is then pardon and the Gypsies are free to live in France. As Esmeralda and Gringoire go off together while Quasimodo ask why he wasn’t made of stone.

 

 

 

Quasimodo alone at the end  Charles Laughton  1939 Hunchback of Notre dame  picture image

Quasimodo alone at the end

 

 

 

 

 

That the plot of 1939 version of Hunchback of Notre Dame, next time plot review

Happy January 6 , this is the date that the novel begins, So I’ll start off by saying Happy Feast of Fools, (I know I’m Dork)

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

Quasimodo Charles Laughton, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

 

 

The first on the radar is the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Why start with the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame? It’s by no means the oldest or even the most well known. The oldest adaptation is from 1836 and the most well known is the Disney version. Which is exactly why I’m starting with the 1939 version. In classic Disney fashion, Disney took cues from this version. For instance if you have read the book but for whatever reason you have only seen the Disney version, you might wonder why is Frollo a Judge? Or why Esmeralda is even in Notre Dame midway the flick? The 1939 version is the first to make Frollo a Judge (to my knowledge) and it is the first in the Notre Dame  collection to have Esmeralda enter Notre Dame for either a prayer, safety, or both. (though in 1923 version, Esmeralda enters Notre dame to meet with Phoebus).

The film is well regarded as a fine movie with great performances especially by Charles Laughton as Quasimodo or as the Hunchback as he is credited. It garnered two academy awards nominations for Best Original Music Score and Best Sound  and given that 1939 was the year of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of OZ, and other great movies this is nothing to sneeze at.

The film was produced by RKO Radio Pictures and was made as remake for the 1923 version starting Lon Chaney. As far the bare bone of the original plot ala Victor Hugo and the separation of Frollo’s characters by making the younger brother Jehan take on the Lustfulness and the elder Claude as the pious archdeacon of Notre Dame, there is very little similarity between the 1923 and 1939 version. Though the sets look very similar, expect the 1939 version was also meant to one up the 1923 version in lavishness and expansiveness of the mise-en-scene.

For The Classic Version of Hunchback, Click Here

Next time we’ll dive into the plot of 1939 version.