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

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



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 


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!

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.