Friday, October 5, 2012

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) Review

The Hunchback of Notre Dame posterDirector: Wallace Worsley
Stars: Lon Chaney, Sr., Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry
Genre: Drama, Horror

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the first film in the Universal Monster series. Though not quite a horror film, Quasimodo most definitely has monster characteristics, and set the mold for many monster films to follow, such as mobs of torch-toting people, damsels in distress, monsters loving women, etc. If not for this film's great success at the time, Universal would have probably never pursued the Horror genre and we never would have gotten classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Wolf Man. So thank you Hunchback of Notre Dame...thank you.

As a film itself though, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is still pretty good. The sets in particular are extraordinary and really nail the look they were going for. Lon Chaney, Sr. does a great job as Quasimodo and Quasimodo has, what I would think was, pretty impressive make-up for the time. Also I liked the Esmeralda character in here much better than the one from the Disney film.

The film as horror is pretty bad, but then again it's not really a horror film. It's a drama, and as a drama it works pretty well. The story is great, adapted from Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. It stays pretty close to the source material, as much as a film can anyway, except for the ending, which I won't ruin, but I thought the novel did much better. This was far from the first adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel though, this was actually quite a popular adaptation in early cinema, the earliest dating back to 1905.

It's about an ugly disfigured servant, Quasimodo, and his love for a gypsy girl, Esmeralda, who, like him, is also often treated badly due to who she is. It just so happens that Quasimodo's master, Frollo (who always covers his face with his cape, Dracula much? Batman?) is also in love with Esmeralda, and will do sinister things to try and obtain her. Then we have Phoebus (who looks like Captain Hook) who loves Esmeralda as well, and who she loves back. So the entire story is essentially about the quarrels brought forth around this Gypsy girl, but the presence of Quasimodo makes this a bit more unique than your typical love triangle romance drama, and adds a bit more philosophical value to it.

I noticed some plot-holes in the film, or at least I think I did, that I'm sure couldn't of been present in the novel. For example it was never really so much as implied that Frollo was obsessed or in love with Esmeralda, the film makes it seem like he's just a straight up asshole who does terrible things to people without reason. Or, another example, when Esmeralda was being framed for Phoebus' assassination attempt, why couldn't Phoebus just say it wasn't her? I don't know, it hardly matters.

Lon Chaney as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The film can be quite boring and slow at times. After all it is a pretty pure drama, not much action going on. Time didn't really work in this film's favor, because not only is it a slightly boring film, it's also a silent film, and that combination tends to be fairly disastrous, for me at least.

Don't get me wrong, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a very watchable film and a film you should watch, but definitely not as good as the Universal Monster films that followed. A good film, but mostly worth watching due only to its historical significance and contribution to later horror films. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase the Hunchback of Notre Dame on Amazon: DVD - Stream

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