Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1939. RKO Radio Pictures. Screenplay by Sonya Levien, adaptation by Bruno Frank, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Cinematography by Joseph H. August. Produced by Pandro S. Berman. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Van Nest Polglase. Costume Design by Walter Plunkett. Film Editing by William Hamilton, Robert Wise. Academy Awards 1939.
Richly enjoyable, thoroughly satisfying drama based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Charles Laughton is the misshapen denizen of the titular cathedral who inspires horror and revulsion in the citizens of King Louis XI’s France. The moral order of Paris is enforced by Frollo, the hard-bitten, hypocritical bishop who falls in mad lust with gypsy girl Esmerelda (Maureen O’Hara) and kills the soldier with whom she is in love. After Esmerelda is arrested for the man’s murder and sentenced to death, Frollo prefers to let her hang rather than face the fact that he is as prey to human desires as any other man. Esmerelda takes refuge in the cathedral and there gets to know the misunderstood hunchback, who touches a place deep in her heart. It’s a bare bones interpretation of the story without much of the irony or contemplation that literature usually provides, but it is gorgeously photographed and effectively performed, with O’Hara being possibly the most beautiful woman who ever appeared on the silver screen, and Laughton breaking hearts with his honest performance under some intensely heavy (even if not technologically impressive) prosthetic makeup.