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Classic Silent Film: Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923)

01/12/2018

Wikipedia

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1923 American romantic drama film with horror elements starring Lon Chaney, directed by Wallace Worsley, and produced by Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg. The supporting cast includes Patsy Ruth MillerNorman KerryNigel de Brulier, and Brandon Hurst. The film was Universal‘s “Super Jewel” of 1923 and was their most successful silent film, grossing $3.5 million.[1]

The film is based on Victor Hugo‘s 1831 novel, and is notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as for Chaney’s performance and make-up as the tortured hunchback Quasimodo. The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood, and also helped set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. In 1951, the film entered the public domain in the United Statesbecause the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.

The story is set in Paris in 1482. Quasimodo is a deaf, half-blind, hunchbacked bell-ringer of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. His master is a man named Jehan, the evil brother of Notre Dame’s saintly archdeacon Dom Claude. One night, Jehan prevails upon Quasimodo to kidnap the fair Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl (and the adopted daughter of Clopin, the king of the oppressed beggars of Paris’ underworld). The dashing Captain Phoebus rescues Esmeralda from Quasimodo, while Jehan abandons him and flees (later in the film, Quasimodo begins to hate Jehan for abandoning him). At first seeking a casual romance, Phoebus becomes entranced by Esmeralda, and takes her under his wing. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square before Esmeralda and Dom Claude come to his aid.

To their dismay, Jehan and Clopin learn that Phoebus hopes to marry Esmeralda, despite being engaged to Fleur de Lys. Phoebus persuades Esmeralda to accompany him to a ball celebrating his appointment as Captain of the Guard by King Louis XI. He provides her with rich garments and introduces her to their hostess, Madame de Gondelaurier, as a Princess of Egypt. Clopin, accompanied by his beggars, crashes the festivities and demands Esmeralda be returned. To avoid bloodshed, Esmeralda says that she does not belong with the aristocracy. Later, however, Esmeralda sends the street poet Pierre Gringoire to give Phoebus a note, arranging a rendezvous at Notre Dame to say goodbye to him. Phoebus arrives and is stabbed in the back by Jehan. After Esmeralda is falsely sentenced to death for the crime, she is rescued from the gallows by Quasimodo and carried inside the cathedral, where he and Dom Claude grant her sanctuary.

Later that night, Clopin leads the whole of the underworld to storm the cathedral, and Jehan attempts to take Esmeralda, first by guile (telling her that Phoebus’s dying wish was for him to take care of her), then by force. Quasimodo holds off the invaders with rocks and torrents of molten lead. Meanwhile, the healed Phoebus is alerted by Gringoire and leads his men against the rabble. When Quasimodo finds Jehan attacking Esmeralda, he throws his former master off the ramparts of Notre Dame, but not before Jehan fatally stabs him in the back. Phoebus finds and embraces Esmeralda. Witnessing this, Quasimodo rings his own death toll, and Gringoire and Dom Claude enter the bell tower just in time to see him die. The last image is of the great bell swinging silently above Quasimodo’s corpse.

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