The Huncback of Notre Dame (1939)
I fear that this film was miss-cast with Charles Laughton in the lead role of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), alongside the Maureen O’Hara who he dragged along from Britain in her Hollywood debut. Whilst the supporting cast I have no real issue with, lead by the Sir Cedric Hardwicke as a lusting Frollo.
I was taken by how modern this film was considering the period that the film is set. The arrival of the printing press, that would soon bring free-speech and freedom of expression. The open minded King Louis XI (Harry Davenport) the gentle voice of reason over a gypsy fearing Parisian people, fearing their “witchcraft” and other negative influences. I just cannot see a young O’Hara as the face of the gypsy’s. Maybe in ten years or so time when she had lost the innocent womanly looks for a more forceful woman who could defend her people.
But it’s not about that, acceptance of everyone, not taking people at face value as a whole city was treating the feared bell ringer of Notre Dame. If only he didn’t have a posh accent the character would be complete. The film cleverly doesn’t focus on just Quasimodo, but that of Esmeralda who becomes the real centre of the film, being the romantic intentions of 3 men in the film, who fight for her in some form or another. A woman with a rich and open heart, herself coming from a background of oppression, understands the difficulties that Quasimodo faces as he is publicly humiliated. The first person in his tragic life to accept and help him outside of the church.
Whilst down below the belfry that hides the most feared man in Paris is a jealous ridden Frollo who will commit terrible crimes to have Esmeralda in his arms and not those of Pheobus (Alan Marshal) . Whilst a single voice in the form of poet Gringore (Edmond O’Brien) who stands by her, in whatever capacity in her life.
A film that came from the likes of RKO who produced mainly comedies to come out with a grand pieces such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame reminds of me classic epics since the days of Metropolis (1927) using massive casts. I can see that even smaller studios in one of the most successful years of film could compete with works such as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka and Stagecoach (1939). Studios were always upping their game creatively to see what was possible as the golden age of cinema was blossoming.
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