Friday, January 26, 2007

Revisit: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

A Universal Pictures release 1923
Directed by Wallace Worsley
Writing credits:
Victor Hugo (novel)
Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Perley Poore Sheehan

Gypsy dancer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller) is the object of offection for both Phoebus (Norman Kerry), the loyal Captain of the Guards, and Jehan (Brandon Hurst), the evil brother of the archdeacon. When Jehan stabs Phoebus in the back, Esmerelda is blamed, but the hunchback Quasimoto (Lon Chaney) comes to her rescue, as she was the only person ever to treat the deformed man kindly.

Chaney’s performance, paired with a striking and innovative use of make-up, evoked both terror and pity in its original release, and it remains the best reason to see this film. He really gets into it, and it's a pretty stunning transformation, considering the period. In fact, a lot about this movie is pretty stunning for the time; while the camera movement is flat, the images contained are striking, with a beautiful, realistic looking medieval set and many large crane shots that cram hundreds of people onto the screen at once. From what I gather, it is the more accurate version of Hugo's story, as well. People often have trouble watching silent films today, but this was one that definitely kept me engaged on a basic story level. I'm interested to see how it compares to the 1939 Charles Laughton version.

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