Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

I noticed that the 1939 masterpiece "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is airing on TCM this Sunday evening, so I thought I would tell you about it, hopefully to spark your interest if you have never seen it. It is a great film among hundreds of the best films ever made during Hollywood's best year.
This version stars Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O'Hara as Esmerelda (no, she's not gypsy-ish, but she does a wonderful job in one of her earliest American roles).
This version of Victor Hugo's novel is considered the best adaptation, and the most faithful to Hugo's original intentions. Some things are changed (like the ending), but that is to be expected from a Hollywood adaptation, especially during the Production Code era. Despite the novel being centuries old, there are definitely symbols of life in 1939. America was gearing up for World War, and deciding what kind of role they wanted their country to have. The film opens with a theme about the invention of the printing press and the dangers of the written word spreading among the masses. It's interesting to compare how leaders in medieval times and the 1940s were concerned about their people knowing too much. As I learned this week in my Writing About Film class, no historical movie is completely about the past.
This film is worth watching for so many reasons. an entire Notre Dame replica was built on the RKO Ranch, along with a few acres of surrounding town that were detailed down to the roads that wound between the buildings. Thousands of extras donned costumes to look like a literal sea of people in the opening scenes of the festival. It's insane and extremely well-directed. If you watch this on DVD, be sure to check out Maureen O'Hara talking about the direction style of Dieterle. He wore white gloves and said very little, yet pulled off this extraordinary feat and many more.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is available on DVD and is airing on TCM tonight, Sept. 13th at 10 pm (eastern). It airs again on November 29th.


Matthew Coniam said...

Sold! I haven't watched this one in a very long time, and you've inspired me to go off and watch it again now. Laughton is just incredible. Loved reading this!

Maggie said...

Good to know! This was my first foray to the world of Charles Laughton. He blew me away.

Tom said...

Great movie!