The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show part one of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
Score:

Genre: Historical Drama
Director: Jean Delannoy
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Gina Lollobrigida, Jean Danet, Alain Cuny, Robert Hirsch
Rated: NR

I hated the 1957 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I saw it as a child, but I was open to giving it another chance as an adult. While I don’t hate it any longer, I sure as hell don’t like it. Its major claim to fame seems to be that it preserves the ending of Victor Hugo’s novel. Well, so did the “Classics Illustrated” comic book version and I can’t imagine anyone making a case for it. The problem is that this version may record the letter of the book, but the results are a huge “So what?” when stacked up against the ending of the 1939 William Dieterle version, which is the Hunchback to beat if you’re in the market for such a thing. And to date, nobody has—certainly this flat-footed version doesn’t. Even without going point-by-point against the Dieterle film, there’s not much here. It has the typical overlit feel of its era, giving it an almost complete lack of atmosphere. It hits all the key plot points and scenes, but it’s never more than modestly efficient about them in a kind of take-it-or-leave-it manner—rather like the director was going down a checklist. The performances don’t help. Anthony Quinn’s Quasimodo looks less like the character than he looks like a comedy-skit parody of him, and the interpretation isn’t that much better. Perhaps he’s supposed to be a method-actor hunchback, but whatever he is, he never engaged my sympathy very much. The film’s not so much dreadful as it’s merely perfunctory. It feels like nobody involved cared very much. Hunchback completists will find it of at least passing interest, but with the Dieterle film out there, I’m hard-pressed to understand bothering with this one—except as a curio.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

4 thoughts on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  1. Arlened

    It’s the one “hunchback” that has somehow eluded me. Always wanted to catch it since the black and filmbook in a “Famous Monsters” also ran. (Do not ask me which one).

    Looks good in black and white stills, which may just prove your point.

  2. Chip Kaufmann

    For the record it should be noted that HFS is showing the English dubbed version not the original French version shown in the clip above. I would have preferred the French version as it helps to lessen the film’s deficiencies but it was not available in a Region One copy.

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