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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