Charles Laughton gives a riveting performance in the titular role of what’s considered to be the best Hollywood version of Victor Hugo’s famouls novel.
Intelligently adapted to the screen by Sonya Levien, and and proficiently directed by William Dieterle, tale is set in fifteenth century France.
The gypsy girl Esmerlada (played by the very young and beautiful Maureen O’Hara) is accused of being a witch and framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, only to be saved the last moment by the deformed bellringer Quasimodo (Laughton) of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Hugo novel, “Notre Dame de Paris,” was filmed in Hollywood before, as a 1923 silent, with Lon Chaney, in 1957, with Anthony Quinn (and Gina Lollobrigida as Esmerlada), and for TV in 1982, with Anthony Hopkins.
Shot in black-and-white, the film received a bigger budget than the usual from the studio, RKO, so that elaborate sets would be built and the right atmosphere conveyed.
Laughton renders a scary, haunting, utterly compelling performance, which humanizes his character, and many believed that he deserved an Oscar nomination for it. (Laughton had won the Best Actor Oscar in 1933, for “The Private Life of King Henry VIII”).
Oscar Nominations: 2
Sound Recording: John Aalberg
Score: Alfred Newman
Oscar Awards: None
The winner of the Sound Recording was Bernard B. Brown for “When Tomorrow Comes.”
The Score Oscar went to the group oc composers and arrangers, who worked on John Ford’s Western “Stagecoach.”
Running time: 115 Minutes.
Directed by William Dieterle
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, Bruno Frank
DVD: October 28, 1997
Charles Laughton as Quasimodo
Cedric Hardwicke as Dom Claude Frollo
Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda
Thomas Mitchell as Clopin
Edmond O’Brien as Pierre Gringoire
Walter Hampden as Archbishop