Oscar Movies: Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939): Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara

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


Oscar Context:

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