The Hunchback of Notre Dame


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo

Adaptation by Perley Poor Sheehan

Scenario by Edward T. Lowe Jr.

Photography by Robert Newhard

Art Direction by Elmer Sheeley & Sydney Ullman

Edited by Edward Curtis, Maurice Pivar & Sydney Singerman

Music (for this issue) by Donald Hunsberger

Makeup by Lon Chaney

Produced by Carl Laemmle & Irving Thalberg

Directed by Wallace Worsley

Theatrical Release: 1923


Lon Chaney - Quasimodo

Patsy Ruth Miller - Esmeralda

Norman Kerry - Phoebus de Chateaupers

Kate Lester - Madame de Condelaurier

Winifred Bryson - Fleur de Lys

Brandon Hurst - Jehan

Ernest Torrence - Clopin

Nigel de Brulier - Don Claudio

Tully Marshall - El Rey Luis XI

Raymond Hatton - Gringoire

Harry L. Van Meter - Neufchatel

Production Studio:

Theatrical: Universal Pictures

Video: Flicker Alley


Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size:  BD25

Feature Size: 15.10 GB

Bit Rate: Low (ca. 18 Mbps)

Runtime: 109 minutes (8 minutes less than Image Ultimate Edition DVD)

Chapters: 20

Region: All / NTSC


English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: n/a


• Audio Commentary with Chaney scholar Michael Blake

• Chaney out of makeup on the set (1:40)

Alas and Alack - a 1915 short with Lon Chaney (13:17)

• Production & Publicity Photo Gallery - in HD (13:55) - mostly production

• Souvenir Program Book - in HD (15:25) (sold at Roadshow engagements of the film)

• Booklet w/ 9-page essay by Michael Blake


Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD x 1 + Booklet

Street Date: March 11, 2012

Introduction: [Flicker Alley]

Hunchback is a huge production: the sets depicting 15th-century Paris covered nineteen acres of Universal Pictures’ back lot and included the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral. Filming took six months and the climactic sequence employed two thousand extras, but it’s Lon Chaney’s performance that makes the character unforgettable. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME premiered at New York’s Astor Theatre on September 2, 1923. The success of the film was immediate; it made Carl Laemmle and Universal Pictures a fortune, and turned Lon Chaney into a screen legend.


This edition is mastered from a multi-tinted 16mm print struck in 1926 from the original camera negative. (The film apparently does not survive in 35mm). Visible wear in the source material is diminished with a moderate amount of digital restoration. It is pictorially much better than earlier video editions and represents the best condition in which this landmark film survives today.  A new symphonic score arranged by Donald Hunsberger was recorded in the Czech Republic by full orchestra conducted by Robert Israel.


Synopsis [edited from Wikipedia]:

The story is set in Paris, France ten years before Christopher Columbus discovered America. Quasimodo is a deaf, half-blind, hunchbacked bell-ringer of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. His master, Jehan Frollo, the evil brother of the saintly archdeacon, Dom Claude Frollo, prevails upon Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl and the adopted daughter of Clopin, the king of the oppressed beggars of Paris' underworld. The dashing Captain Phoebus rescues Esmeralda from Quasimodo, while Jehan abandons him and flees. At first seeking a casual romance, Phoebus becomes entranced by Esmeralda, and takes her under his wing. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square. After being whipped, he begs for water. Esmeralda pities him, and brings him some.


To their dismay, Jehan and Clopin both learn that Phoebus hopes to marry Esmeralda, despite his being engaged to Fleur de Lys. At a ball, Esmeralda says that she does not belong with the aristocracy. She sends street poet Pierre Gringoire to give Phoebus a note, arranging a rendezvous at Notre Dame to say goodbye to him. There, Jehan stabs Phoebus in the back and lays the blame on Esmeralda. She is tortured into giving a false confession and sentenced to death. However, she is rescued from the gallows by Quasimodo and carried inside the cathedral, where she is granted sanctuary, temporarily protecting her from arrest.

Clopin leads the whole of the underworld to storm the cathedral that night, while Jehan attempts to have his way with Esmeralda. Quasimodo holds off the invaders with rocks and molten lead thrown from the parapets. Meanwhile, the healed Phoebus is alerted by Gringoire and leads his men against the rabble. When Quasimodo finds Jehan attacking Esmeralda, he throws his master off the ramparts of the cathedral, but not before being fatally stabbed. As Quasimodo witnesses Phoebus embracing Esmeralda, he rings his own death toll.


Critical Reaction:

filmsdefrance -

Carl Laemmle's lavish 1923 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, to this day, the most famous adaptation of Victor Hugo's celebrated novel, and many would argue that it is by far the best. . . Today, Lon Chaney must appear an obvious choice for the part of the hunchback Quasimodo, but at the time this was not the case. Chaney had not yet established himself as the man of a thousand faces and was considered a straight character actor. . . The Hunchback of Notre Dame was to change the direction of Chaney's career massively, diverting him to the kind of roles that would earn him immortality, roles such as the vampire-like fiend that stalks Paris in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Quasimodo must have been a dream part for Chaney. Not only did it allow him to create a distinctive, unforgettable screen persona through a combination of inventive make-up and expressive (some would say hammy) acting, but it also allowed him to put his acrobatic talents to good use. His portrayal is a near-perfect actualisation of the tortured deformity in Hugo's novel - Quasimodo's horrific outward appearance belies a soul of exquisite beauty and sensitivity which no [sic] could ever appreciate, a mockery of mankind's propensity for judging only by what is on the surface. The pathos that Chaney brings to the part, particularly in his scenes with Emeralda, is genuine and heart-wrenching, and leaves you in no doubt that he was one of true greats of the silent era of cinema.

The film's epic visual impact (achieved through impressive art design and some highly ambitious crowd sequences) goes some way to make up for Wallace Worsley's unadventurous workmanlike direction. The latter, together with some lacklustre performances, prevents the film from being an out-and-out masterpiece, but the essential humanity and poetry of Hugo's novel is retained (in spite of a few diversions) to give a film that is both spectacular and poignant. Also, thanks to lax censorship in Hollywood at the time, the film is surprisingly accurate in its grim depiction of life in the Middle Ages, even showing medieval torture in all its ugly brutality. - James Travers


Ozu’s World Movie Reviews -

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on the 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. This early film spectacle made a major star out of Lon Chaney, who played Quasimodo with relish. . . Chaney spent three hours a day applying his own makeup for the role (applying cotton and a special device to make his cheeks protrude grotesquely, nose putty for warts, a contact lens for blacking out one of his eyes, and placing on his back a huge rubber hump with a harness that weighed close to 50 pounds). Universal's lavish production (big sets and thousands of extras), which took six months to film, does a great job of recreating the 16th century walled city of Paris. It paid off in the box office, as it became one of Universal's biggest box office draws of the 1920s. It opened at Carnegie Hall instead of a regular movie house, marking it as more than a movie--an event.

Most critics cite the 1939 Charles Laughton version that was directed by William Dieterle as their favorite (which is also mine), nevertheless Chaney's Quasimodo remains the definitive one despite the film's other lesser qualities in its film-making (like not drawing out suspense in almost every action scene and not clearing up necessary details of some of its lead characters). - Dennis Schwartz


Image: 3

Flicker Alley’s  Blu-ray edition is struck from the same restored source as was used for the 2005 Image Ultimate Edition DVD. All original 35 mm negatives are lost, so we have to rely on surviving 16 mm, and those not in good shape at all. The result, here, as with the Image DVD, leaves us with the impression that the silent film era must have been mixed technical blessing in its day. The truth, as the average video buyer now realizes, is quite different, as we now have restorations and surviving stock that rivals new films. Alas, Hunchback is not one of them. In fact, if we want to be perfectly honest in the matter, excepting stretches of less than minute here and there, it’s pretty tough going throughout. Damage is so bad that no two consecutive frames are compromised in the same way, though scratches can persist for many seconds. The screencaps, though making quite clear how soft the image is, suggest a more consistent viewing experience than the reality.


That said, it is possible, with the proper mind-set, to ignore the semi-constant insult to our senses that we have had to endure for decades with miserable public domain prints. Flicker has managed to improve on the Image DVD in several respects: Contrast is generally better, with shades of gray where previously there was only black or white; film speed has been increased, in part to minimize stutter and to present a slightly more realistic representation of movement (remember film speed needs to be “corrected” for 24 fps from 16 fps) and to minimize image stutter; and resolution is increased to 1080p which offers some help with projected enlargement.

I should note that the Image DVD does increase black levels some which lends an impression of better sharpness, but that’s just a trick of the eye. I might also add that the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (same as the Image DVD with a smidge more info at the bottom of the frame) is not likely to be original, as films of that era tended to be about 1.25:1 or squarer. My sense is that the image was cropped at the top and bottom at some point to achieve an academy ratio.


Audio & Music: 5/7

Bothe the Image DVD and Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, albeit at different resolutions, which, as it turns out, is largely inconsequential as compared to what happens to timbre. Keep in mind that Flicker uses the same source as the Image DVD and speeds it up about 7% to reduce stutter. However, even though the made an attempt to adjust for pitch, there was really nothing they could do about timbre. Timbre has to do with the way overtones are organized which, in turn, is how we hear the difference between, say, a trumpet and a clarinet playing the note. If the issue were simply a matter of pitch then the music would be heard about one tone higher (D instead of C, for example.) I that case, the only thing that would be affected is mood. Not a big deal, except to serious composers. Mess with the playback speed, however, and the effect can be humorous or it can be cruel. Perhaps you are the familiar with the effect of playing 33 rpm records at 45. People sound like they're on helium. A popular group called "Alvin & the Chipmunks" sold records based on the effect back in the 50s. This is not a pitch change (Wikipedia gets this wrong, for a change.)


I have a great deal of difficulty watching movies with PAL speedup. Voices that ordinarily reside in the chest become nasalized and familiar actors are unrecognizable. If you didn't have the visual cue you wouldn't be able to identify or emotionally relate to your favorite actors. In the case of Hunchback I am not so much concerned with the commentary since I don't know that voice. It's not like we're talking about Basil Rathbone or Burt Lancaster here, who sound pretty strange with the 4% speedup that comes with PAL. Flicker Alley’s Hunchback speedup is about 7%, which alters fundamentally the character of instruments heard on the soundtrack. The organ that first appears has no weight whatsoever; the piano sounds tinny, cellos are reinvented, and massed strings take on a shimmer that sends unintended shivers down my spine.


Extras: 8

As near as I can make out, this Blu-ray has the identical supplements s the Image DVD, save that the photo galleries are in HD (a nice plus) but that’s about it. The materials are informative and well presented. The 1915 short Alas and Alack (incorrectly listed as 1939 in most promotional materials) is semi-interesting for its being an earlier film where Chaney makes a brief appearance as a hunchback. Michael Blake, who provides both audio commentary and program notes for the brochure, is a Lon Chaney scholar who is also a makeup artist.


Recommendation: 7

For all practical purposes, Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray edition is much the same as the Image Ultimate Edition DVD, played at about 7% faster speed, which to my eye looks more natural in motion (thus the 109 minute runtime.) The faster speed is probably partly responsible for Flicker's better image stability. The Blu-ray also has the advantage of greater resolution, but the poor quality of the surviving 16 mm source does little to show this off to advantage, though Flicker accomplishes some minor but useful damage control. Contrast is improved with a greater tonal scale, though the image is still very soft - at first glance softer than the Image DVD due to the DVD's enhanced black levels. The commentary and music score are the same; the latter is presented in 2-channel Dolby Digital, not in any uncompressed format. In this case, the less aggressive audio format may actually work in our favor in that any more resolution applied to the audio would make the deficiencies of the video AND the film itself that much more apparent. On the other hand, the speedup profoundly affects instrumental timbres on the soundtrack. While I found this a serious drawback I predict that most people will neither notice or care. One final note: I can’t say I very much care for the cover art. Flicker would have been better off with one of Universal’s original posters, such as are on high def view in the Bonus Feature “Souvenir Program Book.”


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

March 18, 2014

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