The following information
is from Karen Lewis. I hope to have my interpretations of
the films up soon.
Want to see how
the other film versions of "Notre-Dame de Paris" compare
with the novel/Disney version? Well, none of them bear much
resemblance to the novel, and for a discussion of WHY they
don't here's a newsgroup post
on the subject by Susan C. Mitchell. As for my other reviews
- I haven't been able to find the Gina Lollobrigida version
(with Alain Cuny as Frollo) yet, but here are my views on
the other ones:
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
Starring Anthony Hopkins (Quasimodo), Lesley-Anne Down
(Esmeralda), Derek Jacobi (Frollo), David Suchet (Clopin),
Robert Powell (Phoebus), 1982.
I was prepared
to be dazzled when I saw this truly stellar line-up for
"Hunchback"; this must be the film version to beat even
Laughton's! But after the first twenty minutes I realized
that even a set of actors like this are defenceless in
the face of a bad adaptation, and the atmosphere throughout
is that familiar from TV adaptations of historical novels
- "Look at the costumes/sets/obligatory period dwarf!
Look! Look! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
In this case it's the scriptwriter. Hugo's novel presents
many problems for adaptors, it's true, but this one's
solutions to these difficulties are bound to strike the
viewer as makeshift and cheap.
One such solution is to present Claude Frollo as unctuous
from the start, thus losing the impact of a good man's
descent into sin; even saving the infant Quasimodo is
done with a self-righteous smirk and a remark about storing
up good actions to one's credit in heaven. Anyone less
than Jacobi would have made Frollo seem a watered-down
version of Obadiah Slope. Although he can portray stifled
passion to the point of burning holes in paper with his
eyes, Jacobi's performance really starts when Claude gives
way to his lust, shrieking "I am your salvation!" at the
fleeing Esmeralda one minute and praying desperately for
grace the next. Breath duly bated, I waited expectantly
for Jacobi to give his finest performance on the roof
of Notre Dame - only to find that the adaptor had cheated
Jacobi and us of Hugo's ending. I was never closer to
Esmeralda herself presents another problem in this adaptation,
insofar as the mature Ms Down is expected to play Hugo's
naive little waif and ends up appearing remarkably stupid
and unversed in the ways of this world; surely someone
this old would realize that anyone who spends more time
looking in the mirror than at her cannot be Mr Right?
But the worst aspect of this adaptation is that this Esmeralda
realizes that Phoebus is a cad, but then proceeds to shack
up with someone even more unsuitable. No, I won't tell
you who (I have some scruples!) but let's just say that
to match her off to him is an act of desperation on the
part of the scriptwriter, and another act of desecration
to the novel that makes one wonder if there's a spare
place for him on the gallows of the Court of Miracles.
And no, no, the lucky guy's not Quasimodo. This adaptation
brings out the worst aspect of Hugo's portrayal of the
hunchback - why is the creature scarcely able to do more
than grunt when in the world and yet able to come out
with poetic gems when alone with Esmeralda? Either make
him unable to express himself at all (Lon Chaney) or make
him a fully articulate human being (Disney), but to follow
Hugo's book faithfully in this regard is sheer laziness.
Considering the difficulty of the role assigned to him,
Hopkins copes admirably; even the last few minutes of
the film (again a desperate move on the part of the adaptor)
become credible with his portrayal. Overall, I'd say watch
it for academic interest only; if you're looking for something
that goes beyond the colourful medieval surface to touch
the emotions, forget it.
the script to the 1982 film.
of Notre Dame"
Starring Lon Chaney (Quasimodo), Patsy Ruth Miller (Esmeralda),
Nigel de Brulier (Claude Frollo), Brandon Hurst (Jehan
Frollo), Raymond Hutton (Pierre Gringoire), 1923, silent,
Again I was surprised by this version of the story - something
I fully expected to be mind-numbingly dull turned out
to be unexpectedly engaging. All the elements I thought
would isolate the modern viewer from 'twenties movies
- the exaggerated miming, the title frames, the corny
soundtrack - all proved remarkably easy to assimilate,
and I found myself enjoying this adaptation far more than
its 'eighties counterpart. The sets are a bit primitive
- the painted cloisters of Notre Dame don't trompe l'oeil
for a moment - but the crowd scenes have an infectious
energy to them, and the adaptation itself is both complex
and internally consistent.
Far more elements from the book were included, such as
Paquette la Chantefleurie and Pierre Gringoire. Jehan
Frollo is also included, but only as an embodiment of
Claude Frollo's darker side; as in Disney, the adaptor
evidently had cold feet about showing the corruption of
a church official and so we have two characters, the "saintly"
white-robed archdeacon Claude and his evil black-jerkined,
middle-aged brother Jehan, the master of Quasimodo. Annoyingly,
the evil Frollo has very little depth; Hurst sports a
self-satisfied leer for most of the film, making his avowal
of vulnerability and obsession to Esmeralda in the dungeon
a little hard to swallow. A pity that we couldn't have
had Nigel de Brulier as the villain; if the adaptor had
had the nerve to show the "saint"'s feet of clay, his
lean, ascetic face could well have been the once and future
film Frollo. This Esmeralda, Patsy Ruth Miller, is convincingly
childlike, even if her painfully thin body and cupid's-bow
lips owes more to 'twenties trends than to medieval times.
As one would expect, she falls for Phoebus of the crimped
blond hair, but he becomes honourable on beholding her
innocence and turns almost instantaneously from a "young
rascal" to a paragon of virtue. Hmmm... Clopin is also
very well done as a father-figure to Esmeralda and a proto-Marxist
(the Russian Revolution occured a mere six years before
the film was released, and you can tell that its idealistic
spirit still lingered from the tone of some of Clopin's
The greatest element of the film, however, is the magnificent
performance of Lon Chaney as Quasimodo; bestial, frightening
and tragic, he manages through the sheer expressiveness
of his face to show both the childlike soul of the hunchback
and the bitterness that has warped Quasimodo's personality.
Silent film gave Chaney an advantage Hopkins did not have;
as with a book, it is a medium which allows one to mix
an objective view of a character (as seen through his
actions) with a narrator's ability to penetrate into the
characters's minds. Here all of the characters are reduced
to the same state of muteness and dependency on an "author";
beside them Quasimodo does not seem quite so freakish
as he would in a "talking" version - Hugo's incongruous
poetry is not needed to make him understandable or sympathetic.
While the film doesn't stick to the original ending, it
is nonetheless fittingly tragic, and employs the bells
in a satisfying expression of the mixed fortunes of the
principal characters. I would say watch it, but preferably
in the company of other Hunchback fans who will enjoy
seeing the shots that inspired the Court of Miracles,
INJOKE! In Chaney's "Phantom
of the Opera", shot two years later, the Phantom escapes
from the opera house and runs across Paris with a mob
in hot pursuit; you can guess which major Parisian landmark
he runs past for a 10 second sequence...
TRIVIA! Nigel De Brulier was
a model for a Disney character in "Fantasia": if you want
to know which one just click HERE...
(Photo of Chaney
and de Brulier comes from The
Silents Majority Home Page)
Starring Charles Laughton (Quasimodo), Maureen O'Hara
(Esmeralda), Cedric Hardwicke (Jehan Frollo), Thomas Mitchell
(Clopin), Edmond O'Brien (Pierre Gringoire), 1939, b/w.
The look of this film is surprisingly similar to that
of the 1923 silent version; surprisingly, until one learns
that the same sets were re-used. Many aspects of Disney's
film which seem departures from the novel can be traced
to this version, most notably Frollo's persecution of
the gypsies (a touch probably inspired by the anti-semitic
happenings in Germany and Austria at the time of the film's
making) and Esmeralda's religious awakening within the
Cathedral. So many parallels can be traced, in fact, that
I'm surprised that Disney claimed their film was based
on the Hugo novel rather than this version. It is a very
good version indeed; once it has got over its didactic
opening, an ill-judged attempt to pay homage to Hugo's
ideas ("This is a puh-rint-ing press, made by Mr Gu-ten-berg"),
the story sweeps the viewer along.
As with the silent version, "Claude" is the saintly archdeacon
and "Jehan" the evil brother, but this Frollo is given
far greater depths of psychosis than his workshy 1923
counterpart. "Never trust a man with pinched nostrils
and thin lips," Clopin says of him at one point, but I
was rather disappointed about this; Hardwicke is far too
young and well-fed to resemble Our Favourite Judge. He
makes up for this serious defect, however, with the Hat,
the Horse, and, above all, his screen presence and malevolence.
With Hardwicke's interpretation one feels throughout that
Frollo's misanthropy springs from self-contempt; this
is never more obvious than in his scenes with Esmeralda,
where he is struggling to keep his emotions hidden even
when declaring his love. His final decision - that his
love for her must be something evil - seems entirely natural
coming from such a man. Maureen O'Hara plays Esmeralda
as Hugo envisaged her, gauche and innocent, but Edmond
O'Brien's Pierre Gringoire entirely reworks Hugo's spineless
dramatist into a sympathetic - who would have thought
it? - love interest.
As always, the real hero is Quasimodo, and Laughton's
portrayal reveals the genesis of Disney's cuddlesome hunchback.
Don't think that this is the limit of Laughton's portrayal,
however - there are moments of absolute genius which make
Quasimodo seem not just a human being, but a transcendent
symbol of humanity. His stoic suffering when being whipped
and pelted on the pillory is one such moment, and when
Esmeralda gives him water Laughton can make the simple
gift seem a benediction. Although Chaney's hunchback is
more faithful to the grotesque Hugo created, Laughton
deserves praise for his attempt to humanize the monster;
I can't decide on which actor is the better.
Finally, a note on the plot; despite its lack of fidelity
to the book this revision of the text is almost a model
of what a film script should be - lively, inventive and
continually interesting. What else can this reviewer say?
WATCH THIS VERSION.
the script to the 1939 film!
And click here
for "Frollo on Frollo" - TJ's (and others') opinions
on Sir Cedric's performance.
And here's a
review (by FSM #2) of a version which premiered on TNT
in March 1997:
Starring Mandy Patinkin (Quasimodo), Richard Harris (Claude
Frollo), Jim Dale (Clopin), made for TV movie, 1996(?).
The Hunchback is
an original movie produced by TNT cable network - there
should be a strong emphasis on the word "original", as it
bears little resemblance to the book or the other movies
The story centers on Dom Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon
of Notre Dame (sackcloth, ashes, completely bald) and
his obsession with keeping the printing press from use
in Paris. The movie begins with him finding and impounding
a press. He reasons that the availability of books to
the masses will be the end of intellectualism and he vows
to stop it. He persuades the King to ban the use of all
printing presses. Around this same time, he discovers
Quasimodo orphaned on the steps of Notre Dame and takes
both the press and him into the cathedral. Richard Harris
plays Frollo and he does all he can to save the audience
One day while looking out of his window, Frollo spots
Esmeralda dancing very seductively on the street. (Unlike
the book, Esmerelda is not a young innocent but more in
line with Jessica Rabbit). He is taken with her at once
but cannot endure his lustful feelings and decides the
only way to deal with them is to whip himself nightly
(attention Frollo fans...this is not as exciting as it
sounds...too much baldness and blood). When he discovers
that this is not working, he realizes she must die to
end his torment.
At the same time, the new King is starting to reconsider
the ban on the press. His advisor (played very stiffly
by Nikolas Grace) is about to convince him that the press
would be good for the people. Frollo hates him (the advisor)
and wants to put a stop to this. He decides to "kill two
birds with one stone" (as it were), takes Esmeralda's
dagger and kills the advisor and frames her for the murder.
Phoebus makes only brief cameo-style appearances as Captain
of the Guard (he never seems to get off of his horse).
He and Esmeralda don't even speak to each other, except
for him arresting her. (Esmeralda marries a philosopher
to keep him from being hanged by the gypsies. She loves
him almost as much as she loves her goat.)
Quasimodo is played by the brilliant Mandy Patinkin who
in public is an idiot freak and in private a scholar.
He has read all the books in the cathedral library and
has even written his own and hopes to be published someday.
He is punished mistakenly for attacking Esmerelda when
he was only trying to save her. (She tries to tell the
officials the truth but they do not care.) She gives him
water and now, he too is in love forever. In turn, when
Esmeralda is about to burn at the stake for Frollo's murder,
he saves her and brings her to Notre Dame for sanctuary.
I believe that the best scene in the movie is near the
end where Frollo begs Quasimodo for pity when he confesses
his sins. Quasimodo tells him that his torment is one
of his own making and for that, he has no pity for him.
Quasimodo says very sarcastically but with meaning, "You
are not St. Augustine".
Quasimodo uses the printing press hidden away in Notre
Dame to make a pamphlet proclaiming Esmeralda's innocence
and it is distributed throughout Paris. It rallies the
people and when she is turned over to the guards by Frollo,
the people get the King to pardon her.
In the final battle, Frollo stabs Quasimodo and then falls
from the cathedral. Esmeralda and her husband ring the
bells for the dead Quasimodo.
For the Clopin fans, yes he is there too...in the performance
of Jim Dale (remember Pete's Dragon?). He is played a
little too much like "King of the Homeless" than the gypsies.
Actually, the movie's attempt at realism falls very flat.
A lot of blood and ripped clothing does not make up for
a weak plot and the watering down of once great characters
Picture of Richard Harris above courtesy of Maleficent,
the script to the 1997 film.
Starring Patrick Timsit (Quasimodo), Richard Berry (Frollo),
Melanie Thierry (Esmeralda), Vincent Elbaz (Phoebus),
Dominique Pinon (Trouillefou): opened in France March
24, 1999. French-language only.
This film is
Patrick Timsit's own comic adaptation of the events of
"Notre-Dame de Paris", updated to the present day and
taking place in El Paris, a city in Spain. (The filming
was on location in Portugal.) The story is as follows
- the Governor of El Paris has a son who is cursed from
birth by Trouillefou, the leader of a colony of poor immigrant
Cubans outside the city. It grows up to be deformed and
at the age of four the Governor has little "Quasimodo"
swapped with another child from Trouillefou's colony.
The substitute child, Esmeralda, is hurriedly renamed
"Agnes", whilst Quasimodo is brought up in the Cathedral
by Frollo with no idea of his true parentage. Years later,
Quasimodo, being just a typical teen beneath the hump,
wants to see more of the outside world. He even wants
to date the pretty hot Governor's daughter (who reassumes
her old name, "Esmeralda", when she becomes aware of her
true background). But obstacles stand in his path - most
notably the louche but handsome cop Phoebus, and his guardian,
Father Serge Frollo (Serge???), who disapproves
of his forays outside. Moreover, a serial killer is on
the loose in the city, and the police soon has the city's
resident "monster" down as Public Enemy Number One....
Is it a travesty of Hugo? Of course! The question is whether
it works, and the answer to that is, sadly, no.
The film can't quite decide whether it's straight humour
or as a modern reworking of the Hunchback story, and the
resulting blend of both doesn't gel. I actually wish they'd
written and played it for tragedy: one of the most striking
images of the film is the Cuban mother in Notre-Dame wailing
for her lost Agnes and begging Frollo for help (naturally,
his response is to have her subdued and dragged away).
Many other aspects of the story - the plight of the Cubans,
the repulsive Governor and his wife, the random serial
killing of women - sit uncomfortably with the film's status
as a comedy.
And what humour there is often misfires. I laughed out
loud once, at the spectacle of Frollo raising his
crucifix and backing away from the offscreen horror of...
a contraceptives machine. However, I was disgusted at
the film's other jibes at the Church: a priest shouting
"HALLELUJAH!" over and over at the top of his voice as
he attempts to sell religious tat from the boot of his
car isn't cutting-edge religious satire, it's just
deeply offensive to Christians. The same goes for the
scene where a bare-waisted Frollo orders Quasimodo to
discipline him with a whip in front of a pink neon cross:
even if it's meant to parody homoerotic movies, as I suspect,
it's simply not amusing. Other setpieces - Quasimodo venturing
outside for the first time and being unaware of conventions
such as queuing, Phoebus attempting to chat up Esmeralda
- are no more than mildly comical. It's a sign of Timsit's
desperation that at one point he brings in a sequence
intended to parody a "road movie", with Quasimodo and
Frollo briefly and pointlessly on the run after an escape
So much for the script. The cinematography's pleasant
if unspectacular, and a good word should be put in for
the actors. The real star of "Quasimodo D'El Paris" is
Richard Berry, who manages to convey the menacing side
of Frollo as well as the humorous. Vincent Elbaz is good
as the self-consciously hip Phoebus: the Brigitte Bardot
lookalike Melanie Thierry pouts well enough as Esmeralda.
Timsit too deserves some credit for portraying the hunchback
convincingly as a slow teenager, even if his script doesn't
give his character or anyone else's much humor or development.
Overall, an interesting concept that turned horribly sour
of Notre-Dame" by Disney? I can't review it now that
everything I wanted to say about it has been said already
- see Mr Brown's review.
For a thoroughly comprehensive selection of on- and off-line
reviews of Disney's "Hunchback" - not all complimentary!
- be sure to visit D's "F
is for Frollo" fansite.