The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)

12/03/2019 06:28

Film: The Huncback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris)

Year: 1956

Director: Jean Delannoy

Writer: Jean Aurenche and Jacques Prévert

Starring: Gina Lollobrigida, Anthony Quinn and Jean Danet



This is another version of this story that I hadn’t seen yet and decided since I saw all of the films that I needed to for my horror movie challenge, I would finally give this a viewing. Much like the others I’ve seen, this one does some slight variations on this tale to make it a bit different for sure. The synopsis is the timeless tale of the seductive gypsy Esmeralda (Gina Lollobrigida) and the tortured hunchback Quasimodo (Anthony Quinn).

We start this showing us a Greek word carved into the wall at the cathedral of Notre Dame. The narrator states to us that the writer of the novel Victor Hugo saw this word and came up with the idea for this story. It then shifts back to 1482, when this happened.

It starts inside of a building where a play is supposed to be happening. The writer of the play is Pierre Gringoire (Robert Hirsch). He is trying to get everyone to calm down, but no one will listen to him. They instead go outside to participate in the festival of fools. They are then looking for their king.

Watching over this Claude Frollo (Alain Cuny) and he’s displeased. He lives in Notre Dame and has been working with Quasimodo to help him fit more in society. With him currently is his younger brother, who’s asking for money to participate in the festivities, Jehan (Maurice Sarfati). We also get to meet the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda as she is dancing and with her goat. The leader of these people who’re poor is Clopin Trouillefou (Philippe Clay). Also watching everything is the bell ringer of Notre Dame, the hunchbacked Quasimodo. He is then crowned as the king of fools until they get to Claude, who scolds him.

Claude continues to stare at Esmeralda and enlists the aid of Quasimodo to kidnap her. This is thwarted by the head of the guard, Phoebus de Chateaupers (Jean Danet), and his men. Quasimodo is taken into custody and will be publicly punished. Phoebus tries to takes Esmeralda to a place he frequents. She refuses to go in, but she’s interested in him.

After Quasimodo is whipped, he asks for water. No one will bring him any until Esmeralda arrives. She gives him some and he’s grateful. We also see her save Gringoire from being hung among the thieves and poor. She has to take him as a husband in order to do so. We see that it is definitely more of a plutonic relationship though. Regardless though, she does have a good heart, but she’s not the smartest, being in love with Phoebus.

All the while, Claude is entranced with Esmeralda. Much to his displeasure, she shows interest in the engaged Phoebus. He can’t take it anymore and stabs him with her knife. She is arrested as the owners of the house don’t see Claude. She is then put on trial for witchcraft and tortured into a confession. Quasimodo is able to save her while she claims sanctuary in Notre Dame. Louis XI (Jean Tissier) won’t stand idly by though and looks for a way to execute this witch before a revolt happens.

As I kind of lead this review off with, this one does do some things that are a little bit different from some of the other versions, which I admit that some work while others didn’t. I still feel bad for Quasimodo here. He’s such a tragic character that is treated poorly due to his deformities from birth. He even ruins his own hearing for the love of ringing the bells. This does become problematic and I’ll dive more into that when I go over the acting.

We get an interesting take here that Louis XI along with Aloyse de Gondelaurier (Valetine Tessier) visit Claude. I’m assuming that he’s supposed to be a man of God as he lives in Notre Dame. He’s much darker here and is actually practicing alchemy. This is kind of an interesting take though, as he’s one of the accusers of Esmeralda for her to be doing witchcraft. I do think that this slightly hurts the film as I think it’s better to have him being a man of God that goes after her to show the duality of humanity.

This one also diminishes the role of Clopin. We learn of his position and he of course leads the charge later in the movie, but other that he is reduced to an ongoing joke asking for charity. I think it works better as well if you have him showing that he has pull and the numbers of the lower class at his back.

I don’t mean to just breakdown the film, but I also had an issue with the relationship between Esmeralda and Quasimodo. She is afraid of him as he almost kidnaps her. She then shows him compassion with giving him water, but when he saves her from execution, she wakes up and completely terrified of him again. I just think that was a bit overplayed. I’m fine with her being a little bit spooked, but fleeing in terror is too much for their interactions.

I’ll move this to the pacing of this movie next, which I thought was just fine. It has a run time of 104 minutes, but I don’t think we get a lot of filler that hurts the pacing. We get the introductions to the major players and really get an idea of their character. This novel has a lot of information from what I’ve gathered seeing all these different versions so they need to be able to convey as much as they can. I do think that some the changes here does hurt the overall feel of the film, but I will say, the ending to this is probably the most bleak of all the versions and I dug that.

That will finally move me to the acting. I thought that Lollobrigida was good casting here. She is quite attractive, she has an exotic look, but she also brings a hint of bitchiness to the role. She knows that the world around her can be dangerous and uses what she has to her advantage. On the other side, Quinn was disappointing unfortunately. I’ve seen him in other things and I like him. The problem I have is that Quasimodo is supposed to be deaf, but at times he can hear things and others he can’t. He also stands upright, probably without thinking as he’s a big guy. I hate to say this, but he’s probably the worst portrayal I’ve seen of this character. Danet and Cuny are both interesting in that they’re opposite in their personalities, but showing similar feels of toxic masculinity. Both work due to the reaction they got out of me. I don’t really like what they did with Clay or Hirsch in this film, but I will say the rest of the cast rounded out the movie for what was needed.

This will then take me to the effects of the film. There’s not really a lot to be honest. The make-up of Quasimodo was fine. I like that he really can’t look out of his one eye and his face looks deformed as it should. The costumes of the characters and the sets all look faithful to the time period so that’s a plus. I would say that the film is shot just fine, recreating some the more famous shots of previous versions which is a good touch.

Now with that said, this is probably my least favorite of the adaptations of Hugo’s book I’ve sent thus far. We do get the general story here which works, but there are a lot of changes that hurt the story here for me. I do think that the pacing is good and the bleak ending was something I really liked. I think most of the acting is good, but I was really disappointed in Quinn’s performance. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but Quasimodo’s look and it does feel like the time period. The soundtrack for this one really didn’t stand out to me, but it didn’t take me out of it either. It fit for what was needed. I would say that this version probably isn’t horror and focuses more on the drama, but since I’ve reviewed the others I might as well here. I found this to just be slightly above average and would recommend checking out other versions that are much better.


My Rating: 5.5 out of 10