In 15th-century France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, and only the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame Cathedral can save her.In 15th-century France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, and only the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame Cathedral can save her.In 15th-century France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, and only the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame Cathedral can save her.
The Paris set is a beautiful creation and possibly the greatest work by Van Nest Polglase, who with the producer Pan Berman is chiefly remembered today for the elegant art-deco designs for the Astaire-Rogers musicals.
The centrepiece of this remarkable set is the replica of Notre Dame cathedral which was only built to 50% height of the original; the towers above were added as an optical effect by use of a hanging miniature in some shots and by incorporating a glass painting in long shots. It's very convincing.
Dieterle was the perfect choice to direct this story. A student (and later collaborator) of Max Reinhardt, he marshals the huge crowd scenes (no CGi here - those thousands of peasants are all real people) with aplomb and his mastery of expressionistic imagery informs every frame.
Alfred Newman brought an intelligence to the musical score rare in Hollywood. His on screen credit "Musical adaptation and original composition by" reflects his skillful combining of original renaissance choral music by Tomas Luis de Victoria with his own work. He also uses a stirring Hallelujah chorus by uncredited Austrian Jewish émigré Ernst Toch (in Hollywood to escape the Nazis) for the memorable scene where Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda, reprised at the film's closing sequence as the camera pulls back from Notre Dame.
It's a great pity that a better restoration cannot be achieved for this beautiful film than is currently available on DVD. While the source print is serviceable, it is often poorly defined and suffers from many scratches. Perhaps it is the only print now extant? I would also love to see the original trailer rather than the re-release version.
While some may wish Basil Rathbone could have been released from contract at Universal to play Frollo, I think Cedric Hardwicke was ideal casting. As for Laughton, this may well be his signature role and a masterly example of great acting with hardly any dialogue at all.
As Mr Sinatra once said - "You can wait around and hope - but you won't see the likes of this again"
- Oct 27, 2013