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Saturday Night Cinema: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema feature is in honor of the tragedy that befell great cathedral in Paris this week. “The Huncback of Notre Dame”  starring the magnificent monster Charles Laughton, is easily the best version of the Victor Hugo’s classic tale of a fated love. 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.

Critics Corner:

“In its shocking way it’s really very fine.”

“Gorgeous, brilliant, nearly flawless.”

“Charles Laughton gives a riveting, haunting performance in this atmospheric, Oscar-nominated version, previously shot in 1923 with Lon Chaney and in 1957 with Anthony Quinn”

The Hunchback Of Norte Dame (1939) – Charles Laughton – Maureen O’Hara – The Movie, SDC TELEVISION from brtiAmerica on Vimeo.

THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ With Charles Laughton, Opens at Music Hall– ‘SOS Mediterranean’ at Cameo and ‘Big Guy’ at Globe Also Seen

By Frank S. Nugent,  January 1, 1940, Page The New York Times Archives

The Music Hall is no place for the youngsters this week. Take warning!

We have only a faint recollection of Lon Chaney’s “Hunchback” in 1923. He had a hairy chest and back, was blind of one eye and deaf and, since those were the silent days, we could not hear him speak. Charles Laughton’s version is even more horrendous. It is to Mr. Laughton’s credit that he is able to act at all under his make-up, to suggest exultation, hatred and to evoke pity.

Yet we cannot truthfully say we enjoyed him or his picture. The film is almost unrelievedly brutal and without the saving grace of unreality which makes Frankenstein’s horrors a little comic. The only joyously fantastic note in the whole proceedings is the scene where Quasimodo swings, like Tarzan, on a rope from the cathedral tower to the scaffold, plucks the gypsy Esmeralda from the hangman’s grasp and—in haughty defiance of all the rules of pendulum—swings grandly back to the tower again, hoarsely bellowing “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” instead of the ape-man’s warcry. But otherwise its progress is furiously bloody and brutal, with floggings in the market-place, murder, showers of molten lead, torture and many more ugly refinements.

It is handsome enough of production and its cast is expert, with Maureen O’Hara as a beautiful Esmeralda. Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the fanatic Lord High Justice, Walter Hampden as the Archbishop, Harry Davenport as King Louis, Thomas Mitchell as the beggar king and Alan Marshal and Edmund O’Brien as Captain Phoebus and the poet Gringoire. In spite of them all, we enter our doubts and demurrers: at the Rialto, yes; at the Music Hall—and as a holiday show—no! “The Hunchback” belongs between the covers of his book or back in the simpler days of the movies; he’s a bit too coarse for our tastes now.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, as adapted by Bruno Frank from the Victor Hugo novel;
screen play by Sonya Levien;
musical adaptation and original composition by Alfred Newman;
directed by William Dieterle;
produced by Pandro S. Berman for RKO-Radio.

At the Radio City Music Hall.
Quasimodo . . . . . Charles Laughton
Frollo . . . . . Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Clopin . . . . . Thomas Mitchell
Esmeralda . . . . . Maureen O’Hara
Gringoire . . . . . Edmond O’Brien
Phoebus . . . . . Alan Marshal
Archbishop . . . . . Walter Hampden
Fleur’s Mother . . . . . Katharine Alexander
King Louis XI . . . . . Harry Davenport
Procurator . . . . . George Zucco
Old Nobleman . . . . . Fritz Leiber
Doctor . . . . . Etienne Girardot
Fleur . . . . . Helene Whitney
Queen of Beggars . . . . . Minna Gombell
Olivier . . . . . Arthur Hohl
Beggar . . . . . George Tobias
Phillipo . . . . . Rod La Rocque
Court Clerk . . . . . Spencer Charters

The Truth Must be Told

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