Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)

Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)

“All Quasimodo knew was that this girl had once been kind to him.”

A deformed bell-ringer (Lon Chaney, Sr.) in Notre Dame Cathedral provides sanctuary to a young gypsy woman (Patsy Ruth Miller) falsely accused of killing a nobleman (Norman Kerry) who was actually stabbed by the jealous and unscrupulous brother (Brandon Hurst) of an archdeacon.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Disabilities
  • Falsely Accused
  • Gypsies
  • Historical Drama
  • Lon Chaney, Sr. Films
  • Misfits
  • Silent Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary recommends that film fanatics see this “first of many screen adaptations of Victor Hugo’s classic” before any others. He notes that it’s an “impressive production with large sets and hundreds of extras”, “beautifully photographed, ambitiously staged by director Wallace Worsley, and marvelously acted” by Chaney and Miller. He points out that the “key to Chaney’s definitive performance as Quasimodo is that his expressions and gestures are subtle, not demonstrative as one would expect in a silent picture”; he argues that while “later actors who played the hunchback hammed it up and worked too hard to get our pity”, “Chaney realized that the make-up alone was strong enough to make viewers feel sympathy for the hunchback — he wanted to show that Quasimodo’s personality was opposite of his monstrous exterior”. Peary concludes his review by noting that “the finale is extravagant and exciting, then poignant.” While I’m suitably impressed with how lavishly well-mounted this early silent flick is, I share less of Peary’s overall enthusiasm. It’s certainly worth a look for Chaney’s memorable performances, but the storyline creaks.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lon Chaney, Sr. as Quasimodo
  • Impressive sets (spanning 19 acres) and handling of large crowds

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a lavish early silent adaptation, and to see Chaney, Sr. in one of his signature roles.


One thought on “Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)

  1. First viewing. Only a must-see for Chaney, Sr. fans or those who have a strong interest in silent cinema. Otherwise…

    I also don’t share Peary’s enthusiasm for this particular film – *as* a film. And though I do have a respect for Chaney, I probably prefer Laughton’s performance in the 1939 version.

    I agree that this version creaks a bit. As I said in my response to the 1939 version, I haven’t read the novel – and this version and the 1939 film differ in some fundamental details involving characters and their relationships. But it’s never been a novel that seemed to hold much appeal for me.

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