Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939)

NOTE: This post was written and scheduled for today long before the recent fire at the Notre Dame cathedral.

Now we have yet another classic from 1939, this time being The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, starring Charles Laughton in the title role.

In the latter part of the fifteenth century, the king’s high justice, Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) has limited access to Paris for the gypsies by requiring them to have a permit to come into the city. Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) manages to get past the guards at the gates, but she is forced to take sanctuary in the church when they chase her. When Frollo follows, she escapes from the church, with Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) chasing after her under Frollo’s orders. He is captured by Phoebus (Alan Marshal) and sentenced to be whipped in the town square. Meanwhile, poet Gringoire (Edmond O’Brien) has accidentally stumbled into the Court of Miracles, where he faces the threat of being hanged unless one of the women living there agrees to marry him. Esmeralda does, even though she loves Phoebus. In spite of the fact that he had chased her, she gives Quasimodo a drink of water while he is tied down on the pillory (unlike the crowd that was mocking him). Frollo, jealous of Phoebus, murders him, and, unable to face his own sin, blames Esmeralda and tries to have her hanged. However, at the last minute, Quasimodo swoops down to save her, and gets her back into the church, claiming sanctuary.

Now, before I get any further, I do have to admit that I have never read the original novel by Victor Hugo.  I have only seen this movie, the animated Disney film from the 1990s and the HEAVILY-shortened and heavily-sanitized-for-kids episode of the 90s PBS series Wishbone, so I’ll try to go off those and the current (at the time I am writing this) article for the novel on Wikipedia. This is a much darker version of the tale (although not as much as the novel, from what I gather), so anybody expecting this to be like the Disney film will be surprised. The 1939 film keeps the two Frollo brothers from the novel, but, partly due to the Hays Code at the time, makes the archdeacon Claude Frollo (the main antagonist of the novel) into a good guy, and changes Jehan from the alcoholic brother into the high justice and gives him many of Claude’s characteristics from the novel. Esmeralda is a bit younger here and a little more naive. Phoebus? Not such a nice guy, as we find that he is also lusting after Esmeralda, but, unlike Jehan, tries to act on it (only stopped by Jehan killing him in a fit of jealousy). Then, of course, we have Clopin (as played by character actor Thomas Mitchell in one of his five big roles in 1939), who is more of a cynic, and ends up leading the beggars against Notre Dame (instead of the king’s guard, as in the Disney film). Then there’s King Louis XI (Harry Davenport, who also played Dr. Meade in that year’s Gone With The Wind, but whom I will always remember as Judy Garland’s grandfather in Meet Me In St. Louis), who is a kindly king that is thinking of his subjects, and wants to see the new age of invention, as exemplified by the recent invention of the printing press. And, finally, we have Quasimodo himself, who is deaf due to the bells, as in the book (and possibly half-blind as well, given that one eye doesn’t move, although that can be attributed to the mask that actor Charles Laughton had to wear).

Still with me?  I’ll *try* to keep this short.  While I certainly enjoy the performances of all the actors here (and they are great performances, I think), part of what I enjoy with this movie is the SETS. Seriously, from what I’ve read, everything was built FOR THIS MOVIE on a ranch owned by RKO studios in the San Fernando Valley. For me, it just looks so wonderful, especially in HD (although, to be fair, I’ve never seen this movie in standard definition, either). But I do like this movie, even better than the Disney film. Admittedly, as a non-musical drama, I do need to be in more of a mood to watch this one, but I still enjoy it very much, and I very much recommend others try it out!

This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, and on Blu-ray as part of the five film Golden Year Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 57 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) – Charles Laughton – It Started With Eve (1941)

Maureen O’Hara – Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

George Tobias – Ninotchka (1939)

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An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2018) with… Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Here we are again for another Christmas classic!  This time, it’s the 1947 movie Miracle On 34th Street, starring John Payne, Maureen O’Hara, and Edmund Gwenn.

Maureen O’Hara plays Doris Walker, a divorced mother who works at Macy’s.  When she has to fire the drunken Santa for the parade, she finds a replacement in the form of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), who does well enough he is hired for the toy department at Macy’s.  While there, he tries to change things, helping out by sending parents to wherever they need to go to help find the toys their kids are asking for.  This works out well for Macy’s, and they institute it for more than just the toy department.  Of course, the fact that Kris Kringle believes he is actually Santa Claus causes some trouble, which results in him being sent to an institution.  At his trial, he is represented by Fred Gailey (John Payne), Doris’s boyfriend and neighbor, who must prove that Kris is indeed who he says he is.

I know it’s a favorite thing for some people to complain about how much Christmas stuff is put out in the stores far sooner than it should, or how some people start decorating, listening to music, or other such things a lot earlier, but his movie is, in some respects, a good example of how that problem has been there for a long time.  From what I gather, this movie, a Christmas classic in its own right, was originally released in theaters in early summer (May or June seems to be what I see listed)!  Apparently, the head of 20th Century Fox at that time, Darryl F. Zanuck, figured that the movie would do better if it was released during the summer.  Of course, they tried to minimize the Christmas angle in promoting it, but audiences apparently enjoyed it enough to keep seeing it, even at that time of the year!

I admit, as I get older, I tend to hold less affection for most of the various “Santa Claus” movies.  However, this one is the main exception to that rule.  For me, Edmund Gwenn IS Santa Claus.  I’ve never liked anybody else anywhere near as much in the role.  And apparently, even the rest of the cast in this movie agreed that he was well cast in the role (and apparently, Natalie Wood, who played Doris’s daughter in this movie, didn’t even know he wasn’t Santa until they were finished filming the movie)!  And I certainly found it interesting that the parade at the beginning of the movie was actually the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1946, where Edmund Gwenn was Santa in the parade!  But I do recommend this movie very highly, and would definitely suggest watching it during the holiday season!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox.

Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939) – Maureen O’Hara

Going My Way (1944) – Gene Lockhart

The Bride Wore Boots (1946) – Natalie Wood – Marjorie Morningstar (1958)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!