The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
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"you are to be taken barefoot with a rope around your neck before Notre-Dame to do public penance. Thereafter, to be hanged on the gallows together with your accomplice, the goat."
Regarding the lists it appears on, this is only tangentially a horror film, though it has several scenes that would have been quite horrific for 1939. The two other adaptations that I've seen (the 1996 Disney version and the 1923 silent version) were both good, but this outshines them. It's more engaging and better-paced than the silent version (though the first half does drag on occasion), and less fluffy and jokey than the Disney version. It's clearly been the main influence on the Disney version, with many elements of the design being copied straight over. Good cinematography, performances and dialogue make it an all-round high-quality film. Could have been even better if they'd stuck to the book more and fixed some of the less interesting scenes (particularly a lot of the stuff with Gringoire) and logic problems in the script.
A beautifully put together version of Hugo's novel- suitably epic but affectingly personal when it needs to be. The design and cinematography of 15th century Paris are spectacular and beautifully done. Laughton is terrific as the tragic bellringer concealed between impressive make- up, Maureen O'Hara is well cast as the beautiful gypsy who turns every man's head, including Cedric Hardwicke - particularly good as the malevolent Frollo. It's a mostly faithful adaptation, only fumbling the very end which seems a shame given how the adaptation doesn't shy away from the darker elements of the novel. Still, an impressive and notable film of the 30s.
If you're a fan of Disney's animated Hunchback of Notre Dame, don't go reading Victor Hugo's book to see how it all came together. 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is your one-stop shop for that. Very OBVIOUSLY the inspiration for the animated film. It's got very similar deviations from the film, the same iconic look for Quasimodo, and I don't know if it's something to do with the score, but I often felt like the characters were going to break out into song. If I were a Disney writer/lyricist/animator, watching this would have struck an immediate chord. It SHOULD have been a musical, essentially. Most RKO pictures I've watched were cheaply made, so I was surprised to see the grandiose sets - they built a full-scale Notre Dame and a Medieval village on the lot?! - and cast of hundreds. It looks good, has a nightmarish quality, enough that I'd call it horror-adjacent. But it does hit on its themes a little too bluntly, with several scenes very directly telling us this is a time of change, bla bla bla, like someone wanted to show they'd read the Cliff's Notes, but then never really resolving that theme at the end. If the Church is on its way out, so to speak, and Reason on its way in, why is the Church's sanctuary the thing they save? Stop it with the speeches and let us come to our own conclusions, movie!
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In 6 official lists
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This movie ranks #21 in Horror
This movie ranks #34 in 1930s
This movie ranks #98 in AFI's 100 years...100 passions
This movie ranks #214 in They Shoot Zombies, Don't They?
This movie ranks #237 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown
This movie ranks #1151 in Doubling the Canon