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Ten years ago or thereabouts a film version of Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris was shown in London – a film so realistic and stupendous that the management had to request their patrons “not to applaud too enthusiastically” during the performance.
That first Hunchback of Notre Dame came to us across the English Channel. To-day another version comes from beyond the Atlantic, and although it is an elaborate-studied piece of work, over which much time and many dollars have been spent, it makes no tumultuous call upon our enthusiasm.
The settings are admirable, the lighting admirable, and the performance of Ernest Torrence as Chopin, the beggar king, a little more than admirable. (Torrence is one of those impressive “character men” whose work overtops the star’s every time.)
Few authors can recognise their brain-children when visualised on the screen, but Victor Hugo would have no difficulty in recognising his. There is chapter and verse for every wrinkle and every hair of Quasimodo’s head. The twisted body, the bent legs, the droop to the lower lip, are all of Hugo’s creating. Lon Chaney has exaggerated nothing in his horrible study of the hunchback.
But this fidelity to script, this intense and painful realism, has put a severe strain upon the sympathies of the audience. A description that is written and read once recedes behind newer impressions as the story unwinds itself, but the film Quasimodo is always before our eyes, repellant.
It is hard to recognise in him the grander Quasimodo who was symbolic of the cathedral itself, or to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of the tender, pathetic Quasimodo who watched over the gipsy dancer. The disguise is too good. The hunchback was Hugo’s hero, and the film producers, but it is a little difficult to make it ours.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame reviewed – archive, 1923 | Film