The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Period Film, Gothic Film  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - France  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Jean Delannoy's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (aka Notre Dame de Paris) was a major disappointment at the time of its release, and it has not aged well over the ensuing 46 years. The production values were high enough, yet the finished film ended up looking astonishingly crude, not only in the acting and much of the camera movement, but even in the dubbing process. Moreover, despite a script co-authored by Jacques Prévert, the screenplay possessed little subtlety or poetry, though this may have been the fault of the dubbing -- and, as there was never a subtitled edition, that eliminated any chance that the movie had to appeal to anyone interested in much more than Gina Lollobrigida's physique (though she does give a good performance). This is a darker film than the 1939 William Dieterle version, but not remotely as well-acted or directed, and the CinemaScope framing adds nothing to the spectacle; indeed, the Dieterle version looks more impressive on the big screen, despite being in black-and-white and academy ratio. Anthony Quinn had a hopeless task in the wake of the performances by Lon Chaney Sr. (in the silent version) and Charles Laughton (in the 1939 film) in the role of Quasimodo. Quinn's portrayal gives the character an element of confused humanity as he tries to achieve the same kind of childlike innocence that Laughton brought to the part; unfortunately, he comes off as more confused than childlike. The movie is an interesting exercise in film production, and a valiant attempt to generate a screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's book from his own country, but as drama, entertainment, or spectacle it's no more than a distraction from the 1939 film.