Today: June 21, 2024

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Lon Chaney wasn’t the first to bring the titular character of the Hunchback of Notre Dame to the big screen, but his performance—set against Wallace Worsley’s spectacular Parisian backdrop— was the one that set the benchmark for everything that followed. 

Back in 1923 the film cost a whopping $1,250,000 and to went on to become the most successful silent film of the era.

While Victor Hugo’s sweeping tale plays out as an historical melodrama, many argue that this production was Universal’s first horror—and the one that set the tone for all those iconic ‘monster movies’ that came after.

Chaney’s impressive makeup certainly emphasises Quasimodo’s monstrous physique but if this is a horror story it is, like Frankenstein, one where the real monsters have pleasing faces.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the film that turned Chaney from a respected character actor into a global superstar—and this is very much his film, just as the 1939 version belonged to Charles Laughton. 

Chaney stars as Quasimodo, the mocked and vilified bell-ringer of Notre Dame who selflessly protects the star-crossed street performer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller), who is in an ill-fated love affair with the dashing Captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry).

Universal called this a “Super Jewel” film and spared no expense on the production. This is at its absolute best in the riotous hubbub of festival time but every set piece, and every actor, is dressed to perfection. Lon Chaney’s performance and make-up work have become legendary, yet the rest of the film is equally deserving of praise–and this beautiful nightmare has now been fully restored in 4K.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase (2000 units).
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures.
  • Music by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman (presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo).
  • Brand new audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author / critic Kim Newman.
  • Brand new interview with author / critic Kim Newman on the many adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel.
  • Brand new interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby.
  • A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Philip Kemp, illustrated with archival imagery.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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