on 30 June 2015
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME  [Blu-ray] [US Import] Examples of Hollywood Expertise at Work! Big Beyond Words! Thrilling Beyond Belief! Magnificent Beyond Compare!
With huge sets, rousing scenes and a versatile throng portraying a medieval Paris of cutthroats, clergy, beggars and nobles. ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’  remains one of Hollywood’s all-time grandest spectacles.
Charles Laughton endured a daily five-and-a-half-hour makeup session to become Quasimodo, the mocked and vilified bell ringer of Notre Dame. The result was one of his best performances: outsized yet nuanced, heartrending yet inspiring. Maureen O'Hara is the gypsy Esmeralda, whose simple act of pity frees the emotions within him. When she is wrongly condemned, he rescues her from hanging, sweeping all of Paris into a fight for justice.
FILM FACT: Award Nominations: Academy Award® for Best Original Music Score for Alfred Newman. Academy Award® for Best Sound for John Aalberg. For this production RKO Radio Pictures built on their movie ranch a massive medieval city of Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the largest and most extravagant sets ever constructed. The characters of Claude Frollo and Jehan Frollo are changed as in the 1923 film: instead of being the bad archdeacon as in the novel. The only difference in this film is that Claude is portrayed as an archbishop and Jehan Frollo is portrayed as a judge.
Cast: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell, Edmond O'Brien, Alan Marshal, Walter Hampden, Harry Davenport, Katharine Alexander, George Zucco, Fritz Leiber, Etienne Girardot, Helene Whitney, Mina Gombell, Arthur Hohl, Curt Bois, George Tobias, Rod La Rocque, Spencer Charters, Kathryn Adams, Dianne Hunter and Sig Arno
Director: William Dieterle
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Bruno Frank and Sonya Levien
Composer: Alfred Newman
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, German: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono and Spanish [Latin]: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish [Castilian], Spanish [Latin] and German
Running Time: 117 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video / RKO Radio Pictures
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ is the American dramatic film, released in 1939, that is widely regarded as the finest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name. It featured Charles Laughton in one of his most acclaimed roles. With his hunched back and deformed face, Quasimodo, the tragic hero of Victor Hugo's novel “The Hunch Back of Notre Dame,” has always been considered a mythical creation drawn from the depths of the author's imagination.
Charles Laughton portrayed an unlikely hero: the kind, misunderstood, and pitiable hunchback Quasimodo, the bell ringer at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. He meets and falls in love with a beautiful Rom (gypsy) named Esmeralda (played by Maureen O’Hara). However, Quasimodo’s adoptive father figure, the sexually repressed Claude Frollo [Sir Cedric Hardwicke], is determined to destroy the girl. After she falls in love with the soldier Phoebus [Alan Marshal], the increasingly unstable Claude Frollo murders him. He then frames Esmeralda for the crime, and she is tried and sentenced to death. As she is being taken to the gallows, Quasimodo rescues her, and the two find sanctuary in the cathedral. Claude Frollo, however, is determined to see Esmeralda killed, and during a struggle Quasimodo throws him off the bell tower.
‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’  was RKO Studio's last release of the 1930s. It was also one of the studio's biggest and best films of 1939, the studio's most successful year ever. A sensitive adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” told the story of a deformed bell-ringer whose love for a beautiful gypsy woman amidst the turmoil in France under King Louis XI. The film, made brilliant by massive production design, Alfred Newman's rousing score, beautiful camerawork, and performances to match, was a spectacular hit at the box office, despite being released the same year as ‘Gone With the Wind’ . The film's biggest asset is of course was Charles Laughton's performance as Quasimodo, still stands today as the most moving interpretation of Victor Hugo's tragic hero.
The film adaptation is notably different from the novel. Although Claude Frollo is an archdeacon in Hugo’s book, filmmakers, worried that a negative portrayal of the clergy would run afoul of the Hays Production Code, made the character a chief justice. In addition, the movie’s happy ending is in sharp contrast to the novel, in which both Quasimodo and Esmeralda die. Despite such changes, the film received numerous accolades. Charles Laughton’s legendary costume and makeup, which took hours to put on every day and was hot and uncomfortable to wear, was kept a secret until the film premiered. His appearance shocked audiences and helped make the performance one of the most indelible of Charles Laughton’s career.
The daunting task of translating Victor Hugo's literary masterpiece into a classic film that was entrusted to Sonya Levien, who was able to make the story relevant to contemporary times, particularly in the way she drew an obvious parallel between the persecuted gypsies of Paris and the treatment of Jews in pre-World War II Germany. The Russian-born Sonya Levien grew up in the United States, and began her prolific career by becoming a magazine editor and then a writer. After several pieces of her fiction were adapted for the screen in the early 1920s, Sonya Levien became an active screenwriter. She wrote many screenplays during the thirties, culminating with a script for ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ , based on an adaptation by Bruno Frank. Sonya Levien earned many accolades during her long screenwriting career, including an Academy Award® in 1955 for Interrupted Melody. But it was the Screen Writers Guild (now known as the Writers Guild of America) that bestowed perhaps her most distinguished award.
For Sonya Levien's adaptation of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ more than $2 million was spent on the production. It marked the screen debut of Maureen O'Hara [Esmeralda] and the recreation of Paris was built on a vast set in the San Fernando Valley. The famous Hunchback makeup, designed by Perc Westmore, took months to evolve due to Charles Laughton's sense of perfectionism and the actor also insisted that his hump have ample weight to which Westmore replied, “Why doncha just act it?” This comment made the temperamental Charles Laughton explode, shouting, “Don't you ever speak to me like that again, you hired hand!” The meticulous attention to detail and the long hours filming under the hot summer sun eventually paid off for Laughton because his performance was universally praised. Regarding the powerful scene when the Hunchback of Notre Dame is being punished on the wheel, his director, William Dieterle said, "when Laughton acted that scene, enduring the terrible torture, he was not the poor crippled creature expecting compassion from the mob, but rather oppressed and enslaved mankind, suffering the most awful injustice."
The Charles Laughton version, directed by Wiliam Dieterle, is a masterpiece. Even worth highlighting for your attention here. A classic film that looks like it actually might have had a cast of thousands. The plot still holds surprises, including some a sublimated sexual undercurrent, as Esmeralda gets caught in a love quadrangle (she's that popular!). There's a superb cast, particularly the treacherous Claude Frollo, exceptionally played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke [‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ and ‘Rope’]. Full honours have to go to the astounding performance by Charles Laughton [‘Night of the Hunter’ and ‘The Old Dark House’], in a flawless make-up. Charles Laughton plays Quasimodo deaf and dumb, struggling to communicate with everyone around him. Impressively he still acts up a storm without the power of clear speech and under a ton of make-up. The actor is almost completely unrecognisable, in a role reminiscent of John Hurt as Joseph Merrick in David Lynch's ‘The Elephant Man’ .
Blu-ray Video Quality – Warner Home Video facility has created a new transfer for this release, using the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio nitrate camera negative and that several portions of the negative had deteriorated past the point where restoration was possible and for those sections of the film, a second-generation source was used. The 1080p encoded image on this Blu-ray is the jewel in the crown. The elaborate Festival of Fools where Esmeralda dances and Quasimodo is "crowned" are stunning in their clarity, and the night scenes where Quasimodo chases Esmeralda through the streets of Paris feature deep blacks and precise shadows. Contrast and delineations of grey are excellent throughout. The grain pattern is fine, natural and film-like. Of the new 1939 titles that might get released eventually, this is the only one that Warner Home Video has mastered. This is the approach usually taken by the Warner Archive Collection, and one can only hope that it is a sign of things to come, because the results are excellent.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ original mono soundtrack is encoded as 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, and is really excellent. The sounds of Paris street life, the printer's shop, the halls of justice, the beggars' convention, Quasimodo's hideous public whipping and, most important, the clang of his sonorous "friends" in the bells in the tower, are effectively reproduced, even if the dynamic range doesn't have the breadth of a contemporary recording. Alfred Newman's classical score lends a kind of melodramatic dignity to the proceedings. All in all a great effort has been produced by Warner Home Video.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
RKO Radio Pictures Vintage Feature: Interview with Maureen O'Hara [480i] [4:3] [12:08] The title of this piece is a bit of a strange. While comments from the Irish actress with Maureen O'Hara are indeed sprinkled throughout this piece, it's really a straightforward retrospective feature interview in which interesting facts are offset by the occasional unknown narrator. Ms. Maureen O'Hara praises the work of Charles Laughton and director William Dieterle, but also recalls her stressful audition for the role of Esmeralda, the magnificent sets built on the RKO Ranch that meticulously recreated medieval Paris, and how she performed her own stunts in the film, a few of which were quite dangerous. We also learn how Charles Laughton transformed himself into Quasimodo and how William Dieterle managed hundreds of extras in this informative look back at an epic production. To me this looked slightly short of its original interview and I am sure there was some time ago a longer filmed interview.
Vintage M-G-M Academy Award® Winning Nominated B/W Short: Drunk Driving  [480i] [4:3] [21.36] In this “Crime Does Not Pay” series entry, John Jones is an up and coming businessman who drinks too much but denies he has a problem. One day he mixes drinking and driving, and the tragic consequences hit very close to home. The hazards of drinking and driving are displayed through the retelling of a real life case, where the names have been changed to protect the innocent. "John Jones" has just received an unexpected promotion at work. To celebrate, he and a colleague go out for a few drinks. On his way home from the celebration, Jones is the cause of a fender bender. Despite taking the blame for the accident and getting fined for drinking and driving, Jones does not connect the accident with his drinking. Because he doesn't see the connection, he continues to drink and drive. Cast: Dick Purcell, Jo Ann Sayers, Richard Lane, Granville Bates, Edgar Dearing, John Dilson, Sarah Edwards, Harrison Greene, Robert Middlemass, Lee Phelps, William Tannen, Phillip Trent and Eddy Waller. Director: David Miller. Producer: Jack Chertok. Cinematography: Paul Vogel.
Vintage Warner Bros. Cartoon: The Lone Stranger and Porky  [480i] [4:3] [7:24] The Lone Stranger is sleeping when his faithful, if overly caricatured, Indian scout sees stagecoach driver Porky being robbed by a bad guy. The scout summons the Lone Stranger, who rides to the rescue. The bad guy goes after him (and, briefly, the narrator). But just in the nick of time, the Lone Stranger recovers and conquers the bad guy. Meanwhile, Silver and the villain's horse have been having their own close encounter, and Silver returns with several little colts. Voice Cast: Mel Blanc, Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig and Danny Webb. Composer: Carl W. Stalling.
Theatrical Trailer  [480i] [4:3] 1:48] This is the original trailer, that shows you why ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ was a great Hollywood Classic Film.
Finally, this 1939 release of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is definitely the best version by far, and especially on this Blu-ray from Warner Home Video and for the most part looks very impressive. This 117 minutes film is transferred to a dual-layered disc with a very high bitrate. The image quality shows some minor grain, but I would say contrast, a function of detail, is the most pleasing attribute of the 1080p encoded image transfer. It is very clean with a modicum of waxy softness that does not seem inconsistent with a strong replication of the original film. Daylight scenes are striking in their high level of sharpness and the darker scenes later in the film show no noise at all. Maureen O'Hara's Esmeralda is as enchanting as I have ever seen her! This Blu-ray is artefact-free and provides a truly amazing video presentation for this wonderful film! It's a memorable Hollywood Classic Film that never tarnishes with age! Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom