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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) - Blu-ray Review

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Blu-ray Review

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5 stars

Once upon a time ago, a movie as massive as Universal’s silent classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame could be made. It is considered one of the most unusual productions of the time period. For decades after its filming, the Universal lot was jammed with the façade of a super French cathedral and acres of sets designed by Elmer Sheeley to look like the medieval Paris depicted in Victor Hugo’s book.

Upon its completion, the pieces of the massive set – which took one year to build once the designs were finished – could be found everywhere for years afterwards. Is it any wonder then that somewhere near 3,500 extras were hired to fill the city streets of Hugo’s Paris? It shouldn’t be. This movie was as grand as Hugo’s book.

Optioned by and starring Lon Chaney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was an unusual superproduction due to two reasons: Chaney had creative control over every aspect of the film and his boss, Carl Laemmle, was on an extended vacation and was not told of the money being spent. Good thing, too. He might not approved it and Universal might not have had the hit that led to the money that produced Chaney’s 1925 follow-up, Phantom of the Opera.

Anything went on the set under his supervision but, more than that, Chaney chose director Wallace Worsley (with whom he had worked on four films previously), selected the cast, rewrote the script, and designed the restricting prosthetic hump and harness he would wear throughout the shoot. And no one said anything about his choices.

This is not Walt Disney’s version of the Quasimodo story. This is dark, dark prose. Chaney’s three-month adaptation is, at times, as frightening as it is beautiful. Through the makeup and harness and pain, Chaney wins over the audience with remarkable athleticism as no stunt people were used for his role. No one else could handle the swollen and dead eye makeup, the restraining hump and harness, and certainly no one could pull off the demands of the character as he swings high over Paris masking the sadness he feels with the melody of the bells.

He will be crowned the King of Fools. You may very well cry to see him smitten with the Gypsy girl, Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller), as he scampers to and fro across the cathedral. Regardless of your response, there is no denying Chaney’s talent to hypnotize, even by today’s standards, in the role of the bent-over Quasimodo.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime:
133 mins
Director
: Wallace Worsley
Writer:
Victor Hugo, Perley Poore Sheehan
Cast:
Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry
Genre
: Drama | Romance
Tagline:
The Huncback of Notre Dame.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
September 6, 1923
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
March 18, 2014
Synopsis: In fifteenth century Paris, the brother of the archdeacon plots with the gypsy king to foment a peasant revolt. Meanwhile, a freakish hunchback falls in love with the gypsy queen..

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - March 18, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English
Format
: Black & White, Silent, Subtitled
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

There seems to be no surviving 35-millimeter material from the film. Flicker Alley has done yeoman’s work digitizing to produce a clean, low-contrast image. This edition is mastered from a multi-tinted 16mm print struck in 1926 from the original camera negative. Visible wear in the source material is diminished with a moderate amount of digital restoration. It is pictorially much better than earlier video editions and represents the best condition in which this landmark film survives today. A new symphonic score arranged by Donald Hunsberger was recorded in the Czech Republic by full orchestra conducted by Robert Israel, presented here in 2.0 channel stereo.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None but there is an audio essay by Michael Blake.

Special Features:

Extras include an early Lon Chaney short entitled Alas and Alack from 1915. There is less than 2 minutes of silent footage of Chaney on the set and some stills but the best part here is the audio essay, running as an optional commentary, by the author of many books about Chaney, Michael F. Blake. In the liner notes there is a facsimile reproduction of the original souvenir program and another 4 pages of essay by Blake.

  • Alas and Alack (20 min)
  • On Set (2 min)
  • Audio Essay
  • Digital Stills
  • Digital Souvenir Program

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