The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923 film)

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923 film).jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Wallace Worsley
Produced by Carl Laemmle
Irving Thalberg
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr.
Perley Poore Sheehan
Based on The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 
by Victor Hugo
Starring Lon Chaney
Patsy Ruth Miller
Norman Kerry
Nigel de Brulier
Brandon Hurst
Music by Cecil Copping
Carl Edouarde
Hugo Riesenfeld
Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cinematography Robert Newhard
Tony Kornman
Virgil Miller
Stephen S. Norton
Charles J. Stumar
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Maurice Pivar
Sydney Singerman
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
September 2, 1923
Running time
100 min
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
Budget $1,250,000 (estimated)
Box office $1.5 million[1][2]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1923 American film starring Lon Chaney, directed by Wallace Worsley, and produced by Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg. The supporting cast includes Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Nigel de Brulier, and Brandon Hurst. The film was Universal's "Super Jewel" of 1923 and was their most successful silent film, grossing over $3 million.

The film is based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, and is notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as for Chaney's performance and make-up as the titular Quasimodo. The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood, and also helped set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. In 1951, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to the claimants failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[3]


Quasimodo being offered water by Esmeralda.

The film introduces the characters of the story, including the famous Notre Dame Cathedral; Quasimodo, the hunchback and tortured bell ringer of Notre Dame; Jehan Frollo, Quasimodo's master; Dom Claude Frollo, the saintly archdeacon of Notre Dame and Jehan's brother; Clopin, the king of the oppressed beggars of Paris' underworld; Esmeralda, the adopted dancing gypsy daughter of Clopin; Sister Gudule, Esmeralda's original mother who was devastated after learning that Esmeralda was taken by gypsies; and the dashing Captain Phoebus. Phoebus, at first seeking a casual romance, becomes entranced by Esmeralda after rescuing her from Quasimodo abducting her under the orders from Jehan, and takes her under his wing. After Quasimodo was sentenced to be lashed in the public square, and then saved by Esmeralda and Dom Claude, he hates Jehan for abandoning the him during his capture by Phoebus and his guards.

Claude Frollo restrains Quasimodo from violence.

To their dismay, Jehan and Clopin both learn that Phoebus hopes to marry Esmeralda, despite being engaged to Fleur de Lys. Phoebus persuades Esmeralda to accompany him to a ball celebrating his appointment as Captain of the Guard by King Louis XI. He provides her with rich garments and introduces her to their hostess, Madame de Gondelaurier, as a Princess of Egypt. Clopin, accompanied by his beggars, crashes the festivities and demands Esmeralda be returned. To avoid bloodshed, Esmeralda says that she does not belong with the aristocracy. Later, however, Esmeralda sends street poet Pierre Gringoire to give Phoebus a note, arranging a rendezvous at Notre Dame to say goodbye to him before he gets stabbed in the back there by Jehan. After Esmeralda is falsely sentenced to death for the crime, she is rescued from the gallows by Quasimodo and carried inside the cathedral, where he and Dom Claude grants her sanctuary.

Clopin leads the whole of the underworld to storm the cathedral that night, while Jehan attempts to take Esmeralda, first by guile (telling her that Phoebus's dying wish was for him to take care of her), then by force. Quasimodo holds off the invaders with rocks and torrents of molten lead. Meanwhile, the healed Phoebus is alerted by Gringoire and leads his men against the rabble. When Quasimodo finds Jehan attacking Esmeralda, he throws his master off the ramparts of Notre Dame, but not before being fatally stabbed in the back. Phoebus finds and embraces Esmeralda. Witnessing this, Quasimodo rings his own death toll. The last image is of the great bell, swinging silently above the corpse of Quasimodo.



Due to the Hays code censorship of the time period the film was made, the film makers did not want to portray Claude Frollo and the main villain of the story, as written in Hugo's novel as he was a Roman Catholic clergyman. Instead of being the villain, he is portrayed as a virtuous archdeacon and his brother Jehan, a drunkard student and a minor character in the novel, is cast as the main villain of the movie and also Quasimodo's master. In order for Jehan to have the same traits as Claude in the novel, he was to be portrayed as an older man, and not a 16-year-old boy as in the novel. All of these changes later influenced the 1939 remake of the film, which did the same.


Original prints of the film were on cellulose nitrate film stock and were either worn out, decomposed, or were destroyed by the studio (mostly the latter). Original prints were on tinted film stock in various colors, including sunshine, amber, rose, lavender, and blue.

The only surviving prints of the film are 16 mm "show-at-home" prints distributed by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s for home-movie purposes, and no original 35mm negatives or prints survive. Most video editions (including public domain releases) of the film are derived from 16 mm duplicate prints that were distributed by Blackhawk Films in the 1960s and 1970s. A DVD release of a newly restored print of the film was released by Image Entertainment on October 9, 2007.

A print of the film is held at Gosfilmofond Russian State Archive, however it is not clear what gauge the print is in, 16mm or 35mm.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ rentals in US and Canada - see Variety list of box office champions for 1923
  2. ^ "The All Time Best Sellers," International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938), Quigley Publishing Company, p. 942, accessed 19 April 2014
  3. ^ Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. OCLC 15122313. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 

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