THE HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME 1923
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(Aug 29, 2016)
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(1923) starring Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry and Ernest Torrence. Chaney is Quasimodo, the unfortunate deformed bell ringer of the cathedral of Notre Dame. He falls in love with Esmeralda, a gypsy dancer, after she takes pity on him and gives him water to drink when he is chained and whipped in the town square. Esmeralda is later accused of stabbing her lover. She is tortured into making a false confession and sentenced to be executed. Quasimodo comes to her rescue on the very steps of Notre Dame!
Original music score composed and performed by Ben Model!
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Although this is a silent film lasting an hour and forty minutes, music has been added as is done in many silent films, and there is some singing, and the ringing of the bells. The pictures in the silent version are clear, but not very sharp.
Some of the many differences are:
King Louis xi in the 1939 version is a reasonable, even kind man, but a brute in the 1923 film.
Jehan is not the Justice Minister as he is in the 1939 version and lacks the power of that office.
Quasimodo seems more reasonable and more intelligent in the 1939 film than in the 1923 version where he sticks out his tongue at people.
Esmeralda identifies Jehan as the person who stabbed Phoebus the captain of the guard.
Esmeralda is in love with him.
Phoebus is not killed as in the 1939 version, but only wounded.
The ending of the story is different in both versions.
Lon Chaney, Sr. played the part of Quasimodo so believably well. Just simply brilliant. The rest of the cast in this silent film classic is also great - wonderful performances.
If you liked this movie then try to find copies of 'London after Midnight' and 'The Phantom of the Opera' - both starring Lon Chaney, Sr.
Aside from the condition of the print what really keeps this from being the "Ultimate Edition" is the score by Donald Hunsberger. Hunsberger is a fine conductor (check out his Eastman Wind Ensemble recordings) but the music he compiled is too lighthearted overall and not sombre or medieval enough to enhance what's going on during the movie especially toward the end (the compiled score used for the 1999 version was far more appropriate). A darker score like the one Ennio Morricone did for the 1912 RICHARD III would help to undercut the melodramatic elements of the story and some of the performances. Once again a score can make or break a silent film.
Lon Chaney remains a marvel as Quasimodo, fully inhabiting the character beneath the makeup and the natural speed transfer restores his performance to what it should be. The medieval sets and vast army of extras also continue to inspire awe 80+ years later. The disc comes with program reproductions, 3-D glasses for old stills, and commentary from Chaney scholar Michael F. Blake. So fans of HUNCHBACK and Chaney rush out and be sure to get this edition for your DVD collection. I just wish that someday someone with unlimited funds can really produce the ultimate edition (ala METROPOLIS, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) that this classic deserves.
One small part which I noticed missing are from when Quasimodo is chained down and whipped in the square - the scene was cut so that we do not actually see Quasimodo being struck by the whip. This is a small part of the scene which seems to have been cut many years ago and is now, I assume, lost. I suppose it was cut at some time to make it less brutal so that it could be shown on T.V. And I guess it really isn't critical to the story, but it does hurt the flow of the entire scene, making it appear choppier than it should be.
Another small part of a scene that is missing is during the mob's assault on the cathedral. During this sequence, we see Quasimodo wrestle a very large stone to the brink of the parapet and push it off onto the mob. The scene then jumps to a view of the people crushed beneath the stone. Earlier versions I have seen used to have a very interesting bit of cinematography with a view from straight above, showing the stone actually falling towards the people below. Again, the removal of the scene simply leaves a choppy bit of editing.
Now, the good things: The fact that the speed of many scenes have been corrected as well as much of the film being cleaned up so well is very pleasing to me. This edition is very much worth the money paid. The additional documentary parts are very interesting to view - especially the stills showing the sets. Another thing that was fascinating to me was the existing portion of one of Lon Chaney's earlier films. This was about ... well, buy the movie and see ... ;-) All-in-all this is an excellent edition of a wonderful film.