One of the biggest box office hits of the silent era and the film that launched Lon Chaney's career.
Paris, 1482. Quasimodo is a deaf, half-blind, hunchbacked bell-ringer of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. His master, Jehan, is the evil brother of Notre Dame's saintly archdeacon Dom Claude. One night, Jehan prevails upon Quasimodo to kidnap the fair Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square…
The film is based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel and is notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris and Chaney's performance and make-up as the tortured hunchback Quasimodo. The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood and set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. In 1951, the film entered the United States public domain because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.
Long before the film was produced or shot, Lon Chaney was the industry favorite to play the role of Quasimodo. Film Daily stated it was essentially common knowledge that Chaney wanted to play the role of Quasimodo and even claimed that Chaney considered organizing a company to make the film abroad. Universal announced its intentions to recreate the Notre Dame cathedral and the surrounding streets to the period's exacting specifications. Universal staff set about creating the "Gallery of Kings," thirty-five statues, each ten feet high with the intended likeness of the originals. The construction of the sets was estimated to take six months to complete.
The only surviving prints of the film are 16mm "show-at-home" prints distributed by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s for home-movie purposes. No original nitrate 35mm negatives or prints exist. Most video editions of the film are derived from 16mm duplicate prints distributed in the 1960s and 1970s.
The film remains most famous for Chaney's ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.
Caspervek's soundtrack for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was to be premiered in December 2019 for a clarinet, violin, piano, and percussion quartet. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the premiere was canceled, and the score is now awaiting a new release date.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Edward T. Lowe
Victor Hugo (novel)