Below I talk in detail about the various film (or stage) versions of Hunchback. If you've not seen them all, keep in mind that you might spoil it for yourself if you intend to as I will talk about the ending. (And you probably know, it is not necessarily the same ending as in the book.) If I manage to find and view any other versions of Hunchback, I will post my observations here.
1923 Black & White, Silent
Quasimodo: Lon Chaney
Claude Frollo: ???
Esmeralda: Patsy Ruth Miller
This is the first film version. Chaney's make-up was quite accurate to the book, and I thought complete with the wart over his eye. That was until I found a still of him and saw that it was not a wart but a strange, protruding white eye ball with a small pupil in the center. Too bad I found that still! Frollo was referred to as "Saintly," and his character was completely different from the novel. He was not in love with Esmeralda and was little more than a bit part. Also in this version Phoebus does love her. Jehan is the evil character who is after her. He falls to his death, but stabs Quasimodo first and the poor hunchback dies ringing one of the bells. (Tsk, tsk tsk.) Esmeralda and Phoebus go off happily. Not the tragedy it should be. But the film is beautifully done—the sets are magnificent, and Chaney is amazing.
1939 Black & White
Quasimodo: Charles Laughton
Claude Frollo: Walter Hampden
Jehan Frollo: Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Esmeralda: Maureen O'Hara
Pierre Gringoire: Edmond O'Brien
This is considered by some to be the definitive version. I do not agree. In many ways it was a masterpiece. Certainly the sets were. Laughton was quite sympathetic. Maureen O'Hara was a much more sensible Esmeralda than in the book. She sees through Phoebus and ends up with Gringoire. Jehan is a magistrate, not a goof-off, and the one that falls in love with her. Again Claude remains saintly. I'm assuming that when these films were made the producers did not think the public could handle a priest misbehaving as Claude does. Jehan is also the one who raised Quasimodo, and he ends up pushed to his death by Quasimodo. Esmeralda is pardoned by the king of France, and goes free. At the end of the movie, you see Laughton sitting with a gargoyle, and saying, "If only I were made of stone like thee." Nice quote and very affecting actually, but straying also from the whole tragic ending of the book. Another problem I had was Laughton's make-up. He wanted a certain look, I understand. What he got was horrible, but it was not out of the book. The right half of his face drooped, with a malformed eye visible. The teeth were done well—not too many there. But I believe this thing with the side of Quasimodo's face started in this movie. Why not just the wart over the eye? Well, anyway, that annoyed me since it wasn't necessary. Also the entire little history of Esmeralda was left out. (Not an easy thing to work in, I suppose, but they managed it in the silent film.) Also quite poignant was Quasimodo's flight back into the church after the flogging, and his single line to Frollo, "She gave me water." Laughton did a wonderful job with the character for the most part.
Quasimodo: Anthony Quinn
Claude Frollo: Alain Cuny
Esmeralda: Gina Lollabrigida
This is the first of the films to be true to the book's tragic ending. If you've never seen a film version, this should be the one you select. (But I hope you know the story already if you've read this far!) Esmeralda dies, and Quasimodo's bones are found entwined with hers years later. This is also the version that caught my attention many years ago. I've just seen it again (came out on video), and I now have more criticisms than before. I was captured by the story in this version because Quasimodo is sympathetic and played very soft. He's not particularly menacing, and you don't see his self-imposed isolation. At one point he's playing with a group of kids on the street! Like that would happen! He smiles too readily, he lets the people see too much of him and he talks too much. But when I saw it the first time, I had not read the book, and I was very drawn in. His face make-up is not bad. His right eye is messed up, droops or something and his teeth are strange and pretty unpleasant. Quinn is quite tall and slender, and I didn't feel that the character was nearly as hideous as he might have been. He didn't stoop or limp, and there was no protruding breastbone here. Frollo is more accurate in this version. He's stern (not too much older than he's supposed to be), taken with alchemy and obsessed with the Gypsy. His relationship with Quasimodo was not as well done as it might have been. I never felt that the hunchback revered him. The whipping scene is not as poignant either. Quinn did not look like he had really suffered. I think it was due more to direction, though, than his acting. I could not tell where the Place de Grieve was supposed to be located. The pillory can be seen from the church, but did not look like it was across the river. To do that must have been just too logistically difficult since it wasn't done in any of the films I've seen.
We also see Jehan (and his demise much like in the book), Gringoire and his play and marriage to Esmeralda. I do think that a scene has been edited from the Miramax video I just bought. I distinctly remember a scene (from the book) in which Phoebus brings Esmeralda up to Fleur-de-Lys' parlor. This was not in the video. And I also thought I had seen Gringoire go through the pickpocket test, which was not on this tape. Could be I remember that from another version. The ending was mostly true to the book, at least in the important way. Esmeralda gets shot by an arrow and dies at the end of the storming of the cathedral. They decide to hang her anyway, though she is already dead. I suppose this way, no one had to see her die by slow strangulation. The rest of the elements were there, including Quasimodo going to find her where her body had been taken, and their skeletons entwined and crumbling to dust.
1977 Color BBC Tv Production
Stars: Christopher Grable, David Rintoul, Kenneth Haigh, Warren Clarke, & Richard Morant
I haven't seen this version. I can say nothing about it except what you see above. Sadly, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to find it. I don't know who played what character.
1982 Color TV
Quasimodo: Anthony Hopkins
Claude Frollo: Derek Jacobi
Esmeralda: Leslie-Anne Down
I saw this when it came out, but I guess it did not make much of an impression on me, because I remembered nothing about it. In fact, all I remembered was that Derek Jacobi was in it. Fortunately I just found it on video and was able to watch it again. In retrospect, I can see why I didn't remember much about it. Derek Jacobi (an actor I have admired since I, Claudius was not bad as Frollo, but the character was not played as wildly as he should have been. Still the writers had Frollo be the one in love with Esmeralda. Here was another case where her character wised up about Phoebus and ends up loving Gringoire. As in the 1939 version, she is offered sanctuary in Notre-Dame early in the movie. I can only surmise this is done to set up the characters and explain about the sanctuary practice. Leslie-Anne Down's performance was mediocre most of the time. She was really too old for the part and her dancing was. . .well, I don't want to be cruel. She did have some decent scenes, but she was just not right for the part.
As for Quasimodo—well, Anthony Hopkins is another great actor, but I think his make-up hindered him so much it was difficult to see changes in facial expression. In addition, the writers seemed to think there was a need to explain that he normally stayed in the church. A young monk tells Frollo that they can't find Quasimodo and that they should have locked him in. I thought that odd. Then he tells Frollo a little later that Quasimodo has been named King of Fools. On the plus side there is a scene at the very beginning where were are shown Frollo seeing Quasimodo for the first time and deciding to adopt him. The child is an infant, not seen except for one leg, and must be under a year old instead of four. Then we are informed it is 25 years later (not the 16 as in the book.) I suppose this is to cushion the obvious age conflict between Hopkins' age and that of what they've established Quasimodo's to be. The hunchback in this version is a little truer to the book in one respect. The "wart" over his eye is different from Lon Chaney's and you can still see a little of his eye, but it looks a little more realistic. His teeth are terrible—not a bad job there. Hopkins does not look massive, though, and they did not give him the protruding breastbone either. He has a club foot instead of bowed legs. (Okay, now I admit you'd have to find and actor with severely bowed legs to get that right.) Quasimodo seems to lack the malice his character should have. In the courtroom scene he laughs when he's being taken away, I suppose because he saw others laughing. Details are omitted as well. He's given thirty lashes, and we see Esmeralda watching with sorrow, then hiding when she sees Frollo. This moment between Claude and the hunchback was marred because you couldn't see Quasimodo's face change expression much. Oh, also, the pillory is located across from the church again, and we see him make his way back to there when the punishment is over. It's impossible to tell if he's laughing or crying, and he leans his back (!) Into a corner of railing and stairs saying to himself, "She gave me water."
Phoebus is shown in a very bad light as one of his men comes to tell him the gypsy will hang for murdering him, when he's not really dead. His response was to let her hang. (Because she wanted to leave when he tells her he's already married.) Another interesting diversion is that Gringoire warns her what a womanizer Phoebus is. Also she saw and understood who stabbed the captain, even denounces him in court.
Much is the same in the storming of the church. Various details are left out. Quasimodo struggles with Frollo who stabbed him (not too severely it would seem.) And the scene in which (earlier) Frollo attacks Esmeralda (because he can no longer resist the temptation) and Quasimodo stops him, lacks the poignancy it should have because you don't see how shocked Quasimodo is, nor does he kneel down in obeisance and tell Frollo to do what he must—after he has killed him (Quasimodo). I think that what is lacking is the closeness of these two characters. We see no serious pain on Quasimodo's face when he has impaled Frollo on a spike in the wall. So the moment hasn't the sadness it should have. (Even though, that is not how Frollo is supposed to die.) Quasimodo helps the girl escape with Gringoire and then is himself chased by the soldiers. He falls from a carving to his death much as Claude does in the book. Again, the writers feel they can improve on Hugo. I don't understand it, but feel annoyed to be robbed of the divine irony and tragedy. I can't say that this production added anything to the story. I will say that the reason I have critiqued it more extensively is because it is the first one I've seen since recently re-reading the book.
1996 Color HBO Cable
Quasimodo: Mandy Patinkin
Claude Frollo: Richard Harris
Esmeralda: Salma Hayek
Pierre Gringoire: Edward Atterton
Now, here is a show that seemed to have been based on the first two films, not really on the book. There is a whole subplot involving the newly invented printing press. In this, Frollo is stopping at practically nothing to squash the invention, when in fact, Frollo lamented the death of architecture, but little else in the book. Also, it was used by the rabble characters to unite them against hanging Esmeralda. (Though this is quite ludicrous since most likely very few of these people knew how to read.) In addition, Quasimodo tells Esmeralda that he has written his own book. I suppose this is marginally possible, but certainly nothing in the book ever indicated such a pursuit for him.
In this version, the hunchback is totally without malice. He's a sweet, down-trodden soul who, in fact was falsely arrested for attempting to abduct the girl. His make-up is modeled after the Laughton version. I read an interview with Patinkin about it; and as far as he was concerned Laughton wrote the book on Quasimodo. Tsk tsk. . . Claude Frollo is miscast. Richard Harris is way too old. Though he is described as balding, he has completely shaven his head. He's bizarre and unsympathetic. But he is playing a priest this time. In this version, Esmeralda and Gringoire do fall in love, and at the end the two of them stand on either side of Quasimodo who lies dying (beneath the bell Marie) from a stab wound given him by Frollo. Hayek is too old for Esmeralda, and far too mature. She does not have the grace in her dancing either. In this version also, the scene where Quasimodo is freed from the pillory and runs, staggering, back into the church is shot with considerable pathos. None of the versions seem to have the Place de Grève across the Seine, it is always located in the square in front of the church. So this scene is actually not that plausible. I imagine he would have had to stagger back to the church via the bridge. This version got poor reviews, and I think it was because the writers seemed to ignore the book it was based on. While not very cohesive in some respects, there were some well-acted scenes. Mandy Patinkin's milk-toast hunchback was more sympathetic than some, though he was not the Quasimodo of the book.
1993 Musical Play
This was a musical production done in Pensylvannia. I had a link so you can see for yourselves all I've seen of this show. There were musical clips (but you had have to have RealAudio, or RealPlayer to hear them.) Some of the music is excellent. I would like to have seen the show, and I wish they hadn't taken down their site!
The Styx lead singer had released a work-in-progress CD for his musical version. I heard this in 1997 and was deeply impressed. DeYoung has not missed any of the main themes of the book. If you haven't heard the music, above is a link to order the CD. I was deeply disappointed that I could not attend any of the performances of the completed musical which debuted in Nashville on September 3, 1997 and ran through the 21st (I think). This came at a time when I'd just returned from two trips—I could not afford another, or I would have sold the house to go see this show! I knew the CD by heart, (still do) and I wanted to see how the staging went, the rest of the music, the performances. I've been sick about missing it ever since. My only hope is that it will be performed again (possibly Chicago, I hear), and I can then make a trip there to see it. If you've loved this story, you'll love this music. "With Every Heartbeat" is a masterpiece. (And I understand there is a third verse to this now—I want to hear it!) But I think "Ave Maria" is my favorite. Or if, the show is not performed on stage again, I can only hope that Mr. DeYoung will release a CD of the complete play. Something akin to The Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Misérables. No matter what happens, though, I cannot recommend highly enough the CD currently available.
You will notice, perhaps, there is one recent version of Hugo's book, that I have not included here in my reviews: the Disney version. The jury is still out on whether or not I'll see it. I just haven't been able to decide. I know they "Disneyfied" the story, and there is one thing they probably got right that no other production has, and that is that Quasimodo is a young man, barely twenty, if that. But I can't get past the "Judge Frollo" change. I can understand back in the '20's and '30's the film producers not wanting to offend the masses by having a priest lusting after a girl, but today is a different story. I didn't think anything was sacred in Hollywood any more. And from what I understand, this Judge Frollo lusts after the girl in this "children's" movie. Anyway, I may see it someday, I may not. I'm certainly not going to make the effort.