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Film / The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a French-Italian 1956 film adaptation of the eponymous novel by Victor Hugo. Produced by Paris Film Productions and Panitalia and directed by Jean Delannoy, it starred Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo, Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda and Alain Cuny as Claude Frollo.

The third major film adaptation of the story following the American versions of 1923 and 1939 and the first in colors, it is most noted for being Truer to the Text, even keeping Hugo's original Downer Ending intact.

French and English versions of the movie were shot simultaneously. There are a few differences between the two versions, some of these aimed at keeping the English version compliant with The Hays Code.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: A downplayed example as Quasimodo is portrayed more realistically and less like a caricature with his back having a small curve in his spine and his face being only slightly deformed.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Quasimodo is portrayed as black-haired rather than as a redhead.
  • Adaptational Job Change: This time, Frollo is an alchemist... who lives in Notre Dame for some reason.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Due to her literary counterpart having been an example of Ambiguously Brown, it is uncertain if this portrayal of Esmeralda is truly a Race Lift or still an example of Roma by adoption with her backstory having been cut.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: In the Court of Miracles, when Gringoire is about to be hanged:
    Clopin: Haven't I seen you before? Ah, you're the author of that drama!
    Gringoire: Yes! Yes, I am Pierre Gringoire, poet and author of The Quest for Beauty!
    Clopin: I saw your play.
    Gringoire: [hopeful] Did you?!
    Clopin: Never did a man deserve hanging more.
    [execution resumes]
  • Burn the Witch!: As King Louis XI casually notes, "we have enough witches to keep the fires burning." Averted with Esmeralda, who is found guilty of witchcraft, but is sentenced to hang instead.
  • Chastity Dagger: Esmeralda throws hers aside during her love scene with Phoebus. Frollo then picks it up and uses it on Phoebus himself. The fact that the knife belonged to Esmeralda is cited at her trial.
  • Cultural Translation: While the French version follows the book and has Quasimodo crowned "Pope of Fools", it's "King of Fools" in the American version in order to comply with the Hays Code. The scene had to be shot twice to accommodate the change in headwear. Additionally, the French version had two scenes that were cut out of the English version.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Esmeralda is killed by a stray arrow rather than being hanged as in the novel. They still hang her corpse, however.
  • Downer Ending: Possibly the only film version to keep the book's tragic ending intact.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The English version never says that Frollo is a priest, because that would violate Section VIII of the Hays Code. However, he does live in a cathedral and wear robes that look like they could be priest's robes. He's identified onscreen as an alchemist, but he did practice alchemy on the side in the original novel. All in all, it seems like the filmmakers are trying to make it so that the audience will infer that he's a priest, but without tipping off the censors.
  • Gold Fever: Frollo is into alchemy because "gold is the only true light".
  • Historical Domain Character: King Louis XI visits Frollo at one point.
  • Kick the Dog: The man who administers Quasimodo's flogging drinks from his pitcher of water, then Jehan Frollo refills it... before placing it only inches away from Quasimodo, who is unable to reach it. Happily, Esmeralda gives him a drink.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Downplayed, but one scene features a cat whom Quasimodo is quite gentle with.
  • King Incognito: Louis XI goes undercover to meet with Frollo and find out how he's coming along in his alchemical pursuits.
  • Lady in Red: Esmeralda's iconic outfit in this movie is a sexy red dress, which she wears for her dance and most of the rest of the time. Notably, this was the first adaptation to be in color, so it's the first film version in which we, the audience, actually get to know what color she's wearing.
  • Playing Hard to Get: After the whole Esmeralda incident, Phoebus is informed that Fleur-de-Lys "doesn't want to hear about you again. In other words, she's dying to see you."
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Due to the Hays Code, Claude Frollo couldn't be portrayed as a villain and a priest. In contrast to previous adaptations, he is still a villain, but this time only referred to as strictly an alchemist... One who lives in the cathedral and wears the robes of a priest.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: This is the first film version in which Esmeralda is barefoot for the whole movie, a detail that would be repeated in many subsequent adaptations. Amusingly, the film includes the book's line in which it's mentioned that she will be sent the gallows in her shift and barefoot. Since she's already barefoot, you'd think that part wouldn't need to be specified.
    • Gina Lollobrigida herself was probably also a barefooter, given that she really enjoyed posing to the photographers in her Esmeralda outfit (most of the pictures you would find by googling "Lollobrigida Esmeralda" are off-screen shots rather than actual scenes from the movie), and portrayed three other iconic barefoot characters, namely Maria De Ritis in Bread, Love and Dreams (1953), Marietta from The Law (1959), and Ippolita from La bellezza di Ippolita (1962). Speculation even says that it was the actress' own idea to portray Esmeralda barefoot, rather than the director's.
  • Truer to the Text: This version is one of the closest to the book. There are a few differences, such as Frollo not being explicitly stated to be a priest, but it still follows the original plot beat-for-beat, including the Downer Ending.
  • Writers Suck:
    Esmeralda: How did you become a poet? On purpose or by accident?
    Gringoire: I wasn't brave enough to stay a soldier, pious enough to stay a monk, or strong enough to chop wood.
    Esmeralda: So after you found out you were good-for-nothing, you decided to become a poet?
    Gringoire: That's the origin of my genius.