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Lon Chaney
Ernest Torrence
Tully Marshall
Patsy Ruth Miller
Norman Kerry


Directed by Wallace Worsley

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) is a million-dollar super-production of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, presented in a 4K restoration by Universal Pictures. This epic adaptation recreated the Paris of 1482 complete with its own Notre Dame, and it established Lon Chaney as a monstrously sympathetic superstar. Chaney stars as Quasimodo, the mocked and vilified bell-ringer of Notre Dame who selflessly protects the starcrossed street performer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller), who is in an ill-fated love affair with the dashing Captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry). Chaney created the legendary makeup himself, and gave a performance of enormous sensitivity and pathos, launching him into Hollywood immortality.

Blu-ray Extras Include:
Audio commentary by film critic Farran Smith Nehme

Booklet essay by film historian Michael F. Blake

“Life in Hollywood” newsreel

Lon Chaney Home Movie footage

Music by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman

Slideshow of production correspondence

Slideshow of production stills

Like many of my generation the publication that turned me on to the magic of the movies was one my parents and teachers wished I would not waste my time on.

That is the problem with parents and teachers. They are clueless when it comes to understanding kids.

Unable to see the classic films I read about in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND I read the books.

The problem for me with all of these movies is that they pale next to the books they are adapted from. I had to learn to appreciate them on their own terms.

The first time I saw THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) it was an 8mm silent print.

I had little idea that that film was going to change my life for the better forever.

In 1968 in Toronto I ran a little venue I called THE PUBLIC ENEMY after the film that had made James Cagney a star and because I had been called a queer from as far back as I could recall and queers were public enemy number one then. Truth be told, we still are.

A queer is any person who has learned to think for themselves. There are damn few of them (less than 1% of the global population).

One of the films I ran at THE PUBLIC ENEMY was THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923).

It was a rainy Saturday in 1968. I did not think anyone would come out. I was not going to go but I went anyway.

Outside the door waiting in the rain was a group of five people.

That was the day Robert and Jane Jacobs (author of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES) and the kids came into my life.

They came back every week after that until City Bylaw Officers shut me down.

City Bylaw officers have shut done an awful lot in Toronto. They have murdered the real life of this city. Then they have erected in its place an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS version of life.

City Bylaw officers have been doing their best to kill the work I do here at The CineForum.

Victor Hugo, author of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, published  it as NOTRE DAME DE PARIS. Farran Smith  Nahme, in her excellent commentary, reveals that the cathedral had fallen into disrepair. Hugo wanted to have it saved.

Hugo, however much he may have loved the building, did not love the church nor should we.

The real monster is Not Quasimodo, the Hunchback. It Dom Claude Frollo, the Arch-Deacon of the cathedral.  The boy I was when I read that did not then know the Hell those who eek to live the ideal plunge themselves into.

Frollo, a man to whom love may be had only in its most ideal form, finds himself confronted with a gypsy girl who drains his brain completely of the blood of reason, it having all flowed into his cock.

We are, after all, animals. We act as we are biologically programmed to act for the survival of the species.

We men seem to be natural suckers for this:


I met the Bishop on the road And much said he and I.
“Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon run dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul pigsty.”

“Fair and foul and near of kin,
And fair needs foul,” I cried,
“My friends are gone, but that’s the truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

“A woman can be proud and stiff
when on love intent;
But love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not first been rent!”

-William Butler Yeats.


I once knew a woman named Benedicta, who
infused everything with the ideal. When one
looked into her eyes one wanted nobility, glory,
beauty, all those qualities that make us love immortality.

But this exquisite woman was too beautiful to
live long; she died in fact shortly after I met her,
and it was I who buried her one day when spring
was waving his encensoir even through the
cemetery gates. It was I who buried her, well
enclosed in a coffin made of a wood scented and
eternal as the treasure boxes of India.

And while my eyes remained fixed on that spot
where my jewel lay entombed, I saw all at once a
tiny human being much like the dead woman,
doing a bizarre dance, violent and hysterical, on
the loose earth. She howled with laughter as she
spoke: “This is me! Benedicta, as she is! I’m
trash, everyone knows it! And the punishment
for your stupidity and your blind head is this:
You’ll have to love what I am!”

I went into a rage and said, “No! No! No! No!”
And in order to give strength to my no, I
stomped the earth so fiercely with my foot that
my leg sank into the freshly turned earth up to
my knee, and like a wolf caught in a trap, I am
now tied, perhaps for the rest of my life, to the
grave of the ideal.

Charles Baudelaire (translated by Robert Bly).

Because this movie (and all the subsequent versions) bowdlerize his story by either in this case by giving lust to his brother and Hollywood love at its worst to the priest or by eliminating the priest completely.

As for Phoebus, the romantic lead (here played by Norma Kerry) he values Esmeralda for the same reason the priest does except he is not chained by his vocation nor bound by reason. As much as she loves him (again it is the surface only Esmeralda) she loves him for the same reason she rejects Frollo and Quasimodo. He has a pretty face.  Phoebus, the man, took Esmeralda as lightly as Norman Kerry took acting. His love for her rings false in the film. Perhaps Kerry, like Chaney, had read the book. Farran Smith  Nahme, in her commentary, faults Kerry. Perhaps she has not read the book. He nailed it.

In the end as Hugo’s story is gutted.

Perhaps it was that I watched the film only with the commentary.

I was stricken by the sheer physical beauty of this restoration.

Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal, sold his studio in the late 1930s.

The new owners saw only cost in storing the studio’s library of silent films. They burned the entire vast asset for the silver just as Judas betrayed Jesus for the silver and, in Hugo’s day, the great cathedral was being ruined.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) survives only in 16mm prints.

NBC UNIVERSAL, the current owners, stepped up to the plate for this and, boy, did they!

This version of the film is so stunningly beautiful that I found myself falling in love with it.

At times the 2D image seemed to be 3D.

I found myself astonished.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME enriched my life as a novel. It was one of my first experiences of great writing.

This version of the movie enriched my life by bringing Jane Jacobs into it.

Irving Thalberg, who produced this film, was no Victor Hugo.

The Catholic Church banned the book in 1834 because it was too sensual, lascivious, and sexy. Unstated was that for the first time the men of the church were shown in a light much harsher than any writer previously had dared.

Thalberg crafted a film the Catholic Church could approve.

Personally I loathe the man.

He ruined The Marx Brothers (castrated them).

No, there is only one reason why this film matters now nearly 100 years after it was first offered to us.

That one reason is Lon Chaney.

This print is so excellent Chaney’s Quasimodo is beautiful.

Which was Hugo’s intent.

For Quasimodo (Latin for the Sunday following Easter) was created as a portrait not of the Jesus of conventional Christianity and Cecil B. DeMille but of the real Jesus, that man of whom Isaiah wrote, “No beauty would be found.”

. . . He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. . . We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:2-5,7)

But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads. . . I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast;. . . Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet–I can count all my bones–they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. (Psalms 22:6,7,14,16-18)


In a very real sense this story gave me a life.

After reading it and then seeing the many movies made from it (including the most recent) I became aware of the appalling failure of the movies, even at their best, to measure up to the power of a great writer.

For me the best is Stanley Kubrick and even he falls short.

As THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME goes this film is the best version.


Because Lon Chaney grew up knowing what it is to be viewed as a monster. So do I.

Chaney speaks not only to me but also to the legions who grew up and are growing up knowing what is to be seen as a monster.

That includes most of us.

If you have no read the book wait until after you have seen THIS Blu-ray to read it.

Why? Because you will see how wide Hollywood at its best even now misses the mark.

Yes, the Catholic Church banned the book.

That did not stop people from reading it.

It only made more people want to read it.

The same for the movies.

One unexpected bonus with this edition is the credit Farran Smith  Nahme gives John McEwee and Forrest J Ackerman .

–Reg Hartt

More to come.

Forrest J (no period after the “J”) Ackerman at The CineForum (located in Reg Hartt’s home). Like the Ackermonster Hartt invites absolute strangers into his home. That’s illegal in Toronto. Don’t be a stranger.

Animation wiz Mike Jitlov, Reg Hartt, FJA,, THE ACKERMONSTER.


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