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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // January 22, 2002
List Price: $32.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted March 2, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame: it's a story that's familiar to most people at least in its broadest outlines, a "Beauty and the Beast" tragedy set in medieval France. Several film adaptations of the classic novel have been attempted over the years, from the 1923 black-and-white version with Lon Chaney in the title role to Disney's animated version. The 1957 retelling of the story, starring Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida, gives the story the epic trappings of the big-budget historical films of the decade like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. The question, of course, is whether the film lives up to its epic trappings... and the answer is that, while the 1957 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn't terrible, it never manages to move out of the "ordinary" category.

Victor Hugo's storyline offers plenty of scope for dramatic storytelling, with the doomed, one-sided love of the deformed Quasimodo (Anthony Quinn) for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Gina Lollobrigida), with the brooding alchemist Master Frollo (Alain Cuny) providing the third point on the love triangle. It's a story that should be interesting, but in this film adaptation, the story never really takes on any life.

It looks like director Jean Delannoy was trying for the ensemble effect, because in addition to these three major players, the film also introduces a double handful of secondary characters. These characters are difficult to keep track of, as they appear sufficiently often that it seems that the viewer ought to know who they are, yet not often enough to establish them as genuine characters of interest. When it comes to dividing up the pie of on-screen time, the presence of so many secondary characters means that the main relationship among Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and the alchemist Master Frollo is not developed in any depth. Anthony Quinn has in fact undergone a remarkable transformation to become the deformed, scarred, mumbling Quasimodo, only to find that the script just doesn't offer him the scope to do much with it.

What the script does find plenty of time for, though, is the voluptuous figure of Gina Lollobrigida. Her song and dance scenes drag on considerably past what would be required for the story, making it quite clear that her gyrations are intended to be an attraction of their own.

One style most certainly doesn't fit all; The Hunchback of Notre Dame seems be trying for the overall look and feel of the epic films of that day, with a large cast and lavish costuming, but there's no substance to back it up. The storyline would have been much better served with a smaller-scale production that focused more on the characterizations and less on the stage setting.

Video

Miramax doesn't seem to have gone to any trouble over the DVD of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The image is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but it has not been anamorphically enhanced. The picture is fairly noisy in general; in combination with heavy edge enhancement, the result is a blurry image that's lacking in detail.

Colors are uniformly brown-tinged, giving the picture a rather dingy appearance. There are also periodic fluctuations in the light level and color of the print, with the image becoming noticeably brighter, or turning a darker brown tinge, for a few frames before going back to normal.

Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack has a muffled quality to it; while the sound doesn't have any specific problems, it simply doesn't sound particularly clear.

Oddly anachronistic music is used in the film, especially for Esmeralda's singing and dancing scenes; it sounds to me like music from the early 20th century... not the late 15th century. In general, the music score is undistinguished at best and insipid at worst.

Extras

Calling this DVD the "45th Anniversary Special Edition" is a definite stretch of the imagination by the marketing folks. 45th anniversary, to be sure. But special edition? Not only is the film itself presented on the DVD in a non-anamorphic transfer with suboptimal sound and video quality, but the disc is essentially devoid of special features. The only "extras" are some trailers for other films by Miramax.

Final thoughts

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was probably entertaining fare in 1957, but it's not classic material. If you're in the mood for an old-time epic, there are better choices out there; I'd suggest skipping this version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which offers nothing really lasting or substantial in either story or presentation.
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