« The Hunchback of Notre-Dame »
Time, or perhaps, the people responsible for the third and latest film version of Victor Hugo's classic novel, appears to have laid heavy hands on "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". The intertwined stories of Esmeralda, the strange, wild gypsy girl, and the deformed bell-ringer of the title, are oddly disjointed affairs that only fitfully come half-alive through a series of mass scenes and static vignettes. The cathedral and the citizens of high and low degree of fifteenth-century Paris loom higher than the muddled intrigue and romance of this ponderous adventure.
The producers, director and scenarists seem to have been more intent on providing spectacle than a sharply etched story line. They were successful. Color and Cinemascope make vivid and striking the gay crowds attending the Feast of Fools before the Cathedral, the somber conclave of thieves and beggars in the Court of Miracles and the storming of the Cathedral by the angered Parisians.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the picturization of the court trying Esmeralda for witchcraft and the alleged stabbing of her noble lover. On the other hand, Notre Dame, which, for the most part, is a Paris studio copy, is both picturesque and impressive from its giant bells to its grimacing gargoyles. A viewer not entirely acquainted with the novel, however, is likely to be unimpressed, if not confused, by the seeming lack of motivation for the actions of some of the principals.
The alchemist, Frollo, played in ludicrously ironjawed style by Alain Cuny, is enamored of the gypsy to the point of plotting her destruction. An observer would have to have extra-sensory powers to discover the reasons for his obsessions. The poet, Gringoire, whom Robert Hirsch portrays as an amiable dolt, seems merely to be dragged into the proceedings, as is the sanctimonious and double-dealing Louis XI, played casually by Jean Tissier, and Jehan Frollo, callowly delineated by Maurice Sarfati. Jean Danet is handsome but little else as the captain to whom Esmeralda loses her heart, and Philippe Clay is properly grotesque as the leader of the beggars.
Gina Lollobrigida, to whom nature has been more than kind, is a delight to the eye in the role of the gypsy lass who befriends the Hunchback and is, in turn, mutely adored by the monstrous guardian of the bells and saved momentarily from medieval justice. Miss Lollobrigida speaks English (as does the rest of the cast) and even dances a few steps. She appears to be terrified on a few occasions and startled once or twice. She has not, however, added anything memorable to the annals of acting.
Histrionic honors are won by Anthony Quinn. His make-up, if memory serves, is not so terrifying as that worn by his predecessors (Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton) but his misshapen back, broken nose, blind, rheumy eye, apelike visage and cripple's shuffle are a credit to his transformers. Despite these shocking effects, his croaking voice does managed to elicit sympathy for a devotion to the only person who has ever shown him affection.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is now simultaneously on view, it is advertised, at about 115 theatres in the metropolitan areas. The customers are getting plenty of pageantry, if not culture. A.W.