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The Hunchback of Notre Dame
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that despite its age, this is the most memorable adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel, with still-spectacular sets and an unforgettable performance by Lon Chaney. Though the script weakens Victor Hugo's social themes, this is still a good introduction to medieval Europe. Quasimodo has a monstrous appearance, but it's soon revealed to mask a peaceful soul. Younger kids simply won't appreciate this silent melodrama. But adolescents may be intrigued by the chance to view a more "adult" version of the story they know from the Walt Disney version.
What's the story?
Set in medieval Paris, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME centers on Quasimodo (Lon Chaney), who lives in the bell towers of the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Blind in one eye and deaf from years of ringing the great bells, the hunchback prefers living away from people who would abuse him or recoil in horror at his ugliness. His protector is Jehan, a former priest with worldly and political ambitions. Jehan orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy girl whom he fancies. When caught, the hunchback is publicly whipped. Only Esmeralda comes to his aid, winning Quasimodo's undying devotion. He is able to repay her kindness when Jehan attempts to frame the man she loves on a murder charge.
Is it any good?
As this is a black-and-white silent film, it may not appeal to many children; even those who find Chaney's performance compelling are likely to find other parts of the film creaky and dull. Parents should not make the mistake of bringing it home simply because their children want to see another version of the story told in animated form by Disney.
Known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces," Lon Chaney was one of the most popular movie stars of the silent era. His parents were both deaf-mutes, and his skills at communicating without speaking were never so well seen as in this classic film. Chaney's costume here is equally notable: it included a 72-pound rubber hump that made it impossible for him to stand erect. This production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame shows equal attention to detail: it took a year to build the lavish sets, and the climactic scene in which an army of gypsies storms the Cathedral uses more than 2000 extras.
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