Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

I don't know, some ladies just like a diamond in the rough.

Genre: Silent Horror Drama

Starring: Lon Chaney and Norman Kerry (The Unknown; The Phantom of the Opera), Patsy Ruth Miller

Directed By: Wallace Worsley

Overview: The much-maligned Hunchback lives in the Notre Dame Cathedral. As revolution ripens in a festering city, men find themselves at odds for the love of a gypsy named Esmerelda, each going to great lengths to have and protect her.

Acting: This is one of those old silents that really pushes the overacted form. It goes too far beyond the scope of good melodrama, but does not reach into the comic farcical. It's one of those unfortunate productions that was directed by a hack that I've never heard of.
Rating: 4

Cinematography: The best effect of this film was the grainy look of it. Being fairly certain that this is simply a work of time and not of man, I can't give it kudos. The 50 pound hump that Lon Chaney wore was a little impressive, but his face was a little too off to seem realistic. Some shots were genuinely fascinating to watch, like the hunchback climbing down the front of the Cathedral, but overall the film lacked a certain element of deeper professionalism. Perhaps I've been tainted by the great Eisensteins, Griffiths and Murnaus, but this is certainly not cream of the crop.
Rating: 5

Script: This is the best part of the film. I suspect they kept a lot of the lines from Victor Hugo's novel intact because there is quite a bit of well thought-out and poetic writing in this piece. You might as well read the novel if it's this good, because the film is weak.
Rating: 8

Plot: The interesting thing about this is that it's really not a story of the hunchback. This is more about a revolution of the poor against the greedy, a story of the darkest of loves and the bastardization of the romantic ideal. The hunchback serves more as a metaphor for the rotting city than as a character who catalyses change. This particular version however was certainly a little slow in the telling, and though the end is climactic, takes too long to build up.
Rating: 5

Mood: The themes of warped values in a warped society complete with the deformed ideas of love and the deformed character of the hunchback certainly has its merit, and given that this has been remade several times reinforces the fact that it's a story worth telling, but something was just missing. A faster pace with better editing may have made this better. The music, however, was very good, more like sound effects than the common plinking of a lonely piano common in silent film, very refreshing.
Rating: 5

Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand ugly mugs

Overall Rating: 54% (*Shrug*)

Aftertaste: I'll admit this one was a bit of a chore. I've said before that it feels good from time to time to appreciate a film merely for its historical merit, and I don't mean Middle Ages Paris, I mean the silent era of film. For that reason I'd say it was a good chore, but still an effort to reap the rewards of. After seeing this, I realized that everything Lon Chaney makes, though dark, isn't gold. Either way, it's old film and it makes me more knowledgeable, right? Yeah, I guess I'll stick to that line.