The 1923 film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo and Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda, and directed by Wallace Worsley, is the most famous adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, aside from the Walt Disney animation. The film was Universal's "Super Jewel" of 1923 and was their most successful silent film, grossing over three-million dollars.
The film is most notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as Lon Chaney's performance and spectacular make-up as the tortured bell-ringer of Notre Dame. The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood. It also helped set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. Today, the film is in the public domain.
The story is set in Paris ten years before Columbus discovered America.
Quasimodo is a deformed bell-ringer of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Jehan, the Archdeacon's evil brother, prevails upon him to kidnap the fair Esmeralda Clopin, the ward of the King of the underworld. Dashing Phoebus rescues her and takes her under his wing. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square. As he suffers under the sting of the whip, Esmeralda comes and brings him water. From that time he is her devoted slave. Jehan and Clopin learn that Captain Phoebus plans to wed Esmeralda, and do all in their power to break up the affair, but fail. Jehan then stabs and wounds Phoebus and lays the blame on Esmeralda. She is sentenced to death, but is rescued by Quasimodo and takes refuge in the Cathedral. Clopin tries to storm the Cathedral, while crafty Jehan attempts to loot the treasure vaults. Quasimodo routs the invaders with torrents of molten lead, and kills Jehan by throwing him off the ramparts of Notre Dame. Just before he does, however, Jehan fatally stabs Quasimodo in the back with his knife. Phoebus comes to the rescue and encounters Esmerelda. As she and Phoebus clasp each other to their hearts, Quasimodo rings his own death toll. After ringing the bell, Quasimodo dies. Esmeralda and Phoebus leave without even noticing that Quasimodo is mortally wounded, but the Archdeacon enters just in time to see him die.
Original prints of the film were on cellulose nitrate film stock and were either worn out, decomposed or were destroyed by the studio (mostly the latter). Original prints were on tinted film stock in various colors, including sunshine, amber, rose, lavender and blue.
The only surviving prints of the film are 16 mm "show-at-home" prints distributed by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s for home-movie purposes, and no original 35mm negatives or prints survive. Most video editions (including public domain releases) of the film are derived from 16 mm duplicate prints that were distributed by Blackhawk Films in the 1960s and 1970s. A DVD release of a newly restored print of the film was released by Image Entertainment on October 9, 2007.
- Lon Chaney as Quasimodo
- Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda
- Norman Kerry as Captain Phoebus
- Brandon Hurst as Jehan Frollo
- Nigel De Brulier as Dom Claude
- Ernest Torrence as Clopin Trouillefou
- Raymond Hatton as Pierre Gringoire
- Winifred Bryson as Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier
- Gladys Brockwell as Sister Gudule
- Kate Lester as Madame de Gondelaurier
- Tully Marshall as King Louis XI
- Roy Laidlaw as Jacques Charmolue
- Harry von Meter as Monsieur Neufchatel
- Nick De Ruiz as Monsieur le Torteru
- Eulalie Jensen as Marie
- Ray Myers as Charmolue's assistant
- William Parke as Josephus
- John Cossar as Judge of the Court
- Edwin Wallock as King's Chamberlain