IN 1923 Universal Pictures embarked on a series of horror movies that would stamp their mark on the genre for decades to come.
Their choice of story to launch them into a world of Gothic Horror and literature would be in the guise of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. And considering it we’re still talking about a movie in the silent era, the success that the movie received was enormous and understandably would Universal would capitalise on this success.
With every great story though, a great actor would be needed to portray the lead role.
In this instance Universal would score big with “The Man of a thousand faces” Lon Chaney as Quasimodo.
Part of Chaney’s appeal was his devotion to his craft, dedicated to transforming himself physically, particularly with the aid of make up, which helped style his performance of these dark, twisted, and tortured souls.
The movie itself can feel incredibly slow in the first half as Quasimodo is ordered by his master, Johan to kidnap the fair Esmeralda only to be thwarted by the dashing Phoebus, who instantly falls in love with his damsel.
The result leads Quasimodo to be tortured and ridiculed by his captors and the townsfolk.
It’s only in the latter half of the movie when the people start to revolt against the regime and free Esmeralda once again that it really does start to gain enough momentum to keep your interest.
Essentially it’s a tragic tale and if it were not for Chaney’s performance, this would be instantly forgettable.
As such, he carries the movie and his attention to detail and characterisation is a journey worth the wait.
- Paul Farrell