The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 scene
The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 scene

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 stars Lon Chaney Sr as Quasimodo, the medieval hunchback who longs for the affections of the beautiful gypsy girl Esmerelda.

Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Release date: 6 September 1923
Director: Wallace Worsley
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Kate Lester, Winifred Bryson, Nigel De Brulier, Brandon Hurst, Ernest Torrence, Tully Marshall, Harry von Meter, Raymond Hatton, Nick De Ruiz, Eulalie Jensen, Roy Laidlaw, Ray Myers, William Parke, Gladys Brockwell, John Cossar, Edwin Wallock, Louise LaPlanche
Studio: Universal Pictures
Country: United States

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 Review

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why some films are considered horror films, when there’s nothing really scary about them. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 is one such film. The silent Lon Chaney Sr classic has always been on lists of horror films, clearly because of the monstrous appearance of its title character. Sure, it’s a dark tale but Quasimodo is no monster and it’s that view which makes including this film on a horror film blog nowadays problematic.

Do we consider Disney’s 1996 musical cartoon version of the Victor Hugo story a horror? Of course not. But I guess the 1923 is a lot darker and has The Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney creating a hideous characterisation that could never been shown to children.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the tale of Quasimodo (Chaney) who is a deaf, half-blind hunchback with a large wart over his eye. He is a 15th century bell-ringer in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and is shunned by his fellow citizens because of his hideousness.

Except, Quasimodo has a kind heart and, like many horror movie monsters, is misunderstood. He is both simultaneously the villain and the hero at the same time. The hunchback dutifully helps his master, the truly evil Jehan (Brandon Hurst), kidnap a gypsy girl called Esmeralda (Patsy Ann Miller). But when he realises he has been tricked, he turns the tables and saves the damsel in distress.

Chaney takes a backseat to his fellow players at times, allowing the melodrama to unfold. When he does appear, it is a joy watching him grimace and mug his way through the role. His contorted body and face create a believable character, creating pathos like only Chaney can.

The sets are a sight to behold – I’ve been to the real Notre Dame in Paris and the surrounding buildings have changed, the cathedral itself appears the same. It’s a truly magnificent effort by the production designers. Universal considered this film the jewel in their crown and it is easy to see why.

Maybe horror films are really just dark fairy tales, which is why we consider The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 a horror. 

Lon Chaney’s later 1925 sees him as Erik the Phantom with an equally elaborate and freakish makeup job. Again, as sympathetic as Erik is, he is going around up to no good and he does play on his scary appearance – he is the Phantom after all!

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923

  1. Contrary to popular belief, Lon Chaney Sr came up with the idea of making The Hunchback of Notre Dame, not the “boy wonder” producer Irving Thalberg. Letters and documents discovered have shown that not only did Chaney suggest the story but Frank Borzage as director, not Wallace Worsley.
    Stuntman Joe Bonomo stood in for Lon Chaney Sr during many of the scenes where Quasimodo is seen climbing. Bonomo later went on to become a prominent bodybuilder.
  2. Patsy Ruth Miller said received more direction from Lon Chaney than from Wallace Worsley during production. Chaney told her that the audience must believe her in the conviction of her role, or her performance would suffer.
  3. Lon Chaney adopted a wire-haired terrier named Roscoe from San Francisco, while filming The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923, and re-named the dog Sandy.
  4. Extras for The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s mob scenes were recruited from downtown Los Angeles. As such, there were more than a few dodgy people on set and Universal hired Pinkerton detectives to catch pickpockets and other thieves. Wallace Worsley Jr, the director’s son, said prostitutes also made up some of the crowd and they did a “considerable side line business”. According to the book “Behind the Mask of Innocence,” Detective William J. Burns said he was able to alert Hollywood police to a fugitive, who was wanted for forgery, when the felon was seen by one of his men watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923.
  5. There are many poor and incomplete versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 because the original copyright holder failed to renew the film’s copyright, meaning it fell into public domain.

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