The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) | Universal’s silent classic starring Lon Chaney gets a 4k restored release

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is without doubt one the greatest, most spectacular, silent films of all time. A ‘Super Jewel’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic 1831 novel, this lavish Universal production was a huge success for the studio and features a breakout performance from Lon Chaney, which made him a global superstar.

Now fully restored in 4K, it has been released on Blu-ray in the UK as part of The Masters of Cinema series from Eureka! It’s a must-have for any cinephile.

Chaney is at his most feral and uninhibited playing Quasimodo, the deaf, half-blind hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who unwittingly becomes the protector of street performer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller) – the adopted daughter of beggar king Clopin (Ernest Torrence) – when she attracts the lusty attentions of the dashing Captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry) and Jehan (Brandon Hurst) – the evil brother of Notre Dame’s archdeacon (Nigel de Brulier).

Universal spared no expense in bringing Victor Hugo’s novel to the big screen, and it certainly shows with the magnificent sets (like the life-size reproduction of Notre Dame) and 2500 extras (which required a public address system to get them all into position) on display.

Director Wallace Worsley covers the full scope of Hugo’s epic story, delivering drama, romance, action, spectacle and horror in equal measure. Then there are those set pieces which have become cinema legend: Quasimodo being lashed in the city square, the beggars storming the cathedral, and Quasimodo decanting vats of molten lead onto their heads.

While very much an ensemble piece, the film is really all about Chaney, who imbues his grotesque dispossessed character with so much light and shade – and comedy. Indeed, it taught Universal a valuable lesson – that human monsters can inspire both terror and pity. So great was the power of Chaney’s performance that, following a Quasimodo impersonation competition staged during the film’s London run, it became a benchmark for young British actors to aspire to.

The Universal 4k restoration is fantastic (and best viewed on a really big screen so you can witness Chaney’s incredible make-up and facial expressions). The score is impressive, as are the informative and well-researched extras that accompany this MUST-HAVE release. The only thing that can better this is someone finding the missing 15-minutes of footage (only seen in the original 1923 35mm release print).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
  • Score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman (presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo)
  • Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman (the fanboys let loose again! Always a fun listen)
  • Interview with Kim Newman on the many adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel (Did You Know? Lionel Bart of Olivier! fame wrote a stage musical called Quasimodo! that was only performed at London’s Kings Head theatre?)
  • Interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby (loved his story about the London impersonation competition)
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Philip Kemp illustrated with archival imagery
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About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on November 11, 2022, in Must-See, Silent. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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