Certainly different from other versions of Victor Hugo's often-filmed novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, THE HUNCHBACK emphasizes humanism over horror. A strong cast is showcased in an adaptation that would have been better with a bit more breathing room. The film was made for the TNT
France, 1505. Both archdeacon Dom Frollo (Richard Harris) and the deformed bellringer Quasimodo (Mandy Patinkin) watch from the great cathedral of Notre Dame as the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda (Salma Hayek) dances at a street fair. But while the hunchback is moved by her beauty, the pious
Frollo is so disturbed by his attraction that he flagellates himself. Quasimodo comes to Esmeralda's aid when she is attacked, only to be accused himself of attacking her. He is publicly whipped, despite the protests of Esmeralda, who defies the jeering crowd to bring Quasimodo water.
Visited by King Louis (Nigel Terry) and his chief minister Gauchere (Nickolas Grace), Frollo shows them the "instrument of Satan" he has sought to repress--a printing press. Frollo sees Esmeralda in the streets and tells her of his passion for her. Frightened, she runs off, dropping the knife she
used to defend herself. Frollo uses the knife to murder Gauchere, his political opponent. Esmeralda is arrested and sentenced to hang. She is rescued by Quasimodo and taken to the cathedral, where the king's guards may not enter. He tells her how he has educated himself by reading all the books in
the cathedral library, and has even written a book of his own. Quasimodo uses the printing press to make brochures calling for Esmeralda's release. But when he returns, he finds that Frollo has handed her over to the guards. Frollo admits that it was he who murdered Gauchere. Quasimodo forces
Frollo publicly to admit his guilt, and Esmeralda is freed. When the maddened Frollo tries to stab her, Quasimodo takes the knife thrust, throwing Frollo to his death from the cathedral roof before expiring himself.
Handsomely filmed on locations in Prague, Budapest, and Rouen, France, THE HUNCHBACK is immediately notable as the most perverse filmed version of this story. Director Peter Medak emphasizes both the eroticism of Quasimodo's first contact with a woman (innocent as it may be) and the perversity of
Dom Frollo's self-repression. (The truly kinky will relish a brief scene of beautiful Salma Hayak on the torturer's rack.) The script has a number of other modern concerns, particularly Frollo's resistance to the development of printing, an analogy to the explosion of communications technology in
the 1990s. Medak references not only previous adaptations of this story, but other horror classics as well--with his gaunt, shaven head, Richard Harris looks strikingly like the vampire from NOSFERATU (1922), another sympathetic monster enslaved by his own passions. The problem with THE HUNCHBACK,
which is certainly the first version to make Quasimodo an educated man, is that it's just too ambitious for its running time: too many intriguing ideas are raised only to go undeveloped. (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1997
- Rating: NR
- Review: Certainly different from other versions of Victor Hugo's often-filmed novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, THE HUNCHBACK emphasizes humanism over horror. A strong cast is showcased in an adaptation that would have been better with a bit more breathing room.… (more)