If you want to hear Victor Hugo’s story in French, check out this version from 1956:
This is Gina Lollobrigida’s movie in many ways, but I like Anthony Quinn here. The one thing I don’t like is the implication that Quasimodo is mentally impaired. But then again, that’s not entirely different from Hugo, who wrote in the novel about how bodily disfiguration impacts the mind. I just think Hugo regarded Quasimodo’s mind as disturbed more than impaired.
Nevertheless, this Quasimodo is sweet, and impressively athletic; he swings around the cathedral and scales its walls like an animated figure.
Lollobrigida was 29 here and she seems older: both in appearance and character she seems like a woman of the world. Someone who knows the world and knows men.
This woman would easily attract almost any man, but how attractive would she be to a man like Frollo? Maybe it works, but I think Frollo is drawn to Esmeralda because she’s innocent, naïve, and vulnerable. He can prey on such a girl. A woman like Lollobrigida might well have scared him, however much he may have fantasized about her.
On Wiki I see that this movie was the highest-grossing of that year in France, so even though to us Americans it’s an old, arthouse-type “foreign film,” it’s actually a popular work.
Gina alone, surely, would have brought the crowds streaming in.
I like Gina’s dance for Quasi inside the cathedral’s bell tower; that comes off as sweet rather than sultry, a pure balm for her new friend that should not torment him in any way even if he’s in love with her. In other words, she’s platonic with him, but it’s genuinely sweet.
And I so appreciate seeing Quasi go to lie down and die next to Esmeralda. The only movie I know of that has this.
I saw only the French-language version. There is a version in which Lollobrigida and Quinn reshot their scenes and spoke in English, and the other characters’ voices were then dubbed in English. Some cuts were made to the English version, too; and I’ve read that the French-language version is superior. I’ve read in particular that Frollo comes off blankly in the English version.
I did see briefly the dancing scene between Lollobrigida and Quinn, speaking in English, and I didn’t like it. I much preferred and appreciated having heard them speak in the language that these characters would have used. I don’t know if they spoke poor French, or had heavy accents or what-not, but that version grew on me, and felt soulful to the story.
This might be my favorite version thus far.
If I had not read the novel, I might have just dismissed this version as less impressive than the famous Charles Laughton version from 1939. The directing of this 1956 version is a little static at times, and strictly as a movie maybe it doesn’t quite shine with the cinematography of 1939, not to mention Maureen O’Hara who probably will always be Esmeralda for me. But this 1956 version is going to remain memorable for me because of its link to Hugo, particularly his tragedy.
In my next post, a French-language version from 1999, set in 1999.