The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

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German title The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Original title The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1939
length 116 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Director William Dieterle
script Sonya Levien
Bruno Frank
production Pandro S. Berman for RKO Pictures
music Alfred Newman
camera Joseph H. August
cut William Hamilton ,
Robert Wise

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (original title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame ) is a literary film adaptation from 1939, based on the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo . The film by William Dieterle is still considered the best of the numerous film adaptations of Hugo's novel due to its splendid set-up, loving details and performance .


Paris in the late 15th century, changing from the Middle Ages to the modern age : the old King Louis XI. and the influential judge Jean Frollo visit a newly created printing house . Frollo says he wants to destroy the printing press, but the king rebukes him for not being able to stop progress. At the behest of Frollo, the gypsies , whom he abhorred, were strictly forbidden to enter the city of Paris. Nevertheless, the young gypsy Esmeralda manages to sneak past the guards into the city.

Esmeralda also dances at the annual festival of fools in Paris and attracts the attention of many people for its extraordinary beauty, including Quasimodos, the hunched and misshapen bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris . Up above the city he ekes out a lonely existence, especially since the superstitious residents of Paris consider him cursed. At the festival, they choose Quasimodo as the king of fools because of its extraordinary ugliness. Frollo, Quasimodo's foster father, is outraged by the hustle and bustle of the masses and takes the bell ringer back into the sheltered surroundings of the church.

The gypsy Esmeralda is discovered by the Paris guards, but she is able to escape to Notre Dame Cathedral. There she is protected by the friendly Archbishop of Paris, who is Frollo's older brother Claude. She prays - for the first time in her life - to the Blessed Mother Mary and expresses the hope that she and the other gypsies will no longer be persecuted. The king overhears Esmeralda's prayer and promises her to take care of the matter. Judge Frollo still harbors prejudices against Esmeralda and other gypsies, all the more because he does not want to admit that he is drawn to the beautiful woman. Frollo wants to bring Esmeralda to Quasimodo in the tower, but she runs away from the bell ringer. Quasimodo recaptures them on Frollo's orders and carries them away. The poor street poet Pierre Gringoire watches what is happening and calls for help. Then the Paris troops under their captain Phoebus can recapture Quasimodo. Esmeralda is saved and falls in love with the handsome captain. A little later, through a misfortune, Gringoire ends up in an organization of beggars, led by their "king" Clopin. At first the beggars want to execute Gringoire, but Esmeralda - who lives with the beggars - prevents this by marrying Gringoire, although she does not love him.

The next day, Quasimodo is flogged and humiliated for the kidnapping in the market square. While his actual employer, Frollo, does not rush to help, Esmeralda gives the hunchback some water, which arouses his love for her. But Frollo also feels more and more drawn to Esmeralda and confesses his love to her. However, Esmeralda prefers to spend her time with Captain Phoebus, who is actually already engaged, even though she knows that Phoebus is only interested in her sexually. Frollo jealously watches the love scene between the two of them in a garden and kills Phoebus. The gypsy Esmeralda is then falsely charged with the murder of Phoebus. Her husband Gringoire and the beggar king Clopin help Esmeralda, but they cannot do anything at first. To make matters worse, Frollo of all people is appointed judge of the trial of Esmeralda. He finally sentences Esmeralda to death, despite the fact that she protests her innocence. Frollo confesses the murder to his brother, the bishop, but blames Esmeralda for causing him to sin and for being a witch.

Shortly before her execution, Esmeralda is rescued to the cathedral by Quasimodo. Esmeralda now lives with Quasimodo on the bell tower, and they both have sympathy for one another. Since the archbishop knows about his brother's murder, but has to keep silent about it because of the confessional secret , he places Esmeralda under the protection of his church. Most of the nobility, apart from the king, still want to see Esmeralda hanging. Gringoire and Clopin meanwhile use several methods to save Esmeralda: While Gringoire publishes numerous writings against an execution of Esmeralda with the help of the printing press, Clopin calls his beggars to storm the cathedral. The king and the archbishop read Gringoine's writings, forcing Frollo to confess to the king that he had murdered Phoebus. During the storming of the cathedral, meanwhile, a fight broke out between beggars, citizens and monks, in which numerous people died, including Clopin. Frollo takes refuge in the church and tries to kill Esmeralda. Quasimodo can throw his former foster father from the top of the cathedral.

Esmeralda and her people of Gypsies are pardoned by the king. Esmeralda can leave Notre Dame and hope for a happy future with Pierre Gringoire, whom she now loves. Quasimodo, on the other hand, is left alone and sad on the bell tower of Notre Dame.


  • The film was shot from July 10th to October 28th, 1939 at RKO Studios Hollywood. The exterior shots were taken at the RKO Ranch San Fernando Valley . It premiered on December 28, 1939 at Radio City Music Hall , New York. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first seen in Germany in 1948.
  • In contrast to Victor Hugo's story, in which Esmeralda and Quasimodo die, the film ends in a relatively conciliatory way. In addition, the main villain Claude Frollo is not archdeacon by profession, as in Hugo's book, but a judge - albeit a very religious one. In Hugo's book, Frollo's brother Jehan is a youth with a rather negative character, while here he appears as a kind-hearted elderly bishop. Furthermore, the character of the king in the film is far more humorous and personable than in the novel.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first American film by 19-year-old Maureen O'Hara , who had only recently been discovered by Charles Laughton in person. Charles Laughton insisted on the casting of O'Hara, still unknown in the US, as Esmeralda. It was also the film debut for Edmond O'Brien as the poet Pierre, as well as the first film since 1917 for theater star Walter Hampden as Archbishop.
  • Before Charles Laughton was selected for the role of the bell ringer, Bela Lugosi , Claude Rains , Orson Welles , Robert Morley and Lon Chaney Jr. - whose father Lon Chaney Sr. had embodied the bell ringer in a legendary way in 1923 - were also in discussion. In addition, Basil Rathbone was initially scheduled for the role of Frollo, but could not accept the role due to other filming and his contract with Universal Studios .
  • At around $ 1.8 million, this was RKO Pictures' most expensive film to date. The replica of Notre-Dame by the respected production designer Van Nest Polglase alone cost the studio 250,000 US dollars. Despite its high cost, the literary film adaptation was a hit, grossing over $ 3 million.
  • Laughton's makeup was done by Perc Westmore . Every day Laughton had to be made up in a process of over two and a half hours. The situation for Laughton was made even worse as it was a particularly warm summer and he was feeling particularly hot under the makeup and the hump on his back.

German version

The German dubbed version was created in 1949 by the Motion Picture Export Association under the direction of Franz Baldewein.

role actor German Dubbing voice
Quasimodo Charles Laughton Bum Kruger
Esmeralda Maureen O'Hara Carola Höhn
Judge Jean Frollo Cedric Hardwicke Ernst Schlott
Pierre Gringoire Edmond O'Brien Til Kiwe
Beggar King Clopin Thomas Mitchell Bum Kruger
King Louis XI. Harry Davenport Hans Pössenbacher


The film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1940 in the categories of Best Music and Best Sound .


"Unchanged, impressive film adaptation of the dramatic-romantic historical novel by Victor Hugo with detailed time coloring, moving crowd scenes, brilliant camera work and a touching embodiment of the title role by Charles Laughton. Among the numerous film versions, this one does justice to the literary original and the historical atmosphere best. "

“Second and most successful film adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo with an outstanding Laughton […]; Sensitive direction and convincing cast in a sure-fire classic of the novel adaptation and the costume adventure. (Rating: 2½ stars, equally above average) "

- Adolf Heinzlmeier , Berndt Schulz : Lexicon "Films on TV"

"Large-scale film adaptation [...]. Bestial cruelty. Considerable reserves. (Classification: 2EE, same as: For adults, with considerable reservations.) "

- Handbook V of the Catholic film criticism

“Victor Hugo's novel in a film adaptation that is particularly impressive due to the acting skills of Charles Laughton. Even if the epic breadth was not always mastered and some opposing poles of the adventurous-dramatic plot seem exaggerated, the film is worth looking at because of its nonetheless existing formal qualities. "

DVD release

The Hunchback of Notre Dame . Kinowelt Home Entertainment 2004


Alfred Newman : The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Reconstructed Motion Picture Score . On: The Classic Film Music of Alfred Newman . Marco Polo / HNH, Unterhaching 1997, sound carrier no. 8.223750 - digital stereo re-recording of the reconstructed film music by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William T. Stromberg .


  • Victor Hugo : The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Roman (original title: Notre-Dame de Paris ). Complete edition, 2nd edition. Based on the transfer by Friedrich Bremer on the original, checked and reworked by Michaela Messner. dtv, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-423-13376-7 .
  • Dieter Krusche, Jürgen Labenski : Reclam's film guide. 7th edition, Reclam, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-15-010205-7 , p. 261 f.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm (William) Dieterle - actor, director . In: CineGraph - Lexikon zum Deutschsprachigen Film , Lg. 22, F 26 f.
  2. a b Trivia. In: Internet Movie Database, accessed September 26, 2016 .
  3. "The bell ringer of Notre-Dame" in the German synchronous file
  4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In: Lexicon of International Films . Film service , accessed September 26, 2016 .Template: LdiF / Maintenance / Access used 
  5. ^ Adolf Heinzlmeier, Berndt Schulz: Lexicon "Films on TV" . (Extended new edition). Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-89136-392-3 , p. 309
  6. 6000 films. Critical notes from the cinema years 1945 to 1958 . Handbook V of the Catholic film criticism, 3rd edition, Verlag Haus Altenberg, Düsseldorf 1963, p. 160
  7. Ev. Munich Press Association, Review No. 730/1953