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Lon Chaney Sr's: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923)


“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was a 1923 horror, drama and romance silent film produced by Universal Pictures starring Lon Chaney Sr as the Hunchback (Quasimodo). The main characters are Quasimodo, Esmerelda, Phoebus, Jehan and Clopin. This film was the 100-minute cut by Universal Pictures in 1923, which brought out lots of innovative and creative acting as well as scenery. This film was also produced by the top movie producer of the time, Irving Thalberg. He created this movie to be very humanistic and very entertaining to viewers at the movie theaters back in 1923.


The main theme for Chaney’s film was the many conflicts of the romantic life of Esmerelda. Several people that encountered Esmerelda and fell in love with her were Quasimodo, Phoebus and Jehan. There were several encounters where Jehan tried to have a physical affection with her, initially attempting orchestrated her kidnapping by Quasimodo, which was foiled by Phoebus leading to Esmerelda and himself falling in love. Throughout the film, there were several instances where Phoebus and Esmerelda were unable to be together. At a party, Phoebus and Esmerelda were together and Clopin saw them. Esmeralda then stated that she not interested in Phoebus, and she left with the other group to avoid a conflict or a fight. Phoebus later returned but she still was scared because she still did not want him killed. He was eventually stabbed, but Esmerelda was blamed for it. These roadblocks continued to occur throughout the entire movie. The main quality of Esmerelda was that she wanted everybody treated equally and with respect. This made all of the community attracted to Esmerelda as well as fueled the plot.


The phenomenal acting was on full display from the beginning of the movie when Quasimodo, was climbing up and down the Notre Dame cathedral. The costume artists dressed up Chaney Sr to look unique like he actually had a deformed physical disability. He was not a scary character, but his physical appearance gave fear to the other characters, except for Esmerelda, who was able to experience his personality.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was built in the backlot at Universal Studios and was nearly identically to the real Notre Dame in France. Also, the plaza around the cathedral looked extremely realistic for the 1920s. This was one of the most fantastic movies sets ever created in American film history. Several other films going forward used this movie set through the 1960s when it was finally demolished.


The main actor, Lon Chaney, Sr was extremely successful in portraying himself as Quasimodo. Throughout his acting career, he became known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces”. This film was also his most expensive as well as most well-known feature in the 1920s. This film was a success because the screenwriting, acting, dialogue and setting were extremely creative and realistic for the 1920s.

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