The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923 film)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

British theatrical release poster
Directed by Wallace Worsley
Produced by Carl Laemmle
Irving Thalberg
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr.
Perley Poore Sheehan
Based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame
by Victor Hugo
Starring Lon Chaney
Patsy Ruth Miller
Norman Kerry
Nigel de Brulier
Brandon Hurst
Music by Cecil Copping
Carl Edouarde
Hugo Riesenfeld
Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cinematography Robert Newhard
Tony Kornman
Virgil Miller
Stephen S. Norton
Charles J. Stumar
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Maurice Pivar
Sydney Singerman
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
September 2, 1923
Running time

102 minutes

  • 117 min (Director's cut)
  • 98 min (cut edition)
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
Budget $1,250,000 (estimated)
Box office $1.5 million[1][2]

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1923 American romantic drama film with horror elements starring Lon Chaney, directed by Wallace Worsley, and produced by Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg. The supporting cast includes Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Nigel de Brulier, and Brandon Hurst. The film was Universal's "Super Jewel" of 1923 and was their most successful silent film, grossing over $3 million.

The film is based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel of the same name, and is notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as for Chaney's performance and make-up as the tortured hunchback Quasimodo. The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood, and also helped set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. In 1951, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to the claimants failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[3]


Quasimodo being offered water by Esmeralda.

The story is set in Paris in 1482. Quasimodo is a deaf, half-blind, hunchbacked bell-ringer of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. His master Jehan, the evil brother of Notre Dame's saintly archdeacon Don Claudio, prevails upon the hunchback to kidnap the fair Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl (and the adopted daughter of Clopin, the king of the oppressed beggars of Paris' underworld). The dashing Captain Phoebus rescues Esmeralda from Quasimodo, while Jehan abandons him and flees. At first seeking a casual romance, Phoebus becomes entranced by Esmeralda, and takes her under his wing. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square. After being whipped, he begs for water. Esmeralda pities him, and brings him some.

To their dismay, Jehan and Clopin both learn that Phoebus hopes to marry Esmeralda, despite being engaged to Fleur de Lys. Phoebus persuades Esmeralda to accompany him to a ball celebrating his appointment as Captain of the Guard by King Louis XI. He provides her with rich garments and introduces her to their hostess, Madame de Gondelaurier, as a Princess of Egypt. Clopin, accompanied by his beggars, crashes the festivities and demands Esmeralda be returned. To avoid bloodshed, Esmeralda says that she does not belong with the aristocracy. Later, however, Esmeralda sends the street poet Pierre Gringoire to give Phoebus a note, arranging a rendezvous at Notre Dame to say goodbye to him. Before Phoebus arrives, he is stabbed in the back by Jehan. After Esmeralda is falsely sentenced to death for the crime, she is rescued from the gallows by Quasimodo and carried inside the cathedral, where he and Don Claudio grants her sanctuary.

Don Claudio restrains Quasimodo from violence.

Later that night, Clopin leads the whole of the underworld to storm the cathedral, and Jehan attempts to take Esmeralda, first by guile (telling her that Phoebus's dying wish was for him to take care of her), then by force. Quasimodo holds off the invaders with rocks and torrents of molten lead. Meanwhile, the healed Phoebus is alerted by Gringoire and leads his men against the rabble. When Quasimodo finds Jehan attacking Esmeralda, he throws his master off the ramparts of Notre Dame, but not before being fatally stabbed in the back. Phoebus finds and embraces Esmeralda. Witnessing this, Quasimodo rings his own death toll, and Gringoire and Don Claudio enter the bell tower just in time to see him die. The last image is of the great bell swinging silently above the hunchback's corpse.



Worsley observing the erection of the first set

Long before the film was produced or shot, Lon Chaney was the industry favorite to play the role of Quasimodo. Film Daily stated it was essentially common knowledge that Chaney wanted to play the role of Quasimodo and even claimed that Chaney considered organizing a company to make the film abroad.[6] It is known that Chaney acquired the rights to produce the film several years prior and had been actively engaged in negotiating the production with Universal. Evidence of Chaney's seriousness to do the production abroad with a German studio, the Chelsea Pictures Company.[7] In April 1922, Chelsea Pictures announced that Lon Chaney would star in the role of Quasimodo and that Alan Crosland would direct the film.[8] The film failed to manifest and the company seemed to have disappeared without making any releases.[7] Irving Thalberg, who had previously worked with Chaney and Tod Browning, desired to make a production that would rise above the spendthrift productions Universal produced. The film rights that Chaney hold undoubtedly allowed him to work out a better deal in the contract and he would be an uncredited, but de facto producer. Thalberg was undoubtedly complicit in such an arrangement as this would serve to prevent Carl Laemmle, Universal's founder, from cutting costs of the production.[7] It is not known for certain, but Lon Chaney is believed to have been influential even in the selection of the director. Michael Blake, a Lon Chaney scholar, states that Lon Chaney even suggested Erich von Stroheim for the role. Thalberg approached Laemmle for approval of the production and presented it as love story. Bolstered by Chaney's recent box office successes, Laemmle agreed.[7]

Universal Weekly, the house publication of Universal, would formally announce the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in August 1922.[9] The next issue stated that the Universal Scenario Department was working on the continuity and that plans were being made for the construction of the sets.[10] In September 1922, Universal Weekly announced Lon Chaney's intention for it to have him be his final "cripple role" - following the success of The Miracle Man and The Penalty.[11] The publication would announce that Wallace Worsley as the likely director of the coming production in late November.[12] Worsley's status as director was confirmed in the following issue, though such confirmation ran alongside an advertisement that stated Tod Browning would direct.[13][note 1] Universal announced it intentions to recreate the Notre Dame cathedral and the surrounding streets to the exacting specifications of the period. Universal staff set about creating the "Gallery of Kings", thirty five statues, each ten feet high with intended likeness of the originals. The construction of the sets was estimated to take six months to complete. The screenplay was completed by Edward T. Lowe, Jr. and Perley Poore Sheehan by the end of 1922.[15]

In the beginning of January, it was announced that film production began with the setting in the "Court of Miracles" setting. Shooting the Parisian underworld scene required a cast of some several hundred extras.[note 2] The completion of the Notre Dame set and the street settings had not yet been completed.[16] In the beginning of February filming had moved to the Madame de Gondelaurier scenes. The production reportedly required three thousand costumes for extras; requiring six weeks for Universal costume department to complete.[18]

In March, Film Daily reported Worsley traded in his megaphone for a radio and loudspeaker to direct the large crowd of extras for the scenes.[19] Radio Digest stated that it was a $7,000 radio and loudspeaker set up, equivalent to $97,000 in 2015.[20]

Film Daily reported on June 8 that the filming of the camera shots had been completed and that Universal had signed a contract to lease the Astor Theater for showing the film on September 2.[21]

At the beginning of the 1923, Universal's accounts believed that the cost of the production would be between $750,000 to $1,000,000.[22]


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Original prints of the film were on cellulose nitrate film stock and were either worn out, decomposed, or were destroyed by the studio (mostly the latter). Original prints were on tinted film stock in various colors, including sunshine, amber, rose, lavender, and blue.

The only surviving prints of the film are 16 mm "show-at-home" prints distributed by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s for home-movie purposes, and no original 35mm negatives or prints survive. Most video editions (including public domain releases) of the film are derived from 16 mm duplicate prints that were distributed by Blackhawk Films in the 1960s and 1970s.[23] A Blu-ray release of a newly restored print of the film was released by Flicker Alley on March 18, 2014.[24]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. Advertisements that Tod Browning would direct, even after the announcement of Worsley's role was not singular. Another instance occurs two issues later and ran alongside another "moviegram" update.[14]
  2. Motion Picture News stated the court scenes consisted of a cast of 300 and 500 extras.[16][17]


  1. rentals in US and Canada - see Variety list of box office champions for 1923
  2. "The All Time Best Sellers," International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938), Quigley Publishing Company, p. 942, accessed 19 April 2014
  3. Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal. 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (35 mm reel). Universal. 1923.
  5. Carolin, Lisa (2012-09-08). "Former Hollywood actress Louise LaPlanche of Ann Arbor dies at 93". Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  6. ""U" making "Notre Dame"". The Film Daily Jul-Dec 1922. 21 (42): 1.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland & Company.
  8. "Chelsea Corporation to Start Production". Exhibitor's Trade Review. 11 (22).
  9. "Forthcoming Screen Productions Keep Universal City Studios Busy". Universal Weekly. 16 (2): 12. September 1922.
  10. "Universal to Film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Hugo's Great Novel". Universal Weekly. 16 (3): 27. September 1922.
  11. "Chaney to Play 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' for Universal". Universal Weekly. 16 (4): 27. September 1922.
  12. "Universal Moviegrams". Universal Weekly. 16 (15): 18. September 1922.
  13. ""U" Moviegrams". Universal Weekly. 16 (16): 11. September 1922.
  14. "Universal Moviegrams". Universal Weekly. 16 (18): 11. September 1922.
  15. "Cathedral of Notre Dame to be Built by Universal". Universal Weekly. 16 (17): 15. September 1922.
  16. 1 2 "Universal City". Motion Picture News. 27: 373. 1923.
  17. "Universal Starts Big Spectacle". Motion Picture News. 27: 175. 1923.
  18. "At Universal City". Motion Picture News. 27: 578. 1923.
  19. The Film Daily (March 1923). "Radio Replaces Megaphone". 23-24: 493.
  20. "Loud Speaker Directs Mob Scene of "The Hunchback"". Radio Digest. 5 (7): 3. May 1923.
  21. The Film Daily (March 1923). ""The Hunchback" at Astor Theater". 23-24: 1083.
  22. "Universal Starts Big Spectacle". Motion Picture News. 27: 175. 1923.
  23. "Silent Era : Home Video Reviews". Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  24. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray". Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  25. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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