Filmsite Movie Review
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Chief Justice's Lust for Esmeralda, and the Murder of Captain Phoebus:

Later that evening, Esmeralda was invited to dance at a lavish garden party-banquet held by nobles, accompanied by Gringoire who would also entertain the guests. She found her new husband Gringoire standing on his head, claiming the world looked "beautiful" from that perspective. He added: "It is monstrous to be as sensible as I am." He joked about why he was attending: "To divert the noble lords and ladies of Paris, unless they take poison to end the ennui of their empty lives."

While Gringoire was performing, the sexually-repressed, puritanical and jealous Chief Justice Frollo lusted after Esmeralda, and approached toward her. She asked about his obsession for her: "What have I done?" He confessed how she had unleashed his sexual desire, and caused him to pine over his burning love for her:

"What have you done? You have awakened in me all that should have stayed dormant. I have sought a tranquil existence, and had it. Until I saw you. Since then my powers have failed me, for I cannot rid myself of you. In every book I read, I see your face. In every sound, I hear your voice or the jingle of your tambourine. I've questioned my conscience through the deep hours of the night only to awaken in greater confusion."

He firmly held her wrist and refused to release her so that she could dance: ("Come away from here. I can't bear it that all those men will see you dance. I want you for myself alone. If I can't have that, it will be my end and yours"). Appalled by his one-sided sexual desires for her, she broke away when she heard Gringoire's cue to join him on stage to dance. She was introduced as "the flower of Egypt - the dancing wonder." However, Gringoire's black goat Aristotle walked into view in front of the chuckling nobles, and Gringoire was forced to change his introduction: "The great mathematician. The miracle goat. He will tell any one of you how much money you have in your purse."

Then, Esmeralda appeared with her tambourine to perform, and mostly captivated the attention of the Captain of the Guard Phoebus, who was seated with his fiancee - his teenage socialite cousin named Fleur-de-Lys (Helene Whitney). After Phoebus threw Esmeralda a coin, he also stood up to affectionately dance with her, causing both Fleur and Frollo (who watched from a distance) to feel pangs of jealousy. The carnal-minded Frollo watched them and turned away when he realized that he would never be able to have her.

While many of the nobles rose to dance, the Captain stole away with Esmeralda into the interior of the garden to have a private and intimate moment with her. As she was lying on the ground in front of him, he revealed that he was in love with her - and wished to have his way with her that evening:

Phoebus: "Who are you? Where do you come from? Speak up. I'm a soldier and I'm accustomed to being obeyed. Here I sit and talk to you as if I had never seen a girl before, never held one in my arms. Why do I do this? Why?"
Esmeralda: "Because you love me."
Phoebus: "Because I love you?"
Esmeralda: "Forever."
Phoebus: "Forever is a long time. You forget I am a soldier and gamble swiftly with life and death. I am willing to throw my life away for you, today. Tomorrow - you see, love is only a part of my life. It's a very sweet part, I admit."
Esmeralda: "For me, it is everything. It's all my life."

They heard a rustling in the shadows and Phoebus defensively stood up. She sat up and admired him in the moonlight: "Phoebus. Now I see why Luna guards the night for the soul to pray. How I welcome Phoebus light, Phoebus, king of day." She again laid back onto the meadow's grass and enticed him to make love to her: "Say again you love me." He complied, but offered only his conditional or temporary love for only that evening:

Phoebus: "I can't do any more than just love you."
Esmeralda: "I can."
Phoebus: "You are a woman."
Esmeralda: "So you won't love me after tonight?"
Phoebus: "Perhaps not."

She sensed that they were being spied upon: "Let's get away from here. There is somebody near us. I'm afraid," but his romantic ardor while kissing her overpowered him and he answered: "We'll stay, my love" - and she submitted to him. [Note: Off-screen and unseen, Frollo suddenly emerged from the shadows, and jealously plunged a dagger into rival Phoebus' back.]

There were sudden cries of "Murder -- Captain Phoebus has been killed." Without witnessing the crime and the murderous perpetrator, Esmeralda stood staring at the sight of the dead Phoebus in front of her. She was found by the nobles and guests guiltily holding a bloody dagger, with Aristotle at her feet. Someone accused her: "The Gypsy, she did it. There's the knife. Arrest her." It was concluded that she had killed Phoebus when he attempted to have sex with her.

Frollo's Confession and Shifting of Blame to the "Bewitching" Esmeralda:

In the belltower of Notre Dame's Cathedral, Quasimodo wildly rang the two bells - unable to be constrained by two other younger priests, Bertrand and Guillaume. They cried out: "It's impossible. We can't make him stop. Something's happened to him. He's going mad. We've tried everything. We can't even reach him." And then the bells suddenly ceased - when Frollo appeared in the belltower.

Frollo's brother, the Archdeacon, enthusiastically invited him to his room to listen to the music of a young Italian composer - but then stopped short when he noticed Frollo's mad gaze. Frollo confessed his passionate crime of murder to the Archdeacon, explaining that it was due to his crazed love for a woman. A religious hypocrite, he projected the blame for the crime onto Esmeralda, and was hoping for absolution of his sins through his clerical brother:

"You may not want a murderer in your room....I have killed a man out of love for a woman who has bewitched me. I know she is the trap that Satan has set for me. You are the servant of God. You must help me."

The Archdeacon refused and reacted with scorn by quoting Scripture's punishment: "'He that smiteth a man, so that he shall die, shall be surely put to death.'" Frollo proposed another way to escape recrimination for his evil deed: ("God also says, 'I shall appoint a place where thee shall flee'"). The Archdeacon would have no part in sheltering his brother: ("I can't help a murderer"). Frollo announced that he would then proceed with his plan to sentence the 'bewitching' Esmeralda and blame her for causing him to become spellbound and homicidal: "Then, she must die....This Gypsy girl who has made me a murderer...She has bewitched me. Therefore, she must die." The Archdeacon was incredulous: "Die for your crime? That's the Devil's logic. You can't believe that."

Frollo rationalized that he would escape punishment, by placing the blame on her sorcery and witchcraft, although his brother disowned him:

Frollo: "A sorceress once bewitched Bruno de Firenze. He had her burned, and was saved. This girl's death shall be my redemption."
Archdeacon: "You're mad! You can't commit another crime. Your conscience won't let you."
Frollo: "There is no crime I would not commit to free myself of her."
Archdeacon: "Then my duty is to help the girl, not you."
Frollo: "Claude! You are my brother."
Archdeacon: "I am no longer your brother."

Esmeralda's Jailing:

Esmeralda was jailed (with Aristotle) - wrongly framed and falsely accused of Satanic witchcraft ("bewitched") and the murder of her soldier-lover Captain Phoebus. She bemoaned the fact that she had come to Paris to seek the King's help for her people, but had become mired instead in a foolish, infatuated love affair. She was consoled and comforted by her newly-married husband Gringoire ("Don't cry, darling"), who believed she was being undeservedly punished. He assured his fearful wife that he fully believed in her innocence:

Esmeralda: (crying) "Oh, Gringoire. Why did I ever come to Paris?...I keep thinking and thinking how I came here to soften the King's heart towards my people, and how my own silly heart betrayed me. For that, I deserve to die."
Gringoire: "You will not! I will get you free."
Esmeralda: "You will look out after my people when I am gone."
Gringoire: "Don't talk like that."

She asked for forgiveness from Gringoire for her short-sightedness - for showing passion to the shallow-minded Phoebus:

"Forgive me even though it is too late....about Captain Phoebus. Even before he was killed, I knew he really didn't love me. I've been a fool."

Gringoire was unconditionally receptive, and not angry with the repentant Esmeralda for her betrayal. He promised to work to set her free.

Esmeralda's 'Kangaroo Court' Trial:

There were numerous efforts underway to help free Esmeralda and save her from execution for the alleged crime of murder. In Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo repeatedly prayed to one of the stone statues: "How can we save her?"

In the printing shop, Gringoire brought an appeal that he had written, to be printed on leaflets and distributed to the people of Paris. 100 printed copies would be ready for distribution the next day by "every student, every beggar in the Court of Miracles." Gringoire read the first few lines of the leaflet: "Parisians, day after day innocent people disappear. Some die on the gallows, others are buried alive in dungeons." Suddenly, on the orders of the authoritarian and politically-powerful Honorable High Justice Frollo, a group of Royal soldiers burst into the print shop to destroy the printing press ("Destroy this devilish apparatus") and crush Gringoire's efforts, amidst his protest: "You may destroy the form, but not the spirit."

In a trial courtroom presided over by Frollo, Gringoire argued in person for Esmeralda's innocence: ("Parisians, mark my words. Today it is an innocent Gypsy girl. Tomorrow, it may be your brother or your children or yourselves. Parisians, let us appeal to the king"), but was threatened with imprisonment by the Chief Justice: ("This is not a public square"). Evidence of Esmeralda's guilt (her dagger) was presented, although Gringoire asked: "How could she have killed a man so much stronger than herself? It is obvious she was just trying to defend herself against the real murderer. You know she's innocent. These witnesses have proved it."

After Gringoire was silenced, his goat Aristotle was brought in. When it immediately went to Esmeralda, one of the accusatory judges noted: "Now the witchcraft is proved. It is evident that the girl and the goat worked together." Gringoire rose to protest: "I protest in the name of common-sense, in the name of man who's not to be judged by stupid superstition and prejudice...It's a shame when the fate of a girl depends on the behavior of a goat. If the goat doesn't know the human language, why don't the judges learn the goat's language?" Gringoire was ordered removed from the court by Frollo's royal soldiers.

Frollo walked up to the presumed-guilty Esmeralda and whispered for her to confess: "Do you still deny that Satan is your master? That you were sent to destroy man's body and soul and deliver him into hell?" She pleaded that she was innocent, prompting Frollo to threaten her with torture: "Show her what she has to expect if she refuses to admit her guilt." She was shown that she would be constrained by an iron vise (known as the "boot" or "brodequins") clamped around her foot by large tightened screws designed to crush internal bones, and force her to confess.

Quasimodo burst through the doors of the court and attempted to take the blame for the crime: ("It wasn't her. If you want to know who it was, it was me"), but he was mocked and laughed at by the Parisians in the courtroom and dragged away.

Chief Justice Frollo announced that due to the late hour of the trial, and the continuing reticence of Esmeralda to admit her guilt, that the next step was to apply torture. The court was adjourned. As the courtroom audience exited, bits of conversations were overheard:

  • "She is as innocent as I am of killing the Captain."
  • "She'll confess under torture."
  • "They all do."
  • "I hate to see her hang."

After Esmeralda was led to the torture chamber and the vise was applied to her foot, Frollo watched from an overhead hatch as she cried out: "Mercy, mercy" and began to scream. Frollo ducked his head to avoid watching, as she falsely confessed to the crime (off-screen).

When the King entered the courtroom after being appealed to by the Archdeacon, the court was reassembled. The Procurator read the condemning sentence (proposed by the morally-corrupt Frollo) that had convicted Esmeralda of murder:

"Since the witchcraft is proved, and the crime exposed, we declare that we require penance...before the great portal of Notre Dame and a sentence by virtue of which this witch, together with her goat shall be executed in Place de Notre Dame."

Before a vote was taken by a judicial panel to determine her guilt or innocence, the King interrupted, walked up to the defendant, and noticed a drop of her blood on the floor. He asked an obvious question: "Did you confess under torture?" When she answered affirmatively, he offered the doomed defendant a reprieve with a 'trial by ordeal' - an ancient test of guilt. She was blindfolded and forced to choose one of two daggers on a table. She unfortunately chose her own bloody dagger, not Louis' larger, jewel-encrusted dagger, thus sealing her fate ("The judgement is against you"). Frollo described her ultimate punishment - she was to be brought barefooted to the public square near Notre Dame Cathedral to perform public penance, before being hanged on the gallows with her accomplice (Aristotle, the goat).

Esmeralda's Salvation by the Hunchback:

Quasimodo watched from high up in the belltower (between two gargoyles) as the Hangman (Victor Kilian) adjusted a gallows rope and an open cart transported the bound prisoner Esmeralda to the public square. Crowds that had gathered were pushed back by horse-mounted Royal soldiers. There on the front steps of the cathedral as she knelt, the Archdeacon (who knew she was innocent) forbid public penance ("I cannot allow this girl to do public penance on holy ground because she is not guilty"). Frollo disagreed with his brother: "She is a witch and must die. Take her away."

Esmeralda was brought directly to the wooden scaffold within view of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The scene of her unjust execution was topped by Quasimodo's thrilling, triumphant, chivalrous and daring rescue of the sultry gypsy girl by his Tarzan-like swinging to her on a rope. He seized her, and took her back up to the towering structure, as a chorus of "Hallelujahs" was heard on the soundtrack. The crowds reacted with joyous cheers and disbelief. Quasimodo cried aloud: "Sanctuary, Sanctuary," as he took her higher up into the belltower, and then held her high above his head.

Gringoire was relieved that Esmeralda had been saved from death, but when he attempted to see her inside the church, the Archdeacon disallowed it: ("Not now. Believe me, she is safe here"). He assured the worried Gringoire that the bellringer would not harm her. The self-loathing Quasimodo brought Esmeralda food, and promised not to scare her: "I’m going away, so that you don’t have to see my ugly face when you’re eating." She ran to him and urged him not to hide away. Half-laughing and half-weeping, he revealed to the sympathetic Esmeralda his feelings about his physical deformities and beastly ugliness, and why he had saved her from certain death. He then proudly showed off his "friends" - the bells that had made him deaf - and happily played them for her by rocking them back and forth:

Quasimodo: "You called me back. I'm-I'm deaf, you know. You would think there would be nothing more wrong with me, wouldn't you? But I'm deaf, too. It's horrible. I never realized till now how ugly I am, because you're so beautiful. I'm not a man! I'm not a beast! I'm-I'm about as shapeless as the man in the moon! I'm deaf, you know, but you can speak to me by signs."
Esmeralda: "Why did you save me?"
Quasimodo: "You ask me why I saved you? Oh, oh, I tried to carry you off, and the next day you gave me a drink of water and a little pity. Listen, you must never leave the church or they'II hang you. And that would kill me. Yes. It's good in the church. It's high, high up. Look, people. Look, little people. Look, look. Here, up here - friends. Up there - babies. Jacqueline. Gabrielle. Guillaume. Big Marie. She, uh, she made me deaf, you know. I can hear my friends. Shall I play them for you?"

Efforts to Overturn 'Sanctuary':

To circumvent Esmeralda's protection by Notre Dame's 'sanctuary law,' the nobles (incited by Frollo and led by the ruthless Procurator) added their signatures to a document to be presented to the King, to abolish and overturn 'Sanctuary' by revoking its right forever: (the Procurator: "That girl must hang, and this resolution will seal her fate"). In the belltower, Quasimodo humbly brought Esmeralda a gift - a caged bird, and then covered his face in shame when she smiled and thanked him. He haltingly told her: "I have something to say to you," but then became overwhelmed and ran off, to stand next to one of his gargoyle friends.

At the same time, Gringoire and Clopin attempted to save Emeralda from harm - using two contrasting methods: "Words" and "Force":

  • Gringoire was authoring a pamphlet to be printed, to appeal to the King and the people, to argue against the revocation of the 'sanctuary law.' The pamphlet was to be distributed to the masses by craftsmen and students throughout the entire country, to incite the citizens to rise up violently and rebel against the state.
  • Clopin prepared weapons to lead an "army of beggars, thieves, and cutthroats" (from the Court of Miracles) to storm the cathedral, and attempt to rescue Esmeralda during a nighttime raid. He vowed: "We'll not let those nobles take away our right of sanctuary." He was opposed Gringoire's intellectual, idealistic and pacifist approach: "My friend, you are a dreamer, a scribbler, a poet...I can't depend on pamphlets. We march. Get ready."

There were various appeals offered to King Louis XI in the Palace of Justice regarding the Sanctuary Law controversy. The King was swayed by Frollo to capitulate, and to ignore the growing wave of public opinion (reinforced by the printed pamphlet). Frollo believed that the thinking masses would irretrievably damage the old order. But then, the King listened to an excerpt from Gringoire's persuasive pamphlet:

"The people have faith in their king and are certain that so long as the courts continue to use torture instead of common sense, he will refuse the nobles' demand to suspend the sanctuary of Notre Dame."

The King noticed a gathering of Clopin's forces amassing outside the palace. According to the King's advisor Olivier (Arthur Hohl), they were there to lobby the King to not be swayed by the nobles to suspend the right of sanctuary. The King realized that Gringoire's strategy was very clever although "impertinent" - his pamphlet functioned as a "bold new way of appealing by printed petition" to sway "public opinion." Frollo again asserted that public opinion was extremely "dangerous."

In a dramatic scene, the Archdeacon arrived and informed the monarch that Notre Dame was under attack and that the "pledge of sanctuary" was being threatened. The King was emphatically in support of the people's movement: "Good, my people, do your work. Go on. Destroy these false nobles who want to be kings. Hang, pillage, sack them. On, my people, on." However, the Archdeacon cautioned the King's enthusiasm, who was oblivious to the physical damage that might be inflicted: "The cathedral - Notre Dame. They will destroy it....Thousand of beggars are afraid that the Gypsy girl is no longer safe in the church and are storming Notre Dame."

When the Archdeacon was accused of interfering with the judgment of hanging, he again strongly affirmed that Esmeralda was innocent. When the King demanded to know the identity of the real murderer, the Archdeacon deferred to Frollo - waiting for him to confess: "I am waiting for my brother to speak." Frollo boldfacedly admitted to the murder ("I did it and I would do it again"), and then exited. The Archdeacon explained to the King how Frollo had loved Esmeralda ("He's madly in love with the Gypsy girl") but when romantically rejected, he spitefully convicted her: ("Because she didn't love him"). The King ordered Olivier to seek Frollo's immediate arrest.

The Siege of the Cathedral and Frollo's Death:

As the siege of the cathedral was about to occur by Clopin's beggars and outcasts (to force the Archdeacon to give up the gypsy girl, to save her from the nobles), Quasimodo, some priests, and an assemblage of Parisian citizens and craftsmen (who had read Gringoire's pamphlet) vigorously opposed the take-over and vowed to defend the "sanctity" of the church from attack.

Thinking that the crowds outside (forming a V-shape) were amassing to hurt Esmeralda and take her away, Quasimodo warned her and promised to protect her against the onslaught. He dropped a huge piece of lumber (later used as a battering ram) onto a beggars' cannon as it was being lit. He also heaved building stones and a huge rock block onto more rioters. Unafraid, Clopin exhorted his people to not be cowardly: ("Don't slink away like frightened rats. What are you afraid of? There's no demon up there. That's only Quasimodo, the bellringer. We should thank him for furnishing us with a battering ram. Come on, lads, do your work"). Quasimodo intensified his counter-attack with more rock blocks - one of which struck and seriously wounded Clopin. The bellringer also pushed back ladders that were scaling Notre Dame's heights, and even heated up and poured molten metal from the parapets down upon them through the mouths of gargoyles, sending them scattering just as Notre Dame's front doors were breached with the battering ram and the King's Royal soldiers arrived on horseback.

While the conflict raged below between the soldiers and the remaining mob, Quasimodo was summoned by Esmeralda for help - with a ring of the bell. He came running to find the evil and vengeful Frollo in the Notre Dame belltower who was there to seek out Esmeralda and destroy her. He saw Frollo chasing after Esmeralda and poised to stab her to death with a dagger, while blocking Quasimodo's access to the belltower. The bell-ringer came upon Frollo and struggled against him, then grabbed him and threw him off the top of the cathedral to his death.

The Conclusion - The Reunion of Gringoire and the Pardoned Esmeralda, and the Exoneration of the Gypsies:

In the bittersweet ending after order was restored, Gringoire and the Archdeacon both announced that King Louis XI had pardoned Esmeralda (due to the influence of Gringoire's pamphlet), and her people were also exonerated and set free: ("The girl has been pardoned and all her people are free to live anywhere in France"). Gringoire came upon the lethally-wounded Clopin, and reminded him that his method of pacifist protest had worked: "Why didn't you wait? I told you I could save her without using force." Clopin replied before passing away: "I thought that was just a poet's dream."

As Esmeralda kissed the Archdeacon's hand, he told her:

"Don't thank me. Thank Quasimodo, who saved you from hanging. And Gringoire, whose little printed papers set you free."

She embraced the enobled Gringoire, now reunited together with him. Cheers followed her as she departed with her husband in a horse-drawn cart, now exonerated and freed with all of her gypsy relatives. She looked back one last time at the cathedral. After observing them, the abandoned Quasimodo delivered a heartbreaking closing line - he mourned Esmeralda's loss as he leaned his forehead next to a gargoyle high atop Notre Dame:

"Why was I not made of stone like thee?"

This was followed by a tremendous zoom back of the camera from the cathedral - with choruses of 'Hallelujah' to end the film.

[Note: Alfred Newman's similar "Hallelujah" chorus was recycled into the conclusion of The Song of Bernadette (1943), and also appeared in the transfiguration scene at the conclusion of Henry Koster's religious epic The Robe (1953).]

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