Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

In RKO's and director William Dieterle's classic adaptation of the 1831 Victor Hugo novel about the hunchbacked Notre Dame Cathedral bell-ringer and his love for a gypsy girl in 15th century France:

  • during the Fool's Day annual celebration in medieval Paris, as part of the proceedings, a King of Fools was to be selected; Louis XI (Harry Davenport), the King of France noted: "The ugly is very appealing to man... it's instinct. One shrinks from the ugly, yet wants to look at it. There's a devilish fascination in it. We extract pleasure from horror"
  • in the opening sequence, pretty gypsy girl Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara in her film debut) danced before an appreciative audience, even though gypsies were persecuted and considered outcasts (and prohibited from entering Paris); she was thrown a coin by the King who remarked: "Who cares about her race? She's pretty!"; as she danced, one eye peered out to secretly watch her and she shrunk back in horror: "That eye, staring at me," as various onlookers commented: "It's an animal. It's a fiend"
  • it was the first hideous view of deafened Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), the hunchback bellringer of Notre Dame - only part of his deformed face was visible; he was seized and led to the stage by a throng of people and offered to be crowned and proclaimed the new King of Fools
  • in an extremely touching scene, the radiantly-beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda mercifully offered a drink of water to the deformed hunchback bellringer Quasimodo after a public scourging during his one hour on the pillory

Holding Her Aloft: "Sanctuary, Sanctuary"
Quasimodo's Daring Rescue of Esmeralda
  • Esmeralda was sentenced - framed and falsely accused of witchcraft ("bewitched") and murder (of her soldier-lover Captain Phoebus (Alan Marshal)) by the sexually-repressed and jealousy-crazed Chief Justice Jean Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), Quasimodo’s adoptive father figure - she was taken to be hanged on a wooden scaffold within view of the Notre Dame Cathedral
  • the sequence was topped by Quasimodo's thrilling and daring rescue of the gypsy girl by swinging to her on a rope, seizing her, and taking her up to the towering structure, and crying as he held her above his head: "Sanctuary, Sanctuary"
  • during a vengeful scene in the ND belltower, when Quasimodo confronted Frollo seeking to harm Esmeralda with a dagger, Quasimodo struggled against Frollo, then grabbed him and threw him off the top of the cathedral

Esmeralda's Love for Captain Phoebus

Frollo's Jealous Lust for Esmeralda

Quasimodo Confronting Frollo and Heaving Him Off Top of Cathedral
  • in the bittersweet ending after Esmeralda (and her gypsy people) were pardoned, Quasimodo delivered a heartbreaking closing line next to a gargoyle high atop Notre Dame: "Why was I not made of stone like thee?"

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

Zoom Back From Cathedral
  • the film concluded with a tremendous zoom back of the camera from the cathedral with choruses of 'Hallelujah' to end the film

(l and r): King Louis XI (Harry Davenport), and Chief Justice Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke)

Esmeralda - Dancing Gypsy Girl (Maureen O'Hara)

First Partial View of Bellringer Quasimodo

The Hunchback - Proclaimed the King of Fools

Quasimodo Offered a Drink by Esmeralda

Condemned to be Hanged in Front of the Cathedral


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