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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Victor Hugo's Immortal Classic

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) on IMDb

Plot Overview

At the end of the 15th century, the middle ages came to a close. The 100 year war has been concluded and King Louis XI (Harry Davenport) rules over a France beset by super­stition and prejudice. Mr Fisher introduces him to Gutenberg's invention. “The printing press is a miracle,” the king remarks. Retorts Chief Justice of Paris Jean Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), “A horrifying miracle.” Hot off the press comes poet Pierre Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien)'s page, “On the Freedom of Thought.” The press will be used “to print books for the people.” The king thinks this is a good idea, such a small device posing no danger. Frollo points out that small things can be dangerous, “The Nile rat kills a crocodile.” The king says, “The cathedrals are the hand­writing of the past. The press is of our time, and I won't do any­thing to stop it.”

A band of Gypsies tries to enter the city during the Fool's Day celebration, but they are turned away at the gate. A beautiful Gypsy girl Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) slips in unnoticed. She'll fait une sensation dancing in the public square. All the boys chase after her for one reason or another, so she seeks sanctuary in Notre Dame Cathedral (“The church is sanctuary for all.”) When Gringoire prints pamphlets trying to resolve her status, Frollo attacks the press (“Destroy this devilish apparatus.”) The roused populous takes a battering ram to the cathedral doors, the Hunch­back Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) rings the church bells, and the king signs an edict.


J.B. Mozley D.D., in his sermon on Temptation treated as Opportunity observes:
It is part of our belief and creed, as Christians and believers in the Bible, to think that the world is full of temptations. The scriptures tell us this from one end to the other. We pray against being led into temptation, in the Lord's prayer, as if our path through life were in the natural course of things to be expected to be full of them, and it was a special blessing from God to be saved from encountering them. … It is not put before us as a place in which things go on for us harmoniously, and the pleasures and excitement of which are naturally adapted to and designed for us, and to be used accordingly. (14–15)

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” offers a window to observe whether (presumably Christian) people struggle with temptation or just go with the flow. Take the feast of Fools. (1Cor. 10:27-28) “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; what­soever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.” Thus Paul concedes that a Christian is allowed to partake of enter­tainments in this world according to his faith in God's providence, but he shouldn't scandalize any­one in the process. It looked like every­one there at the feast was having a jolly good time, but Frollo lost his peace when watching the Gypsy dance, and he didn't want a scandal to develop from violating his vow of celibacy. At least he struggled with temptation.

Louis XI asked the fossil of a man attending him, “Doesn't she make your pulse beat faster?”

Replies the King's Physician: “I'm a widower four times, sire, but I could begin all over again.” Bearing in mind that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, Paul addressed the widow[er], (1Cor. 7:39) “if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” The prepositional phrase “only in the Lord” is here used adverbially modifying the verb “to be (at liberty)” in the Lord, not adjectivally modifying “whom (she will wed)”, which if it had said “only in the church”, would have meant only to another Christian, in that case excluding the Gypsy (“You are a heathen.”) The sentence similar in structure to the king's edict, “All her people are free to live any­where in France.” If the prepositional phrase “to live any­where” is adverbial, modifying the verb “to be (free)”, then it says, they're free to live in France any­where. But if it's adjectival modifying the noun France, i.e. “All her people in France are free to live any­where”, then it says that only the ones currently residing in France are free to live any­where, thus excluding immigration—not the best news for migrating Gypsies. Both the Gypsy and the widow statements read more naturally with the phrase taken adverbially. Modern Bible translations, how­ever, some­times get clever with the widow one by taking the unnatural adjectival sense and rewriting it to make it sound like she is only to wed another Christian.

When Frollo stabs a competing suitor, he operates outside the Lord, which he was not free to do, i.e.. he must do his courting in the Lord, not murder some­one, or whatever. His brother in the church will take issue with that.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul tells us (1Cor. 5:9-10) that we may associate with character-flawed nonChristians; that a Christian may maintain a marriage to a nonchristian (1Cor. 7:12-17) so long as the unbeliever is willing; that we can compromise with the heathen in the work­place—Criswell Study Bible preface to First Corinthians: “Some Christians needed to know whether or not they should attend the meetings of their trade guild, meetings held in the idol temples and involving meat offered to the idols (1Cor. 8:1-13)”—as long as we're doing it in faith and not stumbling some­one; that we can compromise in the market­place (1Cor. 10:25-26) and in entertainment (1Cor. 10:27-28) for the same reason, and as long as we don't ask too many questions.

Mozley includes within his scope of temptations the “facility of speech” (22): “persons who possess facility of speech … do not see why, on each successive occasion when there is an opening for it, their gifts should not be exerted; and they seem them­selves at every such opening simply to reply to the call of circumstances and the designs of Providence; and accordingly many do exert this gift with­out proper limitation in a loose or impetuous way, saying on all occasions what­ever comes into their minds, and letting no thought go unexpressed” (23).

In the movie a poet captured by an “army of beggars, thieves and cut­throats” (movie) is saved from a lynching when a beautiful Gypsy woman Esmeralda agrees to marry him on the spot. This led to some bewilderment on their wedding night. From the novel:

“Pardon, mademoiselle,” said Gringoire, with a smile. “But why did you take me for your husband?” “Should I have allowed you to be hanged?” “So,” said the poet, somewhat disappointed in his amorous hopes. “You had no other idea in marrying me than to save me from the gibbet?” “And what other idea did you suppose that I had?” … … Gringoire … hazarded a delicate question. “So you don't want me for your husband?” The young girl looked at him intently, and said, “No.” “For your lover?” went on Gringoire. She pouted, and replied, “No.” “For your friend?” pursued Gringoire. She gazed fixedly at him again, and said, after a momentary reflection, “Perhaps.” This “perhaps,” so dear to philosophers, emboldened Gringoire. “Do you know what friendship is?” he asked. “Yes,” replied the gypsy; “it is to be brother and sister; two souls which touch without mingling, two fingers on one hand.” “And love?” pursued Gringoire. “Oh! love!” said she, and her voice trembled, and her eye beamed. “That is to be two and to be but one. A man and a woman mingled into one angel. It is heaven.” (Web.)

1 Corinthians 7 headerThere is a little known, little understood form of marriage the Bible—the apostle Paul­—talks about called alter­nately either spiritual espousal or virgin marriage. Practically only the King James Version (KJV), in English, even translates it correctly. Johannes Weiss explains it:

In other cases continence or the institution of spiritual betrothals or virgin marriages was recommended. These questions Paul answered in detail in an essay on marriage in which each problem was carefully discussed. … The discussion of spiritual betrothals or virgin marriages occupies a great deal of space (1Cor. 7:25-28 & 1Cor. 7:36-38). Here, too, he is sufficiently broad-minded and practical to dissuade from anything unnatural and over­strained, and in a case where this difficult relation­ship for one reason or another cannot be carried out, to recommend marriage either with one another or with another, and this in spite of the high opinion which he elsewhere expresses in favor of self-chosen virginity. (Weiss, 330f.)

Weiss is supposed to be an expert on primitive Christianity. I know an Orthodox priest who is in a “virgin marriage”, but I draw a blank when­ever I mention this kind to Protestants. Yet they'll support new trans­lations of the Bible that go on verse by verse through these passages but seem to miss the concept entirely. Mozley would rack that up to yielding to temptation, to express one­self too liberally when perhaps the KJV should be yielded to with­out changing the whole Bible.

Permit me to draw an analogy from author James Patterson: “Bryce VonMiller … was coked out of his mind, some­thing he hadn't been for years. Cocaine, after all, was the pay phone of drugs. Still around but barely used” (42). Virgin marriage is like pay phones (and some drugs.) Once a staple of the scene, they're now hard to find, but they do still exist.

The sanctuary status of the cathedral, as represented in this movie, makes it inviolate by the world powers, corresponding to St. Paul's admonition, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers—”

Production Values

This classic “” (1939) was directed by William Dieterle. Sonya Levien wrote the screen­play as Bruno Frank adapted it from Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame.) It stars Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, and Cedric Hardwicke. Charles Laughton excelled when made up as the deformed bell-ringer. Maureen O'Hara made quite an enchanting gypsy. The rest of the cast also did very well.

This film came out before our current rating system was established, but for reference it has a United States TV rating of TVPG. Alfred Newman produced a fine musical score. “Ave Maria” (1572) (uncredited), music by Tomás Luis de Victoria, was sung by a mixed chorus during opening credits. The script was tightly written. The book ending was changed to be a happier Holly­wood one. The set looked authentic. The crowds were real people, expertly directed, no CGI. The politics were muted in keeping with the Hays Code.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I had seen another old version of “The Hunchback” that I liked better, but I liked this one, as well. The pieces pretty much fell into place as the plot held our interest through­out. It's good for its historical flavor.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, print.

The Criswell Study Bible. Authorized King James Version. Nashville | Camden: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1979. Print.

Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Project Gutenberg. Trans. Isabel F. Hapgood. April, 2001 [Etext #2610]. Web. Nov. 13, 2009. New York: Bantam Books, The Greatest Historical Novels, 1985. Print.

Johnson Th.D., Ken. Ancient Word of God. USA 2012. Print.

Mozley D.D., J.B. Sermons Parochial and Occasional. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1880. Print.

Patterson, James. Murder Games. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017. Print.

Weiss, Johannes. Earliest Christianity: A History of the Period a.d. 30–150, Vol. I. New York: Harper Brothers, 1959. This translation of Das Urchristentum was originally published in 1937 under the title The History of Primitive Christianity.