But I do happen to own a copy of Marvel Comics' The Incredible Hulk versus Quasimodo from 1983:
Is that cool or what? It was written by longtime Hulk writer Bill Mantlo, with art by Sal Buscema and Steve Mitchell, and features the Hulk actually fighting the hunchback in the cathedral of Notre Dame. But of course, I'm here to talk about the classic movie, not some silly comic book, so let's proceed.
The Notre Dame cathedral is a big ol' church in Paris. It serves as a sanctuary for many of the city's impoverished, and today it's the site of the Festival of Fools, a big ol' party that allows citizens to get drunk and act as crazy and obnoxious as possible... so it's a lot like a Bette Midler concert.
Of course, the cathedral's bell tower is the home of Quasimodo, the hideously deformed hunchback who is hated and feared by humanity. In the Hulk comic, by the way, the Quasimodo living at the cathedral is the great-great-great grandson of the original hunchback, which explains why he's around in 1983, but which also raises some questions: How have four generations of Quasimodos managed to find women to bear their children? What are the chances that they would all have the same deformityl? Is a hunchback really hereditary?
Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to be talking about the movie. In rapid succession, the film introduces about 70 characters: There's King Louis XI, who's not fond of poor people. There's Clopin, the "king of beggars" who is a thorn in Lou's side. There's the archbishop Claude Frollo and his brother Jehan. There's Phoebus, the Captain of the Guard. And there's Esmerelda, the dancing gypsy, who is essentially property of Clopin -- he bought her as a child and raised her, which is kind of messed up.
You know what else is messed up? Quasimodo's get-rich quick scheme in that Hulk comic. See, Bruce Banner and his girlfriend Betty are in Paris so Bruce can give a speech at a medical conference, which I guess is as good a reason as any for him to be there. But Betty has a side mission: She's meeting the French Minster of Finance on behalf of her father, a general, and she carries a key that will unlock a vault filled with vast riches. So Quasimodo kidnaps her! Right in front of Bruce! Bruce follows them to a chamber hidden in the sewer system, and pretty soon he gets really mad and turns into the Hulk!
Yeah, Hulk! Go get 'im! BUST HIS HUMP! You can-- oh, right. The movie.
So, there's this love triangle thing where Phoebus and Jehan are both infatuated with Esmerelda, though a title card will tell us that Phoebus only thinks of her as "another girl to hold in his arms." Be careful, girl -- He's just not that into you! Meanwhile, Jehan plans to kidnap Esmerelda, but he fails... which doesn't matter a lick to him, because he's made sure Quasimodo takes the blame. Quasimodo is sentenced to be lashed in the public square... and they ain't using wet noodles. It's pretty harsh.
But not as harsh as the Hulk's fight with the hunchback after he rescues Betty! Quasimodo drops a freakin' chandelier on the Hulk's head, but that only ticks him off, so the Hulk punches Quasi right out the window! In the comic, Quasimodo has a giant pet bat named Salvatore, and he has the bat drop the Hulk in the Seine River! From like hundreds of feet in the air!
Um... that doesn't happen in the movie. In the movie, Jehan stabs Phoebus and frames Esmerelda, and soon Esmerelda is sentenced to death. But then a hero comes to her rescue: the handsome -- no... dashing -- no... incredibly ugly Quasimodo swoops in and grabs her, taking her to the top of the cathedral. And when an angry mob comes for her, the Quaz throws stones at them and pours molten lead on them. YEEOWCHIE!
You know what else would make me say "YEEOWCHIE"? Trying to stop a train with my bare hands... but that's exactly what the Hulk does when the hunchback tries to ram him with the underground train that's carrying the treasure. But the hunchy guy has already stolen an experimental serum that Bruce Banner hoped would cure him of the Hulk forever. Quasimodo takes the serum... and is transformed into a normal-looking, totally non-crazy man! It's a happy ending for the Hunchback of Notre Dame!
Oh, but not in the movie. In the movie the hunchback dies. The End.
Is It Scary?
Like Lon Chaney's phantom in that other movie, Quasimodo is pretty freaky, but the movie never had me on the edge of my seat.
Lessons I Learned
- Be nice to hunchbacks and they'll be nice to you.
- "Jehan" is a funny name.
- As usual, a silent film doesn't provide many memorable lines, but I did laugh when a lady pointed out Esmerelda dancing with her goat to Phoebus, saying, "Phoebus -- see the pretty goat."
- Oh, and then there was Clopin's line: "Long enough the aristocrats have treated us like sheep. We'll show them -- we are wolves." That's pretty good tough-guy talk.
I think there were three... but that's just a hunch.
• One thing that struck me during the film is that, although the man with the hump gets his name in the title, it's really Esmerelda's story. Everyone's desire for her drives the action, and I wouldn't be surprised if you were to tell me that she has more screen time than the titular hunchback.
• Again Lon Chaney is rendered completely unrecognizable by his character makeup. That guy was really good at making himself look terrible.
But somehow I didn't find Quasimodo as compelling a character as the Phantom. Actually, I suspect that I may have liked the whole movie more if the picture quality had been better... According to my very brief web research, the original 35mm copies of the film were destroyed, so all existing copies are derived from some commercially available 16mm prints made decades after the film's release.
• I couldn't help but notice that Norman Kerry, who played Phoebus, bore a resemblance to Kevin Kline. Then my roommate Joe, who was watching the movie with me, pointed out that in Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame the role of Phoebus was played by... Kevin Kline! Do you think they did that on purpose?
• This particular DVD copy of this silent movie had a score that actually matched the action onscreen, a first for this 50 Horror Classics set. There were even some sound effects!
• I didn't mention it in my very detailed and insightful synopsis above, but there was a subplot about an old gypsy/beggar lady named Marie, whose daughter was stolen from her as a baby. I figured out immediately that her daughter was, in fact, Esmerelda... I have to wonder if this "revelation" was ever a surprise to viewers of the film or readers of the novel.
• There are a heck of a lot of extras in this movie.
Letter grade for The Hunchback of Notre Dame: B
Next film in the 50-movie set: Nosferatu. Another silent classic, but alas, one without a Chaney.