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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1939)

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The opening credits of this film read "RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. presents Victor Hugo's immortal classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame." According to a 1932 news item in Hollywood Reporter, Universal announced that John Huston was writing a treatment for the first sound version of Hugo's story as a vehicle for Boris Karloff. In 1937, M-G-M considered making the film starring Peter Lorre. Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter note that RKO considered Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, Orson Welles, Robert Morley and Lon Chaney, Jr. for the role of the hunchback. The studio originally considered Charles Laughton for the role, but at the time, Laughton was negotiating with M-G-M to star in an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. Materials contained in the RKO Production Files at the UCLA Library note that RKO paid $135,000 for the story rights for this film. The picture was shot at the RKO Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, where the studio constructed a 190 foot replica of Notre Dame, complete with gargoyles, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. A news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that the film's budget, estimated at between $2,500,000-$3,000,000 was the largest budget in RKO's production history. Studio records note that Joyce Gardner was originally slated to play the role of "Fleur," but a scheduling conflict prevented her appearance. Sir Cedric Hardwicke replaced Basil Rathbone as "Frollo" when scheduling conflicts prevented Rathbone from playing the role. This picture marked Maureen O'Hara's debut in an American picture, radio actor Edmond O'Brien's screen debut, and stage actor Walter Hampden's screen debut. The picture was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording. Modern sources add that Charles Laughton and makeup director Perc Westmore argued over the makeup of "Quasimodo." Laughton wanted to wear a heavy hump to help him act the role, but Westmore disagreed. Among the many film adaptations of Hugo's novel are: the 1917 Fox film The Darling of Paris starring Theda Bara and Glen White and directed by J. Gordon Edwards (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20); Universal's 1923 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Lon Chaney and directed by Wallace Worsley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30); the 1957 French film Notre Dame de Paris starring Gina Lollobrigida and Anthony Quinn and Jean Delannoy; the 1982 television movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame directed by Michael Tuchner and starring Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi and Lesley-Ann Down; and the 1996 Disney animated film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, featuring the voices of Tom Hulce and Demi Moore.