Regardless of the political implications of deeming Quasimodo—a disfigured human (though hardly a disabled one—the guy has more gymnastic skills than Mary Lou Retton)—a monster, there’s no question that Wallace Worsley’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame launched the Universal Monster age. And while the title characters’ monstrousness may be in question, the film’s horror element is not. None of its genre peers are as horrifically violent; none display such acts of cruelty—from the torture Quasimodo and his unattainable love Esmeralda suffer to his crazed molten lead retaliation against their would-be captors. Yet this is also a film of stark compassion and mercy, best conveyed by the divine Lon Chaney’s expression when Esmeralda gives him a drink after his whipping.
Mastered from a multi-tint 16mm print struck from the original negative, Flicker Alley’s new blu-ray edition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame gives us what will likely be the clearest details of Chaney’s nuanced performance we’ll see. Not that it will fool you into thinking it was filmed last week. Scratches and artifacts are pervasive. I don’t doubt that this 16mm print is beyond complete restoration, but I wonder if more could have been done about some of those blemishes. Nevertheless, compared to the utterly unwatchable reprints proliferating public domain collections, this improvement is striking. I’m not sure how marked the improvement is over Image Entertainment’s “Ultimate Edition” DVD from 2007 (which runs 117 minutes versus this blu-ray’s 110—additional speed correction could account for the time difference), but I do know that most of that edition’s extras reappear on Flicker Alley’s, including Robert Israel’s elegant realization of Donald Hunsberger’s compiled score, Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake’s audio commentary, stills galleries (sans the DVD’s 3-D content), and a short film of Chaney on set in his street clothes. The major new edition is the surviving thirteen minutes of Joseph De Grasse’s charming 1915 fairy tale Alas and Alack, in which Chaney briefly appears as a hunchback.
Get The Hunchback of Notre Dame on blu-ray at Amazon.com here: