Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hunchback of Notre Dame (TV, 1982) and Hallmark Hall of Fame series

I was watching this movie just as entertainment, not intending to write about it.  But I found myself very moved by Anthony Hopkins’ performance. And it gave me memories of the Hallmark Hall of Fame productions and what a big deal they were when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s.
Hallmark Hall of Fame began as live-taped programs including Shakespeare plays, in 1951 and may have been the longest running anthology series on television, running approximately 58 seasons. Shows like these were an important part of not only entertainment, but culture and literacy in rural parts of the country. With movies like The Winter of our Discontent, All Creatures Great and Small, and Anastasia, Hallmark Hall of Fame introduced areas without libraries and with only one or two available television channels to great works of literature and history that they may not have otherwise even heard of. A complete list of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies can be found here.
Victor Hugo, who is beyond compare when it comes to detailing the grimy, destitution of the human condition, wrote a much darker story than Hallmark chose to put to film, though.  John Gay did the teleplay for this version, and if you’re at all familiar with made for TV movies back when they were good, he did nearly all of them. The popular Dial M for Murder (1981) and the absolute best versions of both Les Miserables (1978, TV) and A Tale of Two Cities (TV, 1980) were just a few of them. He also wrote screenplays, including The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and No Way to Treat a Lady (1968). Michael Tuchner, who also worked mainly with TV, directed.

Anthony Hopkins is the main reason to watch this movie. He plays Quasimodo and is brilliant. It’s so hard to tell that it is even him. The way he moves, holds his mouth, even his speech pattern is perfect. I found this a very different and moving role for him. Derek Jacobi is fairly good as the Archdeacon. Leslie-Anne Down, who plays Esmerelda, is very pretty, but her acting falls flat. She also cannot dance and it is painfully obvious when she is supposed to be dancing in the street for money. John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, and Robert Powell all give the movie atmosphere and depth in smaller rolls.
Archdeacon of Nottingham, Claude Frollo, falls inexplicably in love with a young Egyptian woman caught dancing for money in the streets of Paris. He lets her go rather than sending her to the Bastille, and is haunted by her from that moment forth. Consumed by a passion he can only explain as bewitching, the Archdeacon continues to pursue Esmerelda despite her putting him off and despite her marriage- of-convenience to a penniless poet. The Archdeacon decides to handle the problem of Esmerelda by sending out his deformed ward, Quasimodo, to bring her to him. When Quasimodo is captured for kidnapping the girl and assaulting a Captain of the royal archers, the Archdeacon does not go to his rescue, letting him be flogged and left for public ridicule in the courtyard.

In an act of selfless kindness, Esmerelda approaches the bound Quasidmodo and offers him water when no one else dared, creating yet another admirer for herself.

Unable to put aside his physical need for the gypsy woman, the Archdeacon chooses to hand her over as a witch.
This movie is all about the set. It could have been made on any Renaissance Faire site throughout the world, with faire participants as extras, but that is what made it feel so authentic. What better place to find medieval/renaissance authenticity Nazis than at Renaissance Faires and SCA groups.

The movie lacks the tension and horror of the earliest versions of the film from the ‘30s and 40s, and is played more as a romance, but the real focal point is the small sections of set that make the movie stand out among other made-for-TV nonsense. Effort was made in costuming Paris of the period, although there was a little bit of reliance on the generic “medieval man” costume like you would find at costume shops.

The monks and the band of thieves seemed most authentic. The only downside to this was that Leslie-Anne Down stuck out to me like a sore thumb, proclaiming that she was a woman of the 80s. The hair bugged me a little on her, but mostly I think it was the makeup. I always applaud actresses who go for less-is-more in historical pieces where make-up is concerned. This was not one of those times. Every other woman in the movie looked like a woman. Leslie-Anne Down looked like a walking Mary Kay billboard. I don’t think I ever once saw her, only slashes of blush and lipstick walking down the street on a pair of legs.

I recommend this movie mostly for fans of Anthony Hopkins. It doesn’t bring much new to the story and while the other stars are all wonderful and the extras are perfection, it’s still a fairly typical romance.

~"That's not a wart, it's an egg! With the devil inside!" nun present at Quasimodo's birth~

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