Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1939: Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Charles Laughton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a solid enough version of the story bolstered particularly by William Dieterle's direction, and something else.

It is rather interesting to see Charles Laughton to take on this role, perhaps best known previously for proper British gentlemen, though these gentleman certainly varied a great deal in terms of personality. However this is a completely different role for Laughton as Quasimodo the titular Hunchback. Quasimodo in this version of course has his hunchback deformity as well as a skewed eye, bulging half of his face, few teeth in his mouth and to evidently top it all off he is also deaf. The distance given to Quasimodo is far greater since even though he is a leading role, we are often given the perspective of the observer of Quasimodo rather than of the man himself. Now Laughton disappears into the role, which is understandable given the makeup, but that's not all there is to Laughton's work here. Laughton finds the labored movement of Quasimodo due to his hunch, but he goes further revealing the difficult life Quasimodo has had to live in the rest of his face. The wear of such a life can be found imprinted right into the poor soul. Laughton never leaves anything to what is already is there, working with it wholly to make it all singular into his work as Quasimodo. All of it feels completely natural and in way Laughton gives life to the technically artificial elements of the character.

Now Quasimodo's first appearance in this version is during the festival of fools as he makes a surprise appearance to accidentally be the oddest face in order to be crowned the king of fools. Now Laughton is downright brilliant in this first scene as he establishes so well Quasimodo in more than one way. Just about everyone's aversion to him is realized by Laughton because of how effectively he not only gives the sense of his physical state, but also in the way he interacts. Laughton has a disjointed quality about his manner as he realizes how Quasimodo scares those even past his disfigurement. Laughton is terrific in the way he shows Quasimodo's deafness in his awkward method as he is frequently surprised by other people's movement, but Laughton portrays how this surprise may make it appear that he may be dangerous in some way. However even as Laughton establishes this he also alludes to the true nature of Quasimodo in the scene as well. As he looks out at the crowd and those who seem ready to make him the King of the ceremonies, there is a definite enthusiasm that Laughton finds. This enthusiasm is not in terms of the ceremony exactly, but rather Laughton finds the way that Quasimodo is simply incredibly happy to be able to interact with other people.

The film actually keeps Quasimodo at a certain distance for some time as he's merely used by Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), which gets him into trouble. Quasimodo's trial sorts is another marvelous scene for Laughton as he expresses so well the confusion in Quasimodo as he tries to understand what's going on and tries desperately to communicate in anyway he can. Laughton again finds the inherent awkwardness of Quasimodo in such convincing fashion as he attempts to speak. Laughton's great as he does not reveal Quasimodo to be a unintelligent individual, but rather as someone who can only speak so well given his hearing as well his understandable lack of social skills. The lack of eloquence Laughton finds is not really his choice of words but rather his inability to verbalize them well. Laughton's delivery has the right variation of a man who is actually unable to hear himself speak clearly. There is something so painful about Laughton's work because he is able to show someone reaching out into the world for some sort of connection, but due to everything against him he can't seem to find it. Now fantastic as his ability to create all these traits of Quasimodo that's not all there is to Laughton's performance as we find after he sentenced to a flogging. Everyone seems to ignore his pain except for the gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) who gives him water.

Laughton brings such poignancy in the moment as he presents the relief in Quasimodo physically but also mentally as someone finally seems to care whether he lives or dies. Laughton is outstanding as he brings such sheer jubilation in Quasimodo in the succeeding scenes as in his eyes there is definite hope in him as it seems he's finally found the connection he was seeking. Eventually Quasimodo is able to more than return the favor by saving Esmeralda from hanging and keeps her in sanctuary of the bell tower of Notre Dame. In their initial meeting Laughton is finally able to directly verbalize Quasimodo's own personal hardship, and he does not waste this. As he explains his condition, his name of being half formed, Laughton is extremely moving as he basically laughs and cries at the same time suggesting Quasimodo's pain as well as his attempt to deal with his life by finding humor in it at the same time. Laughton never allows him to be one note in this regard though as he still infuses such eagerness in him as he attempts to connect further with Esmeralda by explaining his life in the bell tower with the few pleasures he does have. There is such a warmth that Laughton is able to bring as he finds without question the humanity behind the "monster". This version of the story is decidedly less tragic than the source material, though that is quite easy to do, the ending of the film still is very powerful largely due to Laughton. Quasimodo acts as the hero, defeating the villain, but in the end Esmeralda as well as the public in general still favor the traditionally handsome hero to fall in love with. This still leaves Quasimodo as an outcast in the end. Laughton is absolutely heartbreaking in his somber delivery of his final lines "why was i not made of stone like thee" as Quasimodo speaks to a Gargoyle, his only companion, as he sees the outside world abandon him once more. This is an astonishing performance by Laughton as he matches all the challenges presented in the role by effortlessly capturing not only the physicality needed for the role, but also even more importantly the emotional core of Quasimodo.

37 comments:

Calvin Law said...

Woohoo!

Thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast, and what did you think of the set design and script overall?

Calvin Law said...

Also, your ranking of Laughton's top 5 performances.

Calvin Law said...

Oh and the makeup work here is brilliant :) On rewatch my ratings for the cast would be,

Laughton: 5
O'Hara: 4
O'Brien: 4
Mitchell: 3.5
Hardwicke: 5

Louis Morgan said...

The production design is masterful. The script perhaps is somewhat imperfect perhaps in terms of adhering to the code so to speak yet I still find it does a more than admirable job in its adaptation of the material with this in mind and is able to find a power of its own.

1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
2. Rembrandt
3. The Private Life of Henry VIII
4. Witness for the Prosecution
5. Ruggles of Red Gap

I'll save Hardwicke.

O'Hara - 4(She's pretty much the definition of luminous here as she manages to be so alluring as Esmeralda without putting any sort of active seductive qualities in her work. She's very good in actually a largely reactive performance. She not only realizes the fears she faces, but also so well exudes the needed heart in her scenes with Laughton.)

O'Brien - 4(Really looking over much of O'Brien's work I think he is perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, but I'll take it. Particularly youthful looking here, yet he brings that larger than life quality approach found in his later performances like The Wild Bunch and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I think it is a great fit for a poet who is always trying to espouse his views whenever he can, and brings the right genuine earnestness to the part.)

Mitchell - 3.5(Maybe his weakest performance from his banner year but that's not saying a lot. Mitchell seems an odd choice for the gypsy leader but I think he manages to work for the role. As he is able to bring the right maniacal madness to the role that manages to be both fun and threatening.)

tahmeed chowdhury said...

So, I see Mickey Rooney has been downgraded to a 3 from a 3.5 for Babes in Arms. Here's to hoping Robert Donat gets upgraded for Mr. Chips.

Calvin Law said...

Glad you're saving Hardwicke. If not for Rains and Richardson he'd be a most worthy winner for me.

Tahmeed: Rooney's always been a 3, although I strongly hope too that Donat is upgraded. And Olivier downgraded (jk each to his own Louis, guess I just can't quite take to anything pre-Rebecca for good ol' Laurence)

tahmeed chowdhury said...

Calvin: I remember seeing him as a 3.5 before. And besides, his rating picture is a lot more current-looking than the other nominees, which means that it's changed.

Alex Marqués said...

Louis: what are your thoughts on Katherine Waterston in Inherent Vice?

Calvin Law said...

Tahmeed: True. Hope that bodes well for Donat!

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your Female Lead/Supporting Top 5s with ratings and other 4+ performances for 1939.

Louis Morgan said...

I changed Rooney's rating quite awhile ago.

Alex:

I've given my thoughts before but I don't mind reiterating them. I really liked her in her later scenes largely due to her chemistry with Phoenix and capturing what might be described as a hippie allure. Having said that I kind of hate her first scene. It just seems excessively mannered as though she's attempting to be a one scene wonder, but it does not work.

Luke:

Lead:

Vivien Leigh - Gone With The Wind
Greta Garbo - Ninotchka
Judy Garland - The Wizard of Oz - 4.5
Claire Trevor - Stagecoach - 4.5
Claudette Colbert - Midnight - 4.5

And:

Myrna Loy - Another Thin Man - 4.5
Irene Dunne - Love Affair - 4
Maureen O'Hara - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Norma Shearer - The Women - 4
Bette Davis - Dark Victory - 4
Jean Arthur - Only Angles Have Wings - 4
Valerie Hobson - The Spy in Black

Supporting Actress:

Margaret Hamilton - The Wizard of Oz - 5
Gladys George - The Roaring Twenties
Paulette Goddard - The Women - 4.5
Olivia De Havilland - Gone With The Wind
Hattie McDaniel - Gone With The Wind

And:

Joan Fontaine - The Women - 4.5
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Wuthering Heights - 4.5
Rosalind Russell - The Women - 4
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Dark Victory - 4
Maria Ouspenskaya - Love Affair - 4
Jean Arthur - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - 4
Joan Crawford - The Women - 4

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Louis: So I guess you don't subscribe to my theory that Shasta in the later scenes were just hallucinations?

Michael Patison said...

Louis: Are we going to get Rathbone's review and the rap-up tonight or will we have to wait until tomorrow?

Michael McCarthy said...

Honestly the more I think about it the more I want to make Waterston my supporting win for 2014.

Matt Mustin said...

Robert: I kinda thought all of the later scenes were hallucinations.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert:

Perhaps I should have more fully explained what I meant by hippie allure, in that she's a bit of a trip.

Michael:

Tomorrow at the earliest.

Michael Patison said...

I can't correct it or delete it because Louis has responded to it, but I just want everybody to know that I know how to spell "wrap-up"

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your thoughts on Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (who I liked but definitely a bit less than you), Bette Davis in Dark Victory (who I liked more than you) and Ona Munson in Gone with the Wind (with rating for her)?

Alex Marqués said...

Michael: she might be my favourite right now. I don't get why Duncan is the favourite of some people, I mean she was good obviously but her role was very limited IMO

Robert MacFarlane said...

Yeah, I did find the Duncan praise in these parts mystifying myself. Honestly found her pretty one note.

Alex Marqués said...

Robert: which are your lead and supporting female winners of this decade?

Robert MacFarlane said...

The decade so far? Here:

Lead

2010: Emma Stone in Easy A
2011: Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2012: Kara Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom
2013: Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color
2014: Marion Cotillard in Two Days, Ome Night
2015: Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Supporting

2010: Marion Cotillard in Inception
2011: Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
2012: Emily Blunt in Looper
2013: Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color
2014: Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year
2015: Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

Alex Marqués said...

Thanks! I really need to check out TGWTDT

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top 15 films of the 2010s so far.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts on Geraldine Fitzgerald in both Wuthering Heights and Dark Victory? Also, thoughts on Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Affair (surprised by the 4, I thought she literally did nothing)?

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Alex: Truth be told I haven't seen TGWTDT since it came out, not sure if I'd like it or Mara as much now. It was certainly better than the AWFUL foreign version, though.

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on Ray Milland as an actor? I think he's pretty underrated.

RatedRStar said...

I really didnt like Easy A at all lol.

RatedRStar said...

I agree thought that Finchers Dragon version was better, more kick to it, and the music was great =D.

Anonymous said...

Rating and thoughts on Jeanette Nolan in Macbeth?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on:
12 Years A Slave
John Adams (2008)
The Patriot (2000)
The Duellists
Pinochhio
The Secret Of Nimh
The Land Before Time
Alice In Wonderland
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
The Omen
The Exorcist
I Saw The Devil

RatedRStar said...

Looks like there will only be 2 actors left to fight for in supporting 1939 since 2 are requests and one is nearly a lock (Hardwicke), probably best for 5 nominees so we have plenty for bonus.

Luke Higham said...

RatedRStar: I'm fine with Mitchell missing out for Gone With The Wind, so the other 2/3, should be Chaney Jr. in Of Mice And Men and Bolger & Morgan in The Wizard Of Oz.

Luke Higham said...

RatedRStar: Have you completed your 95-01 spreadsheet.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: I was thinking that Chaney might be in the bonus rounds, especially if Louis hasnt seen the film yet.

I would say it is about 70 percent done, not final of course I think a lot will change.

RatedRStar said...

I always hate being one of the last to comment on the nominees year pages, feels like I am copying everyone elses suggestions sometimes even though my 5 are always marked down months in advance lol.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Hamilton - (I find her performance is one easy to take for granted, technically speaking she is one note, but what a brilliant note that is. She makes the Wicked Witch her own as she goes about having those well Witchly qualities yet she turns them up all the higher in her performances that is really out on a limb. A limb that works as she succeeds in being quite entertaining but also surprisingly is rather menacing. She finds enough nuance not just screeching at the top of her lungs all the time, I particularly love the way she quiets down when she offers to give the Scarecrow some fire. Many of the most iconic moments are helped along by her exuberant delivery that would not have worked as well without her. In addition she does nicely in her prologue performance by making Mrs. Gulch a quieter sort of mean, giving the shades of the Witch but not by merely making her the Witch.)

Davis - (I guess I'm never quite in love with Davis's style whole hardheartedly. I do like her performance here though as she finds the right sort spirit so to speak, though I suppose I did not find her so unquestionably appealing as the film seems to suggest. I do quite like her depiction of the character's stages of dealing with her diagnosis as she avoids going big actually giving a far more moving portrayal particularly in the final stages, and I did find her final scenes to be rather great)

Munson - 4(Accidentally left her off the list. I do rather like her performance though as I find she finds kind of the natural sultry qualities to her character that names her profession but does not define her personality. She equally finds the needed warmth within her personality successfully matching the way Rhett views her)

Luke:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Drive
3. Birdman
4. I Saw the Devil
5. Skyfall
6. Snowpiercer
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
8. The Social Network
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
11. Seven Psychopaths
12. Whiplash
13. The Master
14. The Hateful Eight
15. The American

Anonymous:

Fitzgerald - Wuthering Heights - (Though her part is limited I've always really liked her performance as she almost seems to play it to show the nonsense that the central romance is based on. She presents someone who simply is dealing with reality. She's appropriately appealing by doing so, but also is very moving by showing that she really is the worst victim of the story)

Dark Victory - (Very much the literal definition of supporting as that's her whole point throughout the story. I found she did this exceptionally well really succeeding in making the most emotional scenes ring true by offering such an endearing and unassuming presence)

Ouspenskaya - (I found its pretty good counterpart to her other Oscar nomination actually in that she was such a cold mother in Dodsworth and her she's could not be more loving. I found her quite charming in her single scene and helped to add some needed heart to that film)

Anonymous:

I'd agree that Milland is extremely underrated, though he probably has one of the most supported Oscar wins (though if one were to question that win based on those nominees, I would not know what to say to them). I've yet to see a bad performance from Milland though as he really had a rather considerable dramatic range, but also could be quite charming when he wanted to be as well.

Anonymous:

Nolan - (I don't find that she is actively bad in the role. I don't feel her work manages to find that burning ambition needed for the character, nor the needed allure to create the sense of how she compels Macbeth. She's mostly just there which should never be the case for a Lady Macbeth)