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