Cedric Hardwicke did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Judge Jean Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Hardwicke's performance is terrific in the way he so well captures the authoritarian attitudes of Frollo. Hardwicke's presence is indeed perfect for the role to begin with as the authority of his position just seems to exude from his very being. The command of his character is notable in Hardwicke's cold delivery of Frollo's beliefs. What I really like about Hardwicke's performance though is he does not use this set up for the character to turn him into as obvious of a villain as he could have been. The way Hardwicke carries himself never has a hint of sadism in Frollo, which would be wrong for the character. Hardwicke instead keeps this underlying intensity of a man who seems almost burdened by his position and his view of the world. He is a most unpleasant man indeed yet Hardwicke does not simplify this notion importantly. He instead is able to realize how it seems to come from his convictions to what he sees as his personal duties, and how he attempts to live out his life. The burden of this is made a part of Frollo brilliantly through Hardwicke's performance as he makes Frollo a man who seems ill at ease with life itself because of all that he sees is wrong with it.
Frollo is not a purely evil man evidenced by his choice to save the Quasimodo, which he did purely out of the good of his heart in this version. Hardwicke finds this in his first reaction to Quasimodo as Frollo is about to take action against the crowd's decision to parade him out as the King of fools in the festival of fools. Hardwicke does not portray the react as a mean man who wants to stop Quasimodo's joy, but rather reveals a genuine dismay in Frollo for Quasimodo being used a mere spectacle by the crowd. Hardwicke is exceptional in the way he is able to find the conflicting nature of Frollo. There is one particularly fantastic moment with the Gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) where he initially goes on long about his hatred for Gypsies first. Hardwicke brings the needed harsh authority in these words as man trying fervently to insist upon the sins of others, which he believes he will purge. When she mentions her love of animals though Frollo is forced to agree. What's marvelous is Hardwicke makes this revelation completely genuine yet he shows this to be almost painful for Frollo to admit. There is a terrible unease that Hardwicke conveys as he presents the way Frollo constricts. As he reveals his true ability for some tenderness in his eyes, yet Hardwicke tightens his manner all the more, as though he's trying to purge this possible joy out of his system as though anything pleasant may be sinful.
Now one of the greatest challenges to Hardwicke comes in Frollo's relationship with Esmeralda. This element actually is far less verbalized than even in the Disney version, he had a whole song just on that point after all. Much of this is left to Hardwicke's performance which is more than enough. Hardwicke's outstanding in every aspect of this. This starting with his original reaction to her where the glint of lust seems to become awakened in him. As he interacts with her at any point Hardwicke creates the sense of how in the grip of his desires that he is in. There is a great moment when Frollo comes to directly confront Esmeralda with his desires. Hardwicke makes Frollo such an emotional mess in the moment as he attempts this odd warmth in his declaration of "love", and he's so good as he suggests the way this tears him asunder. His final quest that turns him into true villain could lead him also to a simplicity but again Hardwicke shirks this. He instead is able to portray within his determination to rid himself of his desire, an active effort in Frollo to remain the destroyer of sin. This is made without heart by Hardwicke, instead it's most unsettling as he shows a man fighting against himself in order to be something worse than he could have been. Cedric Hardwicke gives an outstanding performance as he manages find nuance in the role, even when hidden by the standards of the time, in his powerful portrait of a man ruled by his perverse attempt to rid the world and himself of sin.