An awesome retelling of Hugo's story of ugliness, hatred, lust, greed and hypocrisy in late 15th century France.
As the gypsies arrive in Paris for the Festival of Fools, the disfigured bell-ringer of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Quasimodo (Laughton), has been crowned King of Fools for the day. Pretty Esmeralda (O'Hara) dances for coins and attracts the attention of the evil Frollo (Hardwicke).
Frollo orders Quasimodo to take the girl, who is in turn rescued by the Captain of the Guard, Phoebus. Quasimodo is punished, and Esmeralda shows pity on him. When Esmeralda is unjustly accused of killing Phoebus, Quasimodo rescues her by taking her to the Cathedral.
As a gypsy, Esmeralda for all her beauty is still subject to much the same persecution and prejudice as Quasimodo is for his ugliness. Frollo, who despises the gypsies as ungodly, nevertheless lusts after Esmeralda. Esmeralda comes into the Cathedral for the first time unaware of who Notre Dame is. Through the movie, there are very definite parallels to Christ with the character.
Charles Laughton is very good as Quasimodo. The make-up could easily appear plastic or clay-like, but he gives it a life-like and believable quality, showing the good, gentle spirit trapped inside the deformed body without making him too good to be true. The sets are extremely realistic.