The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1939 American monochrome motion picture. It is considered by some reviewers to be the best of the many film versions of Victor Hugo's classic novel, and perhaps the one that sticks closest to Hugo's plot and intention although the ending differs. Esmeralda and Quasimodo remain alive at the end, unlike the novel, in which both die. Phoebus, who is only wounded by Frollo in the novel, is killed by him in this film version; therefore, Esmeralda is arrested and sentenced to hang for murder, not attempted murder.
The story is fictional, but some real-life characters appear in it. The film is set in medieval Paris, France, and tells the tragic tale of a disfigured cathedral bell ringer who falls for the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. She, in turn, is in love with Captain Phoebus, who sees her only as a temporary distraction. The one other person who truly loves her is the real-life poet Pierre Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien), whom Esmeralda has married to save him from being hanged in a mock trial. The film provides the stage for one of Charles Laughton's greatest portrayals, as the tragic title figure. They are backed up by Maureen O'Hara's sweet Esmeralda, and Cedric Hardwicke's vicious Frollo, in this version (as in the 1923 silent film), the archdeacon's brother rather than the archdeacon himself. (This was one of the few truly evil characters that Hardwicke played.) Frollo kills Phoebus out of mad jealousy, and allows Esmeralda to be convicted and sentenced to death, but she is saved by Quasimodo, who kills Frollo at the end of the film.