I don't usually do this, but for my own edification, King Louis XI lived from 1423 to 1483. In this film version, however, he damn near looks like an octogenarian... boy! Wikipedia must be hurting. That picture of Jimmy Wales is still up!
And, much like the little people contributing en masse to Wikipedia, so too did the lower class of post-Crusades France thrive and survive, re-enacting their version of The Parable of the Talents, as people have in one form or another all through the ages. But then... the trouble came. Foreign invaders at the gates. And I'm not talking about Germans. I mean those damn Gypsies! Say what you will about our current trouble with aliens streaming over the border from Mexico; at least they HAVE a homeland! Apparently not the Gypsies, from what little I know of them. That would take another precious hour on Wikipedia; time I just don't have.
But just as Dostoyevsky surely once quipped, "Beauty will save the world"... obviously he didn't hear of the plight of poor Esmeralda, who singlehandedly convinces The Spider King that Gypsies are worthy of admittance to France. That Maureen O'Hara was quite a looker in this one! I dare say she also singlehandedly inspired Cassavetes' Faces. Single-face-dly, perhaps. She inspires naughty thoughts in all the guys, of course, but not more so than the film's stern arch-villain Frollo. Don't be fooled by the name; he's no softie sent to dispose of The One Ring. This dude's pretty damn evil, all right, ultimately using "the Devil's logic" to justify his ends. If this were being remade today, they'd either try to get either Mandy Patinkin or Jeremy Northam.
Philosophically, there's a lot to chew on here. Great locations as well, considering it was all done on a sound stage or back lots. The church looks magestic. This was before our modern police force had jurisdiction over the church... then again, are there big famous chase scenes that culminate in the police taking down the bad guy in a church? I didn't see all of Heaven's Prisoners, so I'm assuming it ends that way. But I couldn't help but think of Spielberg at his worst when they show the hot new 15th Century technology: a Gutenberg printing press. On the other hand, they also talk about how expensive books used to be. That's about it, though. Molten metal cauldron technology is pretty much the same today as well.
And of course, sort of at the center of it all is the great Charles Laughton. I've grown immune to it now, but a while ago I saw his 'intro' scene where he tries to bite that one dude, and couldn't help but feel the currency of it. Great acting echoes down through the ages, no matter how degraded its respective medium has gotten. On the other hand, his 'French' accent did sound a bit British at times.
The action culminates in a big Gangs of New York / Lord of the Rings-style ending, with people getting hit by giant foam bricks thrown by Quasimodo, among other things. Holds up pretty well, considering, I must say! I think this adaptation of the Hugo novel is going to endure just fine.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan