Charles Laughton once remarked to George S. Kaufman that he thought he was suited for his role as Captain Bligh in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) because he came from a long line of seafarers. Kaufman replied that he must have also come from a long line of hunchbacks.
To turn Laughton into the deformed bell ringer Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939), Perc Westmore covered half his face with sponge rubber, adding a protruding eyeball lower than the average. Laughton’s other eye was covered with a milky contact lens. The hump consisted of an aluminum framework stuffed with four pounds of foam rubber, and the rest of Laughton’s torso was padded with rubber to create a sense of the muscles developed from pulling on the bell ropes.
For the scene in which Quasimodo is whipped, Laughton instructed an assistant director to twist his ankle outside of camera range so he would really be in pain. Even through the heavy hump and rubber body suit, he felt every lash and often came home badly bruised. Before the 16th take, director William Dieterle whispered to him, “Now, Charles, listen to me. Let’s do it one more time, but this time I want you . . . I want you to suffer.” According to Laughton’s wife, Elsa Lanchester, the actor never forgave him for that.
The scene in which Quasimodo rings the cathedral bells for Esmeralda was shot the day World War II began in Europe. The director and star were so overwhelmed, the scene took on a new meaning, with Laughton ringing the bells frantically and Dieterle forgetting to yell “cut.” Finally, the actor just stopped ringing when he became too tired to continue. Later, Laughton said, “I couldn’t think of Esmeralda in that scene at all. I could only think of the poor people out there, going in to fight that bloody, bloody war! To arouse the world, to stop that terrible butchery! Awake! Awake! That’s what I felt when I was ringing the bells!” (IMDb)
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