The Male Gaze


One of my favourite non-Laughton moments from William Dieterle’s film of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. While Maureen O’Hara has her eyes on higher things, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, his name come to resemble some CARRY ON film joke, stares fixedly down her cleavage. For what seems like minutes on end.


It characterizes the old devil pretty strongly, of course, and is just subtle enough to escape censorship (the fact that they’re in church would be sure to raise Joseph Breen’s hackles if he drew the dotted line), not because there’s anything covert about Hardwicke’s attentions, but purely because the dialogue goes on as if it weren’t happening. O’Hara seems sort-of aware of the fixed stare, but can’t mentally process the information — it’s cognitive dissonance — he’s a priest FFS! — so acts as if it isn’t happening.

My own attachment to this film is unshakeable. I saw it as a kid, having read about it in monster movie books, and while it’s emphatically not a monster movie, my inherent tendency to find monsters sympathetic found a natural home here. I thought the action climax was as exciting as THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (and I related more to Laughton than Flynn), and the sad ending prepared me for future tragic conclusions. (Very important to carefully introduce kids to downbeat endings, I feel. If they don’t see any, they grow up stunted, as audience members anyway. On the other hand, I wouldn’t start them off with ONIBABA.) Of course, Victor Hugo’s original ending kills about everybody, and I’d still love to see that version filmed (see LA REINE MARGOT for a full-on Hugo bloodbath), the Hollywood compromise is pretty decent. What’s shameful is the Disney version’s ending — their movie has some really splendid stuff, especially the overture, but cops out on Quasimodo’s deafness (can’t have a non-singing hero!) and trumps up a really disgraceful and dishonest happy ending.

If Quasi doesn’t get the girl, Quasi is not happy, OK?

50 Responses to “The Male Gaze”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    The original title of Victor Hugo’s book(which I admit with shame to have never read beyond a Classics Illustrated edition, ditto Les Miserables) is Notre Dame de Paris, the Hunchback was added to the English title.

    When I first heard the title I thought it was something neat, like a cool job people did. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, anything ____of____ sounds cool, leaving aside the reality. Like Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc…

    The Disney version was what I saw first and I found the fact that it didn’t have the ending of the Classics Illustrated version odd…(the illustration of Esmeralda’s hanging is very vivid even all these years) and then the description in the column of finding an oddly shaped skeleton embracing a woman’s skeleton found a few years later.

    Why do I say this? I’ve never seen the Dieterle film and to quote the guy from Rebel Without A Cause…You’ve got to do something.

  2. The Dieterle ending is certainly Hollywood revisionism, but it’s firmly based on the understanding that this is a tragedy.

    A friend showed his kids the Chaney version, as a sort of addendum to the Disney. It was a horrible public-domain print, and his youngest son (5?) described the picture as “fizzy-facky,” a word which has since been adopted by archivists and restorers everywhere*.

    Recommend the Dieterle-Laughton highly: Robert Wise edits again, and we get Thomas Mitchell and O’Hara and a career high for the great Charles.

    *No it hasn’t.

  3. I just watched portions of the Laughton/O’Hara version very recently, found myself moved by Quasimodo’s rescue of Esmerelda from the gallows, did Laughton use a stuntman for all that swinging and climbing? I’ve actually seen it numerous times over the years. It was Edmond O’Brien’s first role in a film I do believe, to see him so young and svelte, he had become pretty meat-and-potatoes physique-wise by the early Fifties, then there’s that grizzled wreck we see in THE WILD BUNCH. I remember seeing the Quinn/Lollobrigida version on TV as a kid, but the only scene that remains in my mind is the end, where they show the two skeletons together, Quasi’s and Es’s. As for Quasimodo being not deaf in the Disney version: what did they do, show him putting in earplugs? My favorite line from the Dieterle: “Why couldn’t I have been made of stone, like you?”

  4. “Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” said Welles of O’Brien in the 70s.

    The rescue is amazingly orchestrated, to the point where I completely accept Q’s ability to defy gravity and swing back up to the cathedral. The quick cuts, the silences, and the blasting Hallelujah Chorus are exactly the kind of OTT gusto I relish in Dieterle.

    I think our resident Laughton expert may be able to fill us in on the stuntman situ — I expect the prosthetics would make a stunt double unusually easy to get away with.

    Have been meaning to take another look at Delannoy’s Quinn version, now that there’s a widescreen copy floating about.

  5. Weirdly, Irish televlsion used to screen silent movies on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid in the (very) early ’70s. As a result, I vividly recall arguments in the playground as to whether Chaney’s Hunchback had fallen from the battlements of Notre Dame, or been shot by an arrow, or thrown himself down in despair. And this wasn’t some fiddly-faddly junior cinéaste school, either, but a sports-mad Christian Brothers school. I miss the days when whatever was in the public domain could find an avid audience among the tweenies.

  6. david wingrove Says:

    How truly fabulous the Laughton/Dieterle HUNCHBACK is. Even if it grafts on a happy ending, it captures the spirit of Hugo like no other version.

    By the way, the Delannoy film (which is vastly inferior on most levels) does at least end on a pseudo-tragic note. The lovely Gina Lollobrigida gets run through with an arrow and dies exquisitely, her mascara and hairdo immaculate to the end.

    It all traumatised me deeply when I was 12, but then again I was a rather odd 12-year-old.

  7. It’s ridiculous that they don’t put unpopular films on during daytime TV — you can’t tell me that there isn’t an audience that would welcome an alternative to antique makeover property porn.

    Wish I’d gone to a fiddly-faddly junior cineaste school. Although, the one thing that was good about Portobello High is that my cinemania was noticeably weird, my friends pointed it out to me, and I realized it was part of me. Plus we actually had a film society, which mattered.

  8. As spectacular as Laughton’s performance is, it wouldn’t have worked without O’Hara. Her Esmeralda is not a standard issue “sexy girl” at all. She’s very strong, resolute and above all moral. That’s what makes the scene you cite here so powerful. She has more important things on her mind than worrying about a lecherous priest peering down her decollatage.

    Edmond O’Brien as a teriffic slice of sugar-cured ham. He’s very young and handsome here. His best work comes later in The Barefoot Contessa and The Wild Bunch.

  9. The scene in Dieterle’s HUNCHBACK where they destroy the printing press brought to mind something similar, where newspaper publisher Edmond O’Brien has his presses destroyed by Lee Marvin and his thugs in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. O’Brien’s role here is only a half-step away from that of THE WILD BUNCH.

  10. O’Hara’s a powerhouse, of course, and in her first Hollywood role. I think Laughton would still have “worked,” but he works on a whole different level with an intelligent and sensitive performer to interact with.

    The Dieterle ending is still tragic, because Quasimodo is an inherently tragic figure. The screenwriters figured out how to preserve that while giving the audience enough uplift with the supporting cast.

  11. “If Quasi doesn’t get the girl, Quasi is not happy, OK?”
    This reminds me of a letter by CL to a friend. Charles mentioned how he peeked at a memorandum note on Irving Thalberg’s desk and read the following sentence “Laughton must never get the girl”… Film story-wise, that is.

    Incidentally, Hardwicke wasn’t a clergyman as in Hugo’s source novel, but a judge. Blame it on Breen.

    Guy: yes, there were stunt-men doing the dangerous bits, i.e. The long shots of Quasimodo/Tarzan to the rescue. Or the shot were we see Esmeralda being held up in arms by Quasi. Miss O’Hara remembered that scene as one which was shot on a high place (literally, she had her life in his arms), and that earned her a great respect for stunt people.

    And, as David C. has guessed rightly, the stunt-men were made up to look like the leading man, though I think in their case the make-up proceedings it wouldn’t take as much time as the principal’s (since they had no face close-up and all).

    And David E. I agree about Ms. O’Hara: the chemistry with his mentor is excellent whenever they are together in a film (which certainly is as good, if not beats, IMHO, the well-known Duke-Maureen chemistry), and I wish they would have made more films together.

  12. Arthur S. Says:

    They teamed up again in Jean Renoir’s THIS LAND IS MINE! where Laughton is a shy teacher who lives with his mother and is disrespected by his students and she plays the object of his unrequited affection at first but eventually he transforms step-by-step into a hero and a martyr earning her respect and her love.

    I just love watching Maureen O’Hara who’s a truly great performer. I looked at Ford’s THE LONG GRAY LINE again last week and she’s the best part of the film, her physicality and sensuousness is beautiful to watch, especially in one scene where after WW1 is over she walks out of the house and helps her neighbours make a bonfire out of anything they can get their hands on and then takes to kissing anyone who comes her way.

  13. The Renoir is an incredible piece of work. And I shall be no doubt looking closely at more John Ford in the coming weeks — for (ahem) professional reasons to be explicated later…

  14. Christopher Says:

    “Never trust a man with thin lips and pinched nostrils”,Thomas Mitchells advice to Edmond O’Brien..funny this is one of those movie lines thats always stuck with me ,that i’ve found to be true..the 1939 Hunchback is such an incredible film..Its really Laughton’s performance and his make-up that make you feel like you’re experiancing something more radically experimental than the normal 1939 hollywood film!
    and how many times can you spot George Tobias in differen’t roles..?

  15. Christopher Says:

    Get away from that windah Gladys!
    My fave george tobias line is probably in Sgt.York,when the Drill Instructer examines his Rife for cleanliness and barks back “Look at that bore!..its full o Grease!” which Tobias earnestly questions..”won’t that make the bullet come out faster?”

  16. Ida gets back in touch with her music hall ancestry!

    IMDb just lists Tobias as “beggar” in Hunchback. I’ll have to have a special Tobias-hunt.

  17. Tony Williams Says:

    I saw the Quin/Lollo version theatrically years ago and the only thing I remember of it is the ending.

  18. Christopher Says:

    Tobias is in at least 2 other scenes that I can think of besides the begger..The guy in the crowd during the whipping that says..ahhhh thats no whipping..I bet our whipper could make him cry!…..and hes one of the Church builders helping to carry one of those vats of molten metal..

  19. Wow. Versatile!

    I think I have memories of Lollo’s dance.

    There’s an Anthony Hopkins version (TV?) as well, but that one I really have forgotten.

  20. ————–
    I looked at Ford’s THE LONG GRAY LINE again last week and she’s the best part of the film.
    I agree. I think she’s also the best part of Ford’s THE WINGS OF EAGLES.

  21. Christopher Says:

    shes pretty fascinating and fun in The Long Gray Line..I watched her a couple of weekends ago in Our Man in Havana
    …She remained beautiful a long time.

  22. Now there’s a movie I need to revisit, Our Man in Havana. The most underrated of the Reed/Greene collaborations.

  23. Christopher Says:

    its a delight! ;o)..I’d never seen it before….yeah..I couldn’t understand the less than favorable write ups I had read about it..

  24. John LeCarre’s The Tailor of Panama, filmed by John Boorman, is very substantially influenced by the Greene. I recall it being a very nice looking film, I love b&w widescreen stuff.

  25. Tony Williams Says:

    Christopher, From memory I think George is amongst the chorus of street people who congregate outside Notre Dame to give Quasi some musical support towards the end of the film.

    Maureen 0’Hara’s autobiography TIS HERSELF is also interesting, especially when she relates how she was nearly a victim of the C.I.A.

    For those in New York going to the British Film Noir season you may be interested to know that they are screening THE GREEN COCKATOO (1937) based on a story by Graham Greene.

  26. Also, when O’Hara outs John Ford, that’s pretty interesting too.

    Did Greene disown The Green Cockatoo? Anyhow, just about all those films are worth seeing, and some are masterworks.

  27. “…my cinemania was noticeably weird, my friends pointed it out to me, and I realized it was part of me.”

    That is quite poignant. When I was 11, reading my copy of Stanley Kubrick Directs in class before the teacher arrived, the boy behind me grabbed it from me sneering “You want to marry him!”

  28. I admire children individually, in many ways, but collectively they can be horribly conformist! I think actually the whole institution of school has a lot to answer for. Kids need to mingle with other kids, of course, but in such numbers? When they’re around civilized adults they’re so much better! And yet we pack them into buildings where they outnumber the adults thirty to one… I realize there are practical reasons, but…

  29. Arthur S. Says:

    Ford and Maureen O’Hara had a strange relationship, she was Hanna Schygulla to his R. W. Fassbinder. Ford was nasty and abusive to her on the sets and in one interview on French TV he said that he hated Maureen O’Hara with every fibre of his being. But on his deathbed he was tenderly reconciled to her and O’Hara’s daughter told her mother that he was in love with her.

    As Ford kissing (presumably) Tyrone Power(who was bisexual and the star of The Long Gray Line), I don’t know if it makes him gay or if it was some stunt he pulled

  30. Arthur S. Says:

    Oops posted prematurely…Anyway, continuing along the line…

    The only male erotic presence in Ford’s films is Henry Brandon as Scar and Woody Strode. John Wayne or Victor MacLaglen or Henry Fonda certainly don’t come across as especially sexy in their roles in his films. Ford treated all actors with amused derision(“D’ya know McLaglen, that Fox are paying you $1200 a week to do things that I could get any child off the street to do better?”) but Henry Brandon was treated with respect because he was the only one who knew that Ford’s German wasn’t as good as he let people think(Ford liked showing off with his command of many languages, must be an Irish thing, consider James Joyce) and Woody Strode was practically adopted by Ford in his final years and was the closest to him among his stock company.

  31. Yes, sexuality is almost absent from Ford’s cinema, as story motivation or as emotional presence. The young Wayne is handsome as hell, but the love stories don’t resonate that much — sometimes I feel they’re just devices, like the romance in a Keaton comedy, the bare idea of a love story rather than a living thing, although Keaton does manifest moments of desire, as when he smells the leading lady’s hair in The Cameraman. I dunno, I guess there’s the famous shot in The Quiet Man. But that film’s carnival approach to domestic violence creeps me out.

    I gather there are some interesting nuggets of romance hidden away in some of the Fords I haven’t seen, though. There’s certainly tender emotion.

  32. Strike all that, am just watching The Hurricane, which is full of homoerotic demi-nudity from Jon Hall, and lots of vicious sado-erotic whip-play courtesy of John Carradine. And Dorothy Lamour looking lovely to “normalise” things. I might have actually guessed that the director of this exotic offering was gay, had I known nothing about him.

    The reason I don’t believe Ford and Power were playing a gag is that Ford’s ribbing always depended on letting the victim know they’d been fooled. I can’t see him trying something like that without crying “Gotcha!” Especially given his man’s man image.

  33. Arthur S. Says:

    According to McBride and Tag Gallagher Ford had little to do with THE HURRICANE. So don’t see any letting dow of hair in that film.

    Women occupy important positions in Ford’s films and they aren’t there to normalize hetero relationships. Like Vera Miles in LIBERTY VALANCE is as mighty a presence as Stewart and Wayne as in Maureen O’Hara in all her films, and even Katharine Hepburn(whose brief affair with Ford is immortalized in BRINGING UP BABY, scripted by Ford’s friend Dudley Nichols and Cary Grant wears glasses just like Ford did in the 30s) in MARY OF SCOTLAND(which by the way includes one scene which Ford insisted Hepburn direct and Ford said that she should take to directing as a career). Anna Lee was another important Ford actress. And let’s not forget his last film 7 WOMEN where save for Margaret Leighton, he got along well with his all female cast and refrained from his rough behaviour. It also has the only obviously gay character in his films, Margaret Leighton who has a rather obvious crush on Sue Lyon(-Kubrick-Ford-Huston and then she’s off the map…)

    And of course in THE SEARCHERS, for all the savage masculinity between Wayne and Brandon, the women play important roles. There’s Olive Carey, Vera Miles, the incomparable Natalie Wood(who Ford was especially nasty to…even Fassbinder would be shocked) and the key to Ethan Edwards’ insane quest is his unconsummated love with his brother’s wife and his niece’s mother.

    One actor Ford was close to was the great Will Rogers Jr. who made three films with Ford – Doctor Bull, Judge Priest and Steamboat ‘Round the Bend(all great) and Rogers is a special presence in these films and Ford was devastated when he died.

  34. I’ll have to look at their books. I have Dan Ford and Scott Eyman’s bookes here, and they’re not as reliable. In fact, Eyman’s basically rephrased all Ford’s stories.

    I was always very interested in seeing 7 Women, and there seem to be copies available now.

  35. Christopher Says:

    I’ve often found the women in Ford movies to be as burly as the men..

  36. Claire Trevor is a strapping lass. I’m not too interested in the woman-as-home image Ford is sometimes accused of propagating, but fortunately he offers a variety of other types. I’m going to grab a widescreen copy of Seven Women this week — I’ve always resisted seeing pan-and-scans.

  37. Christopher Says:

    after a round of Ford films I need to watch a Maria Montez spectacular just to get my sugar level up where it needs to be..

  38. Tony Williams Says:

    7 Women will be a revelation for you. I got my copy from a Leserdisk version offered on e-Bay and my students have always liked it as a concluding film in this class.

    Mildred Dunnock also plays herself in THE PATRICIA NEAL STORY that plays havoc with an image of Ford in the beginning to say nothing about 7 WOMEN itself.

  39. Can’t wait for this one. I have to get more up to speed with Ford as I just landed a job writing about him. Fortunately I’m more familiar with the one I’m writing about, but I still feel the need to put some hours in studying the oeuvre.

  40. Arthur S. Says:

    Tag Gallagher’s book is the most reliable book on Ford. It’s a mix of biography-critical approach-formal analysis never one but all at the same time. And it includes all the different perspectives on Ford over the years. Ford as RightWing, Ford as LeftWing and so on.

    7 WOMEN is the wildest film Ford did since…MOGAMBO and before that…STEAMBOAT ‘ROUND THE BEND…it’s a very apocalyptic film and Anne Bancroft plays John Wayne.

  41. J’adore Anne Bancroft.

    Just been reading Yakima Canutt’s book, which is fascinating on Mogambo. Nobody seems to have consulted it for Canutt’s explanation of the gorilla scene, which shocked me deeply. I’m amazed they can even show the film nowadays with a gorilla being shot in it. Canutt claims that having found and filmed the gorillas, his local guides insisted on killing it for superstitious reasons, so he filmed the killing.

    This absolves Ford of responsibility. I’d previously read somewhere that Ford knew about the plan to shoot the ape and refused to be party to it, but allowed it to go ahead, which makes him look spineless. In fact, he was probably back home by the time the footage was taken and neither he not anybody else knew there was going to be a killing.

  42. Arthur S. Says:

    Compared to Hawks(whose film on Villa in the 30s was threatened by violence and Hawks said later, “I think a man got killed each day of the shoot” quite unabashedly, and two extras died during the making of Land of the Pharoahs), Ford is a sweetie pie.

    During the making of How Green Was My Valley…Anna Lee was pregnant but she told no one about it. During one scene she suffered an accident and had a miscarriage. Ford was so upset that on ever film he made after that, he would ask Anna Lee, “Not pregnant, are you Boniface?”

    And although Ava Gardner and Ford had a rough beginning they got along wonderfully by the end of the shoot of MOGAMBO. And Gardner told Ford about her decision to abort her child with Sinatra. Ford calmly advised against it citing Sinatra’s Catholic background but he didn’t go crazy and threaten to kill her or her doctor or anything.

    On the other hand, when Harry Carey Jr. finally made his debut in Ford’s 3 GODFATHERS, Ford hurled a rock at him the very first day because he kept messing a take. The rock missed him by a few inches. And this was the son of his recently departed best friend.

  43. Hawks in Mexico sounds like Cary Grant in Only Angles Have Wings, coldly sending men to their deaths in the name of business — not liking it, but never questioning the necessity for it. So in a way, his evil is consistent with his movies.

    With Ford I can’t reconcile his sadism with his films, without the films coming off as in some way bogus. Anybody who behaved as Ford did in a Ford movie would be a black-hat bad guy. Or is there a hero as complex and nasty as Ford in his work? Even Ethan Edwards doesn’t seem as willfully malicious.

    On the other hand, Ford took on-set safety seriously. He also lost a couple of stuntmen, but he was horrified. On Stagecoach he refused to do retakes of any stunts, and urged everyone to slow down on the last day because he felt they’d been lucky so far.

  44. I saw parts of 7 WOMEN on TCM last year, and was surprised to see both Mike Mazurki AND Woody Strode in Asian drag. A commenter on IMDB cites the look of the film as “glaringly artificial”, something I did notice, but I also recall it being disturbing in its violence, either implied or overt, can’t quite recall which. I would like to catch this again in its entirety.

  45. It’s kind of weird that “yellow-face” was still acceptable in films like this and 55 Days at Peking (Robert Helpman and Flora Robson as Chinese?) in the 60s. In a way, it suggests that people had a more sophisticated understanding and acceptance of artifice. In another way, it suggests that people were insensitive assholes.

    Right, a copy is now winging its way to me.

  46. Arthur S. Says:

    Ford said at the time that the film was old-fashioned. What he meant was that there were a lot of films in the mould of 7 WOMEN back in the 30s. Capra’s Bitter Tea of General Yen, Sternberg’s Shanghai Express, Red Dust and so on.

    In any case, the theme of 7 WOMEN isn’t West vs. East. It’s very critical of the Christian Mission in the film and Anne Bancroft is a non-believer. It’s more about breaking down of boundaries and barriers. The only white man is a passive husband, no champion of imperialism, he, and the only person of action is Anne Bancroft who’s an educated medical professional, who drinks, wears man’s clothes and was once a married man’s mistress and since burnt off love. Ford is totally on her side and her experience over the arrogant church folks. Oh and Ford has her enter the mission cottage riding in a donkey just like that rabbi did in Jerusalem a long time ago. The Asian men as played by Mazurki and Strode are more figures of natural elemental masculinity, not unlike Henry Brandon’s Scar. And the film was shot totally on one set. It’s not a realistic film at all. And like BLACK NARCISSUS it’s about the defeat of the mission. Only Ford finds victory in this defeat.

    One word of warning, the film was cut on release and there exist two versions. A full version was broadcast on TV but no one has found a print, so the uncut 7 WOMEN exists in pan&scan. 7 WOMEN was shot in CinemaScope(Ford liked it as much as Lang did, he favoured VistaVision), one of the few Fords in that format.

  47. Well, I got the widescreen shorter version — I think I’d rather see it cut in part than visually truncated throughout. But if I like it enough I’ll check out the longer cut.

    Just saw an interview with Christopher Challis where he complained that VistaVision was a nightmare to operate since the viewfinder was on top. Wouldn’t have bothered Ford, who claimed he never looked through the camera.

  48. Arthur S. Says:

    Well CinemaScope was a real bitch for film-makers to compose with. At least in the early days. Hitchcock was so powerful that he never had to do a film with the horizontal line. VistaVision was his weapon of choice for THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, VERTIGO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. The middle film along with THE SEARCHERS is of course the pinnacle of this format.

    VistaVision is extinct now. No projectors exist(save for some in labs) and the cameras are gone and the film stock for the image is also not there anymore. But from what I’ve seen in available prints the use of widescreen in those two films is of a density ‘Scope can’t achieve. Wish it could make a comeback someday. Wonder what it must have been like when it first came out in Technicolor VistaVision.

    Ford used VistaVision again for THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and shot his final epic Cheyenne Autumn in Panavision 70.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: