It isn't magnificent like Laughton's, or macabre like Chaney's, but Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is certainly touching. It is also the only interesting thing about the diffident and ponderous new CBS production of the Victor Hugo classic, at 9 tonight on Channel 9.
Hopkins is barely onscreen until the second half, when he rescues the gypsy girl Esmeralda from a hangman and gives her sanctuary in his bell tower at Notre Dame. Hopkins transcends the perfunctory ghastly makeup to convey the soul of deformity and isolation.
Otherwise, it's another puffy and numb Norman Rosemont picture book; nothing new is brought to the story in terms of interpretation or insight, and attempts at spectacle are paltry. Lesley-Anne Down, who set so many hearts a-patter in "The Great Train Robbery," is awfully pretty as Esmeralda but shows no tangible interest in the character, and John Gielgud is wasted in an unsavory cameo as the inquisitor who tortures the girl, accused of killing an army officer.
Director Michael Tuchner lingers too lovingly over the torture scene (Gielgud: "Again!" Down: "Arghhhh!"), and that is about his only distinctive contribution. John Gay's screenplay, tame and gutless, actually works against tragic dimension; Hopkins must do it all himself, but he can't challenge the memory of Laughton hugging a gargoyle and asking, "Why was I not made of stone, like thee?"