A treatment for a communist action movie I wrote for Disney – an adventure-packed Marxploitation remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, objectively the best film they have ever produced or will ever produce, although this would probably be even better.
- OPENING SEQUENCE
EXT. A large rabble of people are led, shackled together, through a cornfield on the outskirts of medieval Paris. They are flanked by soldiers on horseback, and the peasants working the land stand on the side-lines gazing at them, but our focus is on the prisoners. It is a sun-baked afternoon. They have been walking since morning, and are exhausted. They wear filthy rags (as opposed to nice rags) and sweat drips from their brows.
A mother huddles her child, wrapped in a worn blanket, under her rags. A soldier opens a gate, barks an order and leads them into a large, open field.
On the opposite end of the field, fifty soldiers are setting something up – a number of men equal to the prisoners. Their project is obscured by the crowd of people, bustling back and forth as they work.
Our POV to the far end of the field, the prisoners are lined up next to one another, stretching across the land’s breadth. The mother falls, causing the line of chained-together folks to descend into disarray. The soldiers grab her and practically balance her upright. They throw the lumpy bundle that contains her baby onto the floor; as it had been chained to her arm all along, she tilts over.
The troops line up, directly facing their prisoners. Travelling up their line, pan across the backs of each soldier until the dead centre of the row;
At once, the battalion turns 180 degrees to face their commanders, who are clustered on a podium clad in fine garbs and supping luscious wine. They are part of a new generation of the establishment. General Jehan Frollo has the stand; an ignorant upstart who has ambled his way to the top of the military chain through sheer nepotism. His elder brother, the dour and sinister maverick clergyman Archdeacon Claude Frollo leers over him. The influential landowner Francois Lucre looks on in dull complicity.
I have gathered you here in the name of justice – in the name of God! The other side of this pasture holds fifty filthy specimens of the planet’s very lowest form of life – the gypsy!
Prejudicial rumblings emit from the soldiers. The archdeacon turns to his brother’s troops and sneers. He has a British accent to denote his evilness, and may as well be voiced by Alan Rickman (RIP dude; obviously I wrote this before you died, I don’t wanna weigh you down with extra work now of all times).
You will have heard…rumours, unsavoury allegations speculating that I have whiled away recent years pursuing the lamentable arts of alchemy and occultism…THIS IS NONSENSE!
He punches his personal bodyguard in the face.
Day by day, I work tirelessly on an antidote for the gypsy gene. It has been years in the making, and its properties are still uncertain. You serfs ought to be thankful you have my brother to assuage the gypsy problem until my elixir is completed. If any allegations of sorcery are heard of in the ranks again, I’ll have the first ten men in the tittle-tattle’s vicinity hanged, drawn and quartered. Perhaps even cut into five pieces!
These gypsies were found encamped on the land of our honourable friend Monsieur Lucre.
Cut briefly to the landowner.
Whether or not they were there before he bought it, this intrusion will not stand! I say – a cannon for each of them. Get to it!
The soldiers turn around again and start fiddling with what we now see are the fifty cannons that stand in front of them, facing the gypsies.
The soldiers stoke their weapons. Francois Lucre coyly puts his hand to his mouth, tittering.
The gypsies cower. The archdeacon punches the leader of his minstrels in the face.
Play a happy tune, why don’t you?
Stay on the podium as cannon fire rings out deafeningly. One can just about hear the minstrels playing their happy tune; almost in a punk rock vein, as they have to play extra hard and loud to be heard over the heavy artillery. PAN into the twin faces of the Frollos, who embrace, cackling maniacally.
As the smoke clears, a younger soldier runs up to the commanders’ podium.
The archdeacon punches him in the face. He cradles his nose.
What do you want, boy?
We’ve run out of cannonballs, sir!
How can that be so?
We didn’t, uh, anticipate the…cannon per person strategy, sir. One of them shot right past some young gypsy boy.
And where is the stray cannonball in question?
CUT TO. EXT – Palais du Louvre, home of the French monarchy. The cannonball soars over the grounds and smashes through a window. There is an anguished roar from inside;
KING CHARLES VII:
I thought I told those kids not to play football outside my window!
CUT BACK TO THE FIELD. Because this film is ostensibly for a family audience, the victims of the massacre are strewn across the field, simply dead rather than horribly maimed. The MPAA would be fine with this, as it’s not female sexual pleasure. Two more soldiers run towards the commanders, one clutching the weeping baby. The archdeacon starts towards one of them, who flinches. He smirks.
This is the boy?
He pulls open the baby’s blankets and recoils in horror.
What is it?
The state of the gypsy is worse even than I suspected…
The general takes a look at the child.
AGH! Dear god indeed…
He draws his sword from its sheath.
No! No, leave him to me. I may yet have use for the boy in the course of my experiments.
Very well, brother…find him someplace to live. But get the boy a damn job; can’t have him leeching off the state like the rest of them!
As thunder rumbles, the archdeacon snatches the baby from the soldier and cradles him in his arms. Lightning strikes. He starts menacingly cooing to the baby;
Look at you there, you poor little thing. Hardly a boy. Half a boy. A quasi boy…that is what I shall call you, you little horror. Oh to be you; a gypsy orphan, scarcely resembling even the rest of his cursed ilk, half the measure of a human being; yes, I shall call you Quasimodo.
FADE TO BLACK.
- CAPTION: 1482: The reign of King Louis XI.
33 Years Later.
EXT. In a bustling marketplace we jostle with a voluminous gloop of shoppers to get a good look at the black-cloaked man we follow. A thick-set, hunched individual, he moves swiftly; anxiously, even. He stops at a stall adorned by a crude sign reading ‘Herbal Remedies’ and a disclaimer, ‘Natural magic: not affiliated with witchcraft.’. The friendly salesman piles some herbs into a small sack and hands them to him, in exchange for some copper coins.
Hey, Quasimodo, man. How’s the back?
Ach, mine’s been killing me too. Sucks getting old, huh?
INT. Quasimodo enters his friend Bobby’s kitchen and pulls up a chair at the round table. Louie, Vito and Bobby – his workmates, played by Italian American actors – sit around the table. They are all working class guys, who work hard on the maintenance of Notre Dame Cathedral’s famous bells and get paid very little in return. Bobby hands Quasimodo his deck of cards and slides a flagon of mead and a plate over to him. Quasimodo lays his herbs out on his plate;
Eh, wiseguy! You got the good stuff?
Trust me, Vito, it’ll relax you like nothing else.
Quasimodo has a gruff, Nick Nolte-ish voice that is at odds with his worldly innocence.
I for one could do’w some relaxation, this game’s been biting me in the ass.
And another pay cut at the bell-tower. What a day.
Quasimodo slides the plate around the table so everybody can eat a handful of magic herbs. Once consumed, the good effects start immediately – a warm and mellow feeling that tempers the worries of the working man. With the card game not yet resumed, Quasimodo feels it is time to give the bad news he’s been withholding to the people he works as supervisor for;
The archdeacon spoke with me earlier.
Whadazzat gavone want with us?
Says he wants you guys in an hour early tomorrow morning. [He sips some mead.] Some kind of a meeting. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Oof marone, I don’t think I could shoot nobody after these herbs.
The guys begin to play cards as we cut to;
EXT. – sunrise at NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL.
INT. – Quasimodo awakes from his slumber in his dismal accommodation in the rafters of the cathedral, where he has lived since he was a baby, bred to ensure the regular toll of the bell. All this time he has been under the watchful eye of his employer/landlord/neglectful father figure Archdeacon Claude Frollo, who conducted cruel pseudo-scientific experiments on him as a child. Throwing off his bedclothes he gulps some water and, eating the dregs of his bag of magic herbs, he begins to wonder why he has not been invited to the early meeting of the men he supervises.
CUT. Quasimodo dismounts the cathedral’s spiral staircase and approaches the Archdeacon, who stands in the corner of the hall outside his quarters conversing in hushed tones with an aristocratic type.
Ah, the cracken awaketh, I see…tell me, boy, are you acquainted with Monsieur Jean D’Exploitation?
I only really know the guys I work with. He doesn’t ring a bell.
Quasimodo is tight with his fellow employees, and finds it odd that they’re not in attendance.
Where are Bobby, Louie and Vito?
Who? Oh, the peasants. They’ve been made redundant. I’ve sold the cathedral to Monsieur D’Exploitation’s employer, Francois Lucre. The state can’t go on propping up such enterprises, you know – there are wars to fight. Monsieur Lucre feels that the work of four men can easily be done by one…have you ever had to pay four men? No, you wouldn’t have done, would you? It’s rather a drag.
What does the union have to say about this?
Quasimodo learns that unions have been banned, and that he will be working longer hours for less money under the lax new wage regulations. (You have to just imagine these things existed to some extent in medieval France – magic also here exists, so…) Enraged by the exploitation of honest working people, he pulls on his cloak, storms out of the cathedral and goes to soothe his soul with some magic herbs. As he leaves, the archdeacon punches Jean D’Exploitation in the face.
EXT. – Market. Quasimodo arrives at a familiar stall looking for his herbs. There is an unfamiliar man standing there. He asks where the friendly salesman is.
Pan upwards to reveal the rickety sign has been changed to an altogether slicker engraving reading Lucre Industries.
Magic herbs, mate? They’ve been banned. I have got…
He rustles for something behind the counter, and Quasimodo’s face lights up in hope.
…an inferior legal substitute. Honestly, though, you’re better off just becoming a drunk like everyone else. I’m drunk right now. Have a flagon of mead.
He slams one down upon a tray of parsnips.
That’ll be ten francs.
I don’t want…are you sure you couldn’t get any magic herbs?
You what? You try’na mug me off, you f-
He is interrupted by one of two gendarmes, who pop up at the scene and accost Quasimodo.
What’s this I hear about magic herbs?
They’re a controlled substance, you know.
And he tried to mug me off!
Did you try and mug this gentleman off?
Let me see your papers.
The gendarme begins searching Quasimodo for his papers rather than simply letting him hand them over. In the process he rips off the hunchback’s cloak. People, able to scrutinise his appearance in the light of day, gasp and shriek and point in amazement. Having just read his papers, the cop adds;
I know – he’s a gypsy!
What about that face, eh?
What? They all look the same to me.
He kicks the humiliated Quasimodo onto the ground.
We should put this freak in the stocks for theft and herb trafficking!
The rabble roar in approval. The salesman toasts the air with the flagon of mead he would’ve sold to Quasimodo. Most of it slops out.
On the floor, Quasimodo cowers, traumatised. Somebody whispers to him;
Quasimodo turns around. A gypsy woman in her 20s watches the scene discreetly from an alleyway.
You’re a thick-set guy – I reckon you could take them!
His heart skips a beat, and Quasimodo is imbued with a burst of pure adrenalin. As the gendarmes turn around, wielding chains to shackle him as their country did his forefathers, he leaps up and talks some sense into them with his fists, knocking them out Asterix comic book style. They fly across the marketplace. When they land their chains become attached to a pair of horses, who proceed to bolt, dragging them away. Children mock them.
Sensing he has incurred the wrath of both the gendarmes and a very angry, very racist mob, he runs after the mysterious girl who helped give him such courage. In the alleyway, she beckons him to follow her, and when he catches up with her presses some real herbs into his hand;
This’ll help you calm down.
Are herbs a good idea while we run?
Only if they’re good herbs. I’m Esmeralda, by the way. Well done for sticking it to those pigs.
I’m Quasimodo. And it was…nothing. Where are we going?
INT. Gypsy insurrectionary headquarters in the Paris catacombs.
Esmeralda leads Quasimodo into the underground complex, produces a stick from the satchel around her shoulder and hits it against a gong.
That’s gonna cave the place in one day…
Good people, I need your attention! This man-
She indicates to Quasimodo.
-is one of us! A gypsy like you and I, and a good human. Two stinking lice from the gendarmes have been put in their place thanks to him. I’m sure you already know that on the outside they have banned the magic herbs. And I’m sure you all know why – so they can keep gypsies like us in check! It is nothing more than a method of social control. They know we eat it, so they ban it. Next they will ban us. We need to give a strong message to all of them that we are not going anywhere; to the police and the military, to the church and the King, the Queen and every last little [she sneers contemptuously] prince and princess, to the lords and the landowners-
As the gypsies bellow in approval of her rhetoric, Quasimodo blurts out:
Francois Lucre – who buys up every bit of land where we might once have settled for a time, who buys up every business that might once have looked kindly upon us! The man who has bought the King and church!
She turns to Quasimodo;
What say you a few of us get together and pay Monsieur Lucre a visit? He lives a long way away, some say as far as Marseilles.
Quasimodo looks unsure.
I saw what you did to those gendarmes. Your strength would be a great asset to us.
I just…don’t know if I can do it.
Lucre and the rest of these scumbags are no greater than you or any of us! We can face them down – we just have to find our mojo.
And so Quasimodo, Esmeralda and an entourage of hardened guerrillas embark upon a life-threatening mission to subvert France’s oppressive social order, get some serious herb and kick some serious ass.
To be followed by a sequel called Quasimojo Rising.