This is a review of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ from 1943, the penultimate in Universal Studio’s batch of iconic ‘Monster Horrors’, along with films like ‘Frankenstein’(1931) and ‘The Invisible Man’(1933).
Firstly, the film itself. Having watched the other 7 films featuring Universal’s ‘monster zoo’, we ventured to watch ‘Phantom’, which seems to be generally less well-regarded than most of the others in the selection. It is one of at least 6 film versions of Parisian Gaston Leroux’s famous Gothic Horror novel from 1910, of which one is the Lloyd Webber musical, one is Italian, one is from Hammer, with Herbert Lom as the Phantom, and one is the magnificent silent film, from 1925, starring Lon Chaney. Some of these films are more ‘horror-lite’, others (the Chaney version for example) are the full Gothic. Also, some follow Leroux’s original storyline more closely than others.
This Universal film suffered badly, as the first remake following Chaney’s iconic Phantom ~ also from Universal. Which is a pity, because it has 2 large, fairly obvious, advantages. Firstly, it is not a silent film! And secondly, it was made in Technicolor.
The music is by Edward Ward; he received his 7th OSCAR nomination for a quite superb score. He wrote a lullaby, and adapted it into a Piano Concerto. He adapted themes by Chopin to create one opera, and music from Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony to create another. A third, the opening ‘Martha’, is a genuine opera, dating from 1847. Sung by stars Nelson Eddy (a classically-trained Baritone) and Susanna Foster (also a trained singer), and a voice dub for the arrogant diva Biancarolli (Jane Farrar), the lengthy excerpts are tuneful, thoroughly enjoyable and opulently staged. Also, no dumbing down here ~ 2 are sung in French, one in Russian.
The sets (filmed on the same Sound Stage as the 1925 version) are magnificent. The Paris Opera is rich and luxurious, there are some other gorgeous interiors, the Phantom’s underground haunts look suitably dank and forbidding, and the vertiginous scenes in the Fly Loft above the stage are superb. The costumes too are ravishing, and the colours just flood the screen. Unsurprisingly, the film won the OSCARs for Art Direction and Cinematography.
Neither the 1925 version nor this one stick overly closely to Leroux’s book ~ this one departs further, though the story works very well. It places emphasis on the music and to a degree, the romance. The effect is to soften the horror, and the result is far more a tragedy than an outright scare-fest. British-born Claude Rains, very successful as the original ‘Invisible Man’(1933) because of his mellifluous voice, is similarly effective, and very touching, as the Phantom. Eddy, and Edgar Barrier as Inspector Dubert, provide some deliciously humorous leaven, and Foster is lovely as the romantic lead.
Tuneful, handsomely staged and highly entertaining, we thoroughly enjoyed this solid 5 Star film.
VIEWING NOTE: We watched it on an All Region Blu-ray, from the 2012 8-disc Box Set from Universal Pictures UK, entitled ‘Universal Classic Monsters - The Essential Collection’, purchased from Amazon. Like the other films in this great value set, it has been digitally restored, with HD sound and pictures. The print is beautifully clear, clean and sharp. The disc contains plenty of bonus extras.