Phantom of the Opera is one more of the Universal Classics I’ve never seen. I’ve seen plenty of versions of the Gaston Leroux’s novel; some are better than others. I’ve never read the book, so I can’t tell you how faithful any of them are, but I can tell you I like most of them…not the musical, though. I do not like the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical, ergo I have never seen the film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber show. If you are a fan of it, I won’t think any less of you as I hope you will not think any less of me for hating the damn thing (it’s just so effing boring).
I like the Lon Chaney silent film of Phantom. I like the Robert Englund slasher version. This version, with Claude Rains as the tormented Phantom, is pretty to look at and has a lot going for it. If you enjoy the musical portions, which felt like they went on for too long, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. I liked it, but I wanted to skip the actual opera snippets (my Lord, they felt long).
In the Melrose/Peyton Place atmosphere of the Paris Opera, Christine Dubois is a star on the rise. Star of the opera scene, Mme. Biancarolli, feels threatened by the young woman, and Christine is being courted by two established gentlemen: Inspector Raoul Dubert, who wants her to quit the opera to marry him, and Anatole Garron, a star of the opera house. Then there’s Christine’s secret admirer, Erique Claudin, a violinist, who has been anonymously paying for voice lessons.
After making a few mistakes during a performance, Claudin is relieved of his position— he is losing the use of his left hand. As he’s been spending all his money on Christine, he’s stony broke. The only recourse left to him is to sell his personal compositions. When he confronts the music publisher after a period of no response, he’s turned away. Claudin doesn’t take it lying down, especially when he hears his piano concerto being played in the next room.
A fight ensues between Claudin and the music publisher, and the angered artist kills the publisher. The publisher’s assistant throws acid in Claudin’s face and, hideously wounded, he flees.
With nowhere left to go, Claudin takes to the sewers beneath the opera house. He steals a mask from the wardrobe department and begins his life as the Phantom of the Opera and embarks upon his mission to make his crush, Christine, the sensation of the nation. Unlike most managers and agents (I hope), he’s not above resorting to murder to make her star reach its zenith.
Phantom of the Opera holds the distinction of being the only classic Universal monster movie to have won any Oscars; in fact, it won two— for best art direction and cinematography. That’s proof the movie is beautiful to look at, and to hear if that’s your thing. Lush would be the one word I’d use to describe it.
Expecting more of a horror movie than a melodrama could have been my mistake going into this movie. Its horror is marginal, but I think repeated viewings (at least one more) will deepen my appreciation of it. Claude Rains is no Lon Chaney, and this Phantom is a far cry from the 1925 masterpiece, but I would suggest watching it at least once, just to say you’ve seen it. Keep in mind, though, it’s not the horror you may be anticipating.