Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. This 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera is the oddity in the box set, as it’s in color, and more of a romance/musical than it is horror. Is it a worthy inclusion?
Here’s what happens: Violinist and would-be composer Claudin believes the managers of the Paris Opera House stole his concerto. A fight breaks out, Claudin’s face is scarred with conveniently-placed acid, and he flees into the city sewers. He later reemerges as the Phantom, with a plot for revenge, and an obsession with up-and-coming singer Christine.
Monster! It’s not until 53 minutes into this 90-minute movie that we see the Phantom in all his masked glory. Claude Rains definitely gives it his all, though, starting as a sad sack, then becoming menacing, and ending in sadness again.
Also a monster! A woman named Claudette is the one who throws the acid in Claudin’s face, more or less turning him into the Phantom. While Claudin dishes out revenge throughout the movie, I find it odd he never goes back for Claudette.
Our hero: Christine DuBois (not Daae) spends most of the movie either frightened or mesmerized by the many men in her life. Her hero moment is of course when she unmasks the Phantom. But her real hero moment is the ending, where she chooses romance with none of the men, wanting to focus on her career instead.
Hapless humans: Christine has two would-be suitors — Raoul, a cop, and Anatole, a fellow singer. Add to this the usual collection of opera singers and managers, who, when not singing, are befuddled by the Phantom’s menace.
Thrills: When Claudin is finally revealed as the Phantom, there’s a big chase through the theater backstage. Later, the movie does the famous “bring down the chandelier” scene, as a big set piece. The final unmasking and confrontation has some cool makeup effects, but ends abruptly.
Laughs: Raoul and Anatole do a lot of bumbling romantic comedy hijinks as they try to woo Christine. It’s also at this point that it must be pointed out that the plot often stops for opera scenes. Lots and lots and LOTS of opera in this movie.
What’s all this then? Okay, so why is this version of Phantom of the Opera on the Blu-ray box, and not the 1925 Lon Cheney Sr. version, which is more well-known (and, I daresay, a lot better)? Further, the 1925 version was made by Universal and famed monster-movie producer Carl Laemmle. Even more further, Universal in the 1930s re-released that film with a new audio track with voice to sell it to fans of Dracula and Frankenstein. I suspect that because the 1925 film pre-dates the formation of Universal’s so-called “monster office” it doesn’t make the Blu-ray box. Everybody should definitely buy the Kino Lorber Blu of the 1925 film, a must-own for movie lovers.
Thoughts upon this viewing: I get it, it’s the 1940s and technicolor musicals are huge. But, man, there is so much opera singing in this movie, and so little of it has to do with the plot. I guess for a lot of 1943 audience members, this would be their only change to see an opera. But it’s a lot less a monster movie and more a lavish musical.
Next: “Gomez, get those out of his mouth.”
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