Phantom of the Opera
George Waggner for Universal
directed by Arthur Lubin
starring Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, Jane Farrar, J.Edward Bromberg, Fritz Feld, Frank Puglia, Steven Geray, Barbara Everest, Hume Cronyn, Fritz Leiber, Nicki Andre, Gladys Blake, Elvira Curci, Hans Herbert, Kate Drain Lawson, Miles Mander, Rosina Galli, Walter O.Stahl, Paul Marion, Renee Carson, Belle Mitchell, Marek Windheim, Edward Clark, Cyril Delevanti, Stanley Blystone, Lane Chandler, William Desmond
screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, Eric Taylor, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, adaptation by John Jacoby, music by Edward Ward
Phantom of the Opera, Universal horror cycle
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Claudin (Claude Rains) is a violinist at the Paris opera who has no
purpose in life but to further the career of chorus singer Christine
(Susanna Foster), his secret love, even without her knowledge, and thus he
even secretly pays for her singing lessons. But now he can't no longer
play the violin thanks to a slight case of gout, is fired from his job and
thus has no more funds to support Christine - which is why he tries to
sell his concerto to publisher Pleyel (Miles Mander) - but when he
(wrongly) suspects him of stealing his concerto, he murders him but not
before he gets his face disfigured by acid.
Now Claudin is a murderer on the run, and of all places he decides to
hide in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, from which he has access to
pretty much anywhere in the house - and from here he tries to further
Christine's career even better, even if that means to kill the curren
leading lady (Jane Farrar) witht he purpose of having Christine sing in
But Christine has two suitors who are hell-bent on catching Claudin,
the baritone Anatol (Nelson Eddy) and the police inspector Raoul (Edgar
Barrier), and they both have a (different) plan to capture Claudin - which
leads to the opera's chandelier crashing into the auditorium during a
performance, Christine being kidnapped by Claudin - who by now wears a
mask to conceal his scarred face -, Claudin's concerto finally being
performed by none other than Franz Liszt (Fritz Leiber), Raoul and Anatol
ultimately teaming up to find Christine, and the two men saving her from
the clutches of Claudin, who then dies when the catacombs that were
housing him cave in.
And who gets the girl, Anatol or Raoul ?
No one, she makes a decision for fame over love - and in the end the
two men are seen going to dinner with each other ...
Phantom of the Opera was supposed to be not just another Universal
horror quickie (of which they produced quite a lot during the 1940's) but
a lush production in technicolor (their first colour shocker) made on vast
and expensive sets - which might all sound very interestking, but the
resulting film is unfortunately less than perfect: The decision to
linearly tell the story of Claudin becoming the Phantom instead of in
flashbacks robs the film of much of its mystery, plus the film wastes way
to much time in the beginning with the set-up during which nothing much
happens, the decision of splitting the role of Christine's lover in two
(the inspector and the baritone) makes no narrative sense at all and the
quarrels between the two men seem to constantly slow the film's pace down
at the least appropriate moments, the film is simply overburdened with
(pseudo-)opera music (actually, the music was not genuine opera music but
singing set to various concertoes due to copyright reasons) to a point
where the music stands in the way of the proceedings, and the colour
actually deprives the film of its eerie atmosphere instead of adding to
it. That director Arthur Lubin apparently has no sense for suspense also
does not help one bit. On the plus side of course, the acting in this film
is rather fine and the posh sets are a far cry from Universal's
horror B-movies - but unfortunately that alone doesn't make a film.
review © by Mike Haberfelner
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