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It should have been the triumphant premiere of arrogant composer
D'Arcy's (Michael Gough) opera Saint Joan, however, the performance
comes to a sudden halt when a hanged stagehand swings into the scenery, in
plain sight to everyone. After that, the leading lady leaves the
production - rather understandably.
However, D'Arcy and the opera's producer Hunter (Edward De Souza), who
rarely agree on anything, soon agree that they have found a more
than appropriate replacement in modest chorus girl Christine (Heather
Sears). Christine and Hunter soon become a couple, much to the dismay of
D'Arcy, who wants Christine to be more than just his leading lady, and
eventually D'Arcy fires both, Christine as well as Hunter.
But then there's someone else interested in Christine, the opera
house's masked phantom (Herbert Lom), who wants to give her singing
lessons, and to this end kidnaps her.
Acting on a mere hunch, Hunter soon finds the phantom's lair in the
catacombs underneath the opera house, and he has also figured out pretty
quickly who the Phantom is, or rather was: A poor composer who wanted
D'Arcy to help him publish his work, but D'Arcy instead blatantly stole
his music, and in an attempt to burn his music rather than having D'Arcy
publish it under his name, the phantom has badly burned himself and was
since reduced to living beneath the opera, his only companion being a
crazy dwarf (Ian Wilson) - who for no reason at all does some killings in
the course of the movie.
Eventually, Hunter confronts the Phantom, but when he and Christine
hear his story, they grow all soft and agree to let him continue teaching
Eventually, Hunter is re-instated as the opera house's producer, and
the first thing he does is to re-hire Christine as the leading lady.
The night of the premiere: The Phantom confronts D'Arcy and scares the
heebiegeebies out of him (nothing more), then he goes to watch the opera, Saint
Joan (his opera, incidently), while the crazy dwarf is doing
some climbing in the scaffoldings above the stage, eventually causing a
chandelier to crash onto the stage. The Phantom, seeing the chandelier is
about to hit Christine, jumps from his box onto the stage and pushes her
aside - but is himself hit and killed by the chandelier.
In the late 1950's/early 60's, director Terence Fisher directed a
string of gothic horror films for Hammer, many of which became
undisputable classics, and he handled all the traditional horror monsters
(in films like Curse
of Frankenstein, Dracula,
The Mummy, Curse
of the Werewolf or The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, to name a
few). However, his version of The Phantom of the Opera (which has
only very little to do with Gaston Leroux' novel) is in no way on par with
his earlier films, the film suffers greatly from a muddled screenplay, a
considerable lack of suspense, let alone shock, a considerable lack of a
convincing villain (the Phantom turns out to be the good guy, D'Arcy may
be arrogant and selfish but by no mean a horror baddie, and the dwarf just
seems ridiculous), and the basic storyline of the film is uninvolving as
hell. And Herbert Lom, one of the great cinematic villains, has an
ungrateful role in this one that gives him no reason to shine. Rather a
waste of time.