Pit violinist Claudin hopelessly loves rising operatic soprano Christine Dubois (as do baritone Anatole and police inspector Raoul) and secretly aids her career. But Claudin loses both his touch and his job, murders a rascally music publisher in a fit of madness, and has his face etched with acid. Soon, mysterious crimes plague the Paris Opera House, blamed on a legendary "phantom" whom none can find in the mazes and catacombs. But both of Christine's lovers have plans to ferret him out.Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the scene where the three heroes escape the Phantom's crumbling lair (which involve the three characters running from a cave in) only Susanna Foster actually appeared in the scene, the two male stars were deemed too important to film such a risky scene and had stunt doubles. See more »
When Claudin (Claude Rains) is being tested by the maestro, his fingering of the violin's strings do not match the vibrato produced. See more »
[Christine has left Raoul and Anatole in her dressing room while she greets a crowd of admirers]
Would you join me for a bit of supper at the Cafe de l'Opera?
With pleasure, monsieur.
Think we can get through this crowd?
Certainly. After all, who'd pay any attention to a baritone and a detective?
See more »
Poor old Enrique Claudin doesn't have much luck – and what he does have is all bad. An adept but unremarkable violinist with the Paris Opera House, he secretly worships Christine Dubois, the young understudy to the snooty leading songstress, and even goes so far as to anonymously spend all his money on singing lessons for her even though she is barely conscious of his existence. Enrique loses his job when he starts losing the feeling in his fingers. Then he mistakenly believes the musical manuscript he has been working on has been stolen by no less a light than Franz Liszt (Lord only knows how he wandered into this). Gripped by a violent rage, Enrique throttles the bad-tempered music publisher who prevents him from retrieving his manuscript and ends up with a face full of acid courtesy of the publisher's panicky secretary. Evading capture by the police, Enrique hides in the sewers beneath the Opera House and, like a tomato that's rolled under the cooker, grows dark and warped in the darkness.
Gaston Laroux's Phantom of the Opera is one of those stories that filmmakers feel compelled to retell every couple of years, so there's not a great deal to set this apart from all those other versions. Universal's use of colour is uncharacteristically sumptuous, and given that this tale falls nominally into the horror category for which they were famed, it stands by comparison to their other output of the time as something of a prestige production. There's not really much horror to speak of – although, by modern standards, none of the 40s horror films are likely to scare anyone over the age of five, so it's not out of the ordinary there. In fact it would arguably be more accurate to describe it as a musical given the amount of time that's given over to opera numbers that do little other than pause the action.
Claude Rains gives a typically polished performance as the tormented Claudin, although the failure of the script to get under his character's (scorched) skin once he assumes the identity of the Phantom leaves the actor with little to work with once he dons the mask and descends into B-movie madness. Nobody else in the cast really stands out. Susanna Foster makes a rather unmemorable ingénue (who shows worrying indications of following the same path as the prima donna she replaces given the way some of their lines are nearly identical), and leaves you wondering why poor old Claudin got so hot and bothered over her in the first place. Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier provide some light relief as the troupe's baritone and the investigating police officer, both of whom also fall under Miss Foster's mysterious spell.
Phantom of the Opera provides a good example of 40s Hollywood expertise (although it looks more like an MGM film than a Universal), and is entertaining enough even though it rarely provides anything that's likely to stick in the mind. Arthur Lubin at least attempts moments of artistry – for example by having the camera repeatedly passing sources of light – candelabras, chandeliers, etc – to suggest the fatal fascination Claudin's object of unrequited love holds for him.
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