Yes, the Opera Ghost once more creeps from his murky underground lair to cast his ominous shadow over my blog. To be honest, though, I’m happy to have found a topic for another Phantom post–it feels like forever since I’ve written on this topic.
This particular version of The Phantom of the Opera was a Hammer Films production from 1962 and starred Herbert Lom as the Phantom, Heather Sears as Christine, and Edward de Souza as…Harry? Yes, it’s Harry, not Raoul, because this version is set in London, so I suppose Raoul didn’t sound English enough. On the future Doctor Who star front, we had Michael Gough (the Toymaker) as scheming sleazebag Lord Ambrose d’Arcy and Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) as the Rat Catcher…who was on screen for all of five minutes before a dwarf stabbed him in the eye. Oh, well.
So in this version, Harry is producing Lord d’Arcy’s new opera about Joan of Arc, but mysterious acts of sabotage keep happening in the theater as they get closer to opening night–the pages of the score are torn and missing; the drums have been slashed; one of the stagehands is found hanging from a beam as his body swings out onto the stage and terrifies the audience and the singers–y’know, the usual. The soprano Maria, who was supposed to play Joan, flat-out refused to return to the stage after the whole incident with the hanging body, but all is not lost. Harry discovers that Christine, one of the members of the chorus, has a lovely singing voice and with a little training would be perfect for the role of Joan. Lord Ambrose the Skeezy invites Christine to dinner to discuss giving her lessons, but she hears a mysterious voice in her dressing room warning her not to trust him. The voice also goes on to say that he will teach Christine how to sing, but she must sing only for him. When Christine later tells Harry of the voice she heard, they both return to the dressing room to investigate further, but they are both involved in something they do not understand…and they run the risk of angering the Phantom unless they both do as he says.
Like the 1943 version, the Phantom is a mild-mannered musician who snaps like a twig when he suspects his music has been stolen (in this version, it really is) and has his face scarred with etching acid. The deformity makeup was very interesting in this movie–and still leagues ahead of what they had in the 2004 version.
What I didn’t particularly like was how they gave the Phantom a henchman in the form of the mysterious dwarf. It made the Phantom less powerful and menacing, and I feel the character loses something that way. Yes, it made him more sympathetic because the dwarf was the one running around murdering everyone (and not necessarily at the Phantom’s behest), but making the Phantom less terrifying lessens the impact of the story. What was especially interesting was that they toned down his obsession with Christine. In this version he’s not necessarily in love with her, but in her voice he hears the kind of talent he always wanted to perform his music, which is why he trains her as relentlessly as he does.
Harry, on the other hand, is my favorite movie Raoul. He has no patience for stupid and gets things done. When Christine is in danger, he jumps into action without a second thought, and he is the one who pieces together the Phantom’s identity when no one else can figure it out. A lot of the narration focused on Harry’s investigations into the Phantom’s identity, which made it similar to the book’s focus on Raoul’s attempts to figure out what was haunting Christine.
All in all, it was an enjoyable movie despite the deviations from the book. It felt odd to have the Phantom’s character be so muted, but Harry more than made up for it. And if you can enjoy a movie despite its deviations from its source material, it’s a sign that the screen writers managed to do their job and do it well.