As the title should make you realize, we’ve got another Phantom of the Opera post on our hands. Strap yourselves in.
I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite Phantom adaptations is the 1943 movie with Claude Rains–despite its numerous departures from the book, it still manages to tell a good story (and Claude Rains gave a good performance to boot). But there was one change it almost made that would have drastically altered the story.
To be honest, I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m going to talk about it again. When Universal was first working on this movie, they had the idea to make Erique the long-lost father of Christine. The backstory here was that Erique had abandoned his wife and daughter in order to pursue his dream career as a violinist at the Paris Opera House. Part of him, however, always felt guilty for abandoning his family, and when Christine came to the opera house as a singer, Erique recognized his daughter and sought to help her pursue her dream as a roundabout way of making up for abandoning her as a child. Of course, he had to do this secretly since he couldn’t just go up to her and say, “Hi, I’m the dad who abandoned you and your mother to go off and pursue my selfish desires; sorry about that.” The studio censors ultimately put the nix on that angle because they felt the Phantom’s growing obsession with Christine would start to make the relationship seem more incestuous than paternal.
Here’s the thing, though–if you watch the movie with the view that Erique is Christine’s father, there isn’t anything that really jumps out as incestuous. In fact, there are a few suggestions during the course of the movie that what the Phantom feels for Christine is not romantic at all. He denies to Christine’s tutor that he is secretly paying for her lessons because he is in love with her, and when he’s leading her to the underground lair, he’s speaking as if to soothe a frightened child. When people figured out that Erique was the Phantom, they all assumed that his interest in Christine was due to being obsessively in love with her, but imagine the shock and surprise that would have been on their faces had they learned the Phantom was terrorizing the opera house in order to make his daughter the star he knew she could be.
I think one of the biggest clues they were going to use for this reveal is that Erique knew the lullaby Christine had heard in her childhood. They way they eventually explained it in the movie was that Erique had come from the same area in France as Christine, and lots of people there probably knew that lullaby. I always thought this was a lame explanation, but the writers probably had to come up with something at the last minute after the “I am your father” storyline was retconned.
All in all, I think it was a shame they ultimately didn’t go this route–it definitely would have made for an interesting twist that you don’t see in other Phantom adaptations. And, frankly, they had already deviated so wildly from the book that it wouldn’t have made any difference.