Director: Arthur Lubin
Writers: Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein
Cast: 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 Lawson, Miles Mander, Rosina Galli, Walter Stahl, and Paul Marion
Composer: Edward Ward
Release Date: 8/27/1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Smitten with singer Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster), aging violin performer Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) decides to anonymously finance the young soprano’s career; that is, until a string of bad luck results in Erique’s prompt dismissal from the Paris Opera orchestra. Upon discovering that his music has been plagiarized, Erique proceeds to strangle the culprit; but becomes facially disfigured when the wife of his victim retaliates with a tray of acid. Sometime later, rumors of a mysterious phantom begin surfacing in order to account for certain bizarre crimes committed within the opera house walls.
A loose interpretation of Gaston Leroux’s most famous novel, Phantom of the Opera bears only a passing resemblance to the literary classic that inspired it. That being said, those who enjoy Universal Studios’ original monster series may wish to view this feature for its uniquely poignant, albeit hardly terrifying, portrayal of Erik (or “Erique” as spelled alternatively in the closing credits) the Phantom.
Whereas Leroux described the Phantom as a repulsive individual with mildly sympathetic qualities, the 1943 film adaptation employs a more delicate method of developing its eponymous character. Notably, all the elements of a traditional horror movie are excised in favor of emphasizing Erique’s transition from a humble, gentle-mannered violinist to a ghostly figure driven insane by unfathomable suffering and loss. The Phantom’s violent transformation works to elicit compassion instead of terror, an outcome made most effective by the elegant—if occasionally underwhelming—performance of Claude Rains.
It should be noted that Phantom of the Opera opens with an emotionally compelling first act that will appeal to Universal Monster buffs and viewers of a sensitive nature alike; however, the following sequences progress at an insufferable pace, thereby failing to generate a satisfactory level of tension leading into the obligatory unmasking scene. A languid narrative structure unfortunately prevents an air of suspense from surrounding the Phantom at all times; likewise, the groan-inducing antics of Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and Raoul Daubert (Edgar Barrier) further undermine the extremely serious threat posed by Erique Claudin.
In contrast to the 1925 production starring Lon Chaney, Arthur Lubin’s Phantom of the Opera contains very little interaction between Erique and Christine prior to the iconic chandelier-dropping sequence. By admiring Christine strictly from afar, Rains’ Phantom assumes an even more tragic role than that of Chaney; specifically, Erique ultimately sacrifices everything for a woman who, prior to being abducted by the poor soul in question, rarely bothers to acknowledge his existence (an expository monologue following the Phantom’s demise serves to convince the audience that Christine had always felt an inexplicable attraction to Erique, though her lack of emotional sincerity earlier in the film would suggest otherwise).
Phantom of the Opera should be commended for establishing the character of Erik/Erique as a deeply complex but hopelessly troubled human being. Fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same title are therefore advised to view this film, which, in all likelihood, laid the foundation for modern retellings of the Phantom legend.
Overall Quality: 7/10
If you enjoyed this post, please click the follow button or enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.