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The splendor of Technicolor and the lavish opera sequences distinguish this version of the famous story. While this version bears little resemblance to the original, it does feature a first-rate performance by Claude Rains, in the title role. It certainly employs the best production values of any filmed version, and provides for high entertainment. Recommended.
Before writing a film article on Claude Rains for CLASSIC IMAGES (December 2000), I took another look at 'Phantom' to appraise his performance. He's one of those rare actors who can make you feel sympathy when he plays the ill-treated violinist so that you understand why he turns into 'The Phantom'. His performance is just one asset of this handsome technicolor adaptation of the famous story. Why carp about the changes made for this version? It stands on its own as an entertaining melodrama studded with operatic sequences that give it added dimension. Nelson Eddy has never been in better voice and Susanna Foster is certainly up to the demands of her singing role. The comic aspects of the story are a bit overdone and the only weakness of the film is giving Eddy and Edgar Barrier silly routines as they compete for the hand of Foster. Aside from that, this can still be enjoyed as a horror story set against the Paris Opera background. The sets are rich and detailed. Understandably, the film won Academy Awards for color cinematography and color art direction. Edward Ward's haunting score was also nominated and contributes greatly to the overall enjoyment of the film. The horror is muted in this version--but the rich musical highlights are a compensation. Absorbing entertainment.
First of all, let me state that I am a lover of classical music. I am
not a fan of horror films. This particular version of the classic
horror tale is very different in plot and in tone from its original
literary source materialas well as the previous silent film version
starring Lon Chaney in the title role. But nevertheless, the 1943 film
succeeds beautifully as a romantic melodrama rather than as a horror
film. For those who love classical music and performing arts, you're in
luck with this one. Those looking for terror and chills, as well as a
more faithful version of the literary work, look elsewhere.
Permit me to express my adoration for this film from the beginning. I was only three years old when I first saw this film, and I was still crazy about the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical I saw during that time (it was my first time seeing it, and since then I have seen it thrice on the professional stage, most recently two years ago at the age of 17). I immediately fell in love with this grand old Technicolor film the first time I saw it.
But I will be brief in presenting the following elements. The story here is vastly different from the original Gaston Leroux work, yet it works wonderfully well due to its originality and freshness. The Phantom is presented here as a tragic antihero rather than the melodramatic "living skeleton" Lon Chaney gave us in the 1925 silent version. We have splendid acting from all the performers in this film, most notably Claude Rains in the title role. We are given a sympathetic, tragic view of a lonely composer/violinist who fails to achieve his most admirable goal, despite Rains' limited performance time in the film. This particular role is what earned Rains the status of one of my all-time favorite actors since he impressed me at such an early age. However, it is Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster who are the real stars of the film, expressing their rich and unique vocal talents within the film's glorious opera sequences, which are the among the film's many highlights. And the Oscar-winning production values and Technicolor cinematography are rich and opulent, fully expressing the wonders of a 19th Century Paris and its magnificent Opera House interiors. The humor between the rivaling Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier is pretty good, too.
And the music! Under composer Edward Ward's Oscar-nominated score and creativity the opera sequences are magnificently staged, yet here I will solely express my love for one thing: Edward Ward's "Lullaby of the Bells." "Lullaby of the Bells" is the Phantom's musical leitmotif throughout the film, and its effectiveness is expressed within the world of the film, arranged for violin, solo piano, piano and vocal (sung beautifully by Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy), and, most impressively, for piano and orchestra. How wonderful to know that Rains himself learned how to play this lovely song on piano and on the violin, even though he never played a musical instrument before at the time! Unfortunately, like Rains' tragic misunderstanding with his admirable goal, the song is barely available on CD and sheet music for the song is almost nonexistent. The only CD that contains a modern symphonic rerecording of the song is "Piano in Hollywood: The Classic Movie Concertos." However, that particular recording is unimpressive and weak compared to the lush and dramatic power of the original as heard in the film's unforgettable finale, yet it does have its moments here and there on the CD. Nevertheless, since I am always impressed with the universality and effectiveness of the song, it remains my all-time favorite song unto this day.
I simply can't praise this film highly enough, so please watch it and judge it for yourself. But as I said before, this particular version will best appeal to those who love classical music and the performing arts, including great acting and drama. For those of you who expect a Gothic horror tale of a masked "living skeleton" who creates torture chambers within the Paris Opera House catacombs, an "Angel of Music" who hides behind a young soprano's dressing room mirror, and a Phantom who laughs melodramatically, then this film is not for you.
When Universal decided to remake Lon Chaney's classic silent version of
the opera, sound opened up a rather obvious vista for the film. We can
make it as much about opera as the phantom haunting the Paris Opera.
A task rendered considerably easier by the presence of Nelson Eddy and Susanne Foster. Unlike his screen partner at MGM, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy came from the opera to the cinema. He always viewed himself as a singer first, films were something he did to get publicity for his concert tours. But Eddy always loved the grand opera, it could easily been his career path. Consequently The Phantom of the Opera and the arias he sings here always had a special place in his affections. We see a lot of the real Nelson here.
Another one of his interests was sculpture. The bust of Susanna Foster that Claude Rains stole from Eddy's dressing room is something that Nelson Eddy actually did. Sculpting was a hobby of his and as you can see he was quite good at it. Might have made a living doing that as well.
Susanna Foster who had a lovely soprano voice gave up her career soon after this most acclaimed of her films. A pity too, it was a real loss to the screen.
This Phantom of the Opera has a bit of comedy in it as well. Baritone Nelson Eddy and Inspector of the Surete Edgar Barrier have an uneasy rivalry going for the affections of Foster. The scenes involving this are nicely staged by director Arthur Lubin, more known for doing Abbott and Costello comedies.
This may have been Edgar Barrier's best film role. He was a more than competent player, his career probably suffering because he was a bit too much like Warren William who was himself a poor man's John Barrymore. Barrier played equally well as villains or as a good guy as he is here. Another fine role for him even though he only has one scene is in Cyrano de Bergerac where he plays the very sly and all knowing and discerning Cardinal Richelieu.
Of course Phantom of the Opera is really made by the performance of Claude Rains as the mild mannered, inoffensive Eric Claudin, a violinist in the Paris Opera who is crushing out big time on Susanna Foster. We see him first being told after 20 years he's being given the sack by the company. What they describe sounds an awful lot like Carpel Tunnel Syndrome that he's developed which is affecting his playing the violin. Bad news for Susanna Foster also because he's been her secret benefactor in paying for voice lessons.
There isn't any middle aged man who doesn't identify with Rains. Tossed out of his job, the rent due, crushing out big time on a young girl, a lot of us have been there. Then when he thinks an unscrupulous music publisher is stealing a concerto he's written, he loses it completely and kills him. And when acid is thrown in his face disfiguring him, it's a short journey to madness.
Rains really makes us feel for Claudin. In that sense the film is not a horror picture in that we're dealing with monsters or unworldly creatures that Universal so specialized in. The man who becomes the Phantom is all too real, too human, and if we're pushed right, could be any one of us.
Can you do better than opera arias by Nelson Eddy and a classic performance by Claude Rains? I think not.
It's perfectly true that this version isn't Lon Chaney and is watered-down Leroux, but it still has excellent performances and - this was during WW II remember - extraordinarily beautiful production values which resulted in Oscars for Color Cinematography and Art/Set Decoration. I've loved this film since I was a kid, even though back then I had to endure black-and-white telecasts because the local CBS affiliate was unable to obtain a color print that was up to their standards - years later I was lucky enough to see it - twice! in a theatre - as gorgeous as the color is on the DVD, it was even more breathtaking on the big screen. The extra features (the documentary "Phantom Unmasked", which includes a rare interview with the elusive Susannah Foster, and the audio commentary) have only increased my pleasure in watching this film over and over again.
This 1943 version is a remake of the 1925 version from the same studio
(Universal). Probably the most vivid and effective use of Technicolor I
have seen. Lush photography, great crane shots and an impressive Paris
Opera House! The operatic scenes are very well done--and they are
important to the story line. Very entertaining, especially since there
is no graphic violence or gore--except the Phantom's face. Nelson Eddy
is in top voice. One of Hollywood's most versatile actors, Claude Rains
is remarkable in the lead role. Just the year before he was the
memorable Prefect of Police in "Casablanca." This production is mounted
first class in every way.
The DVD release is a fantastic transfer from an original old Technicolor master.
I'm not sure if I'd call this a horror movie(it's certainly a drama).It is the result of good acting,filming,and glorious color!!!!!!!I've never seen a Universal horror movie in color other than this!The story isn't a real adaption of Gaston Leroux's novel.It has several changes made that make it different from the book.It's a must-see for movie lovers.Horror or otherwise.
Anybody approaching 'Phantom Of The Opera' as a horror movie will probably be disappointed, but if you look upon it as a romantic melodrama it's pretty entertaining. The sets (mostly recycled from the twenties version) are lavish, the music is strong and the performances are good, especially the wonderful Claude Rains ('The Invisible Man', 'Casablanca', 'Notorious') who is excellent (as always). The rest of the cast includes songbirds Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster, the late Hume Cronyn in a bit part, and a nice cameo from Fritz Leiber (the father of the famous science fiction and fantasy writer Fritz Leiber, Jr) as Franz Liszt. 'Phantom Of The Opera' is far from my favourite Universal horror movie but I still enjoyed it and it's worth watching, though I think in many ways the Hammer remake in the 1960s starring Herbert Lom is a better movie.
A lot was obviously put into the operatic scenes, which were probably spectacular back in 1943. However, more effort could have been put into displaying the motives and madness of the phantom. The light hearted comedy attempts of the two courters of Christine Dubois seems out of place and takes the final edge of any suspense in the film.
Gaston Leroux's penny-dreadful novel was hardly the stuff of great
literature, but it did manage to tap into the public consciousness with
its gas-light-Gothic tale of a beautiful singer menaced by a horrific
yet seductive serial killer lurking in the forgotten basement
labyrinths of the Paris Opera. Lon Chaney's silent classic kept the
basic elements of the novel intact--and proved one of the great box
office hits of its day, a fact that prompted Universal Studios to
contemplate a remake throughout most of the 1930s.
Although several proposals were considered (including one intended to feature Deanna Durbin, who despised the idea and derailed the project with a flat refusal), it wasn't until 1943 that a remake reached the screen. And when it did, it was an eye-popping Technicolor extravaganza, all talking, all singing, and dancing. The Phantom had gone musical.
In many respects this version of PHANTOM anticipates the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical, for whereas the Chaney version presented the Phantom as a truly sinister entity, this adaptation presents the character as one more sinned against than sinning--an idea that would color almost every later adaptation, and Webber's most particularly so. But it also shifts the focus of the story away from the title character, who is here really more of a supporting character than anything else. The focus is on Paris Opera star Christine Dae, played by Susanna Foster. In this version Christine is not only adored by the Phantom; she is also romantically pursued by two suitors who put aside their differences to protect her.
Directed by Universal workhorse Arthur Lubin, this version is truly eye-popping as only a 1940s Technicolor spectacular could be: the color is intensely brilliant, and Lubin makes the most of it by focusing most of his camera-time on the stage of the Paris Opera itself and splashing one operatic performance after another throughout the film. But in terms of actual story interest, the film is only so-so. Susanna Foster had a great singing voice, but she did not have a memorable screen presence, and while the supporting cast (which includes Nelson Eddy, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, and Jane Farrar) is solid enough they lack excitement. And the pace of the film often seems a bit slow, sometimes to the point of clunkiness.
The saving grace of the film--in addition to the aforementioned photography, which won an Oscar--is Claude Rains. A great artist, Rains did not make the mistake of copying Chaney, and although the script robs the Phantom of his most fearsome aspects, Rains fills the role with subtle menace that is wonderful to behold, completely transcending the film's slow pace, the lackluster script, and "sanitized for your protection" tone so typical of Universal Studios in the 1940s. Unless you're a die-hard Phantom fan you're likely to be unimpressed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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