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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
Phantom of the Opera - 1962
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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - 1962
Hammer Films, Universal Pictures
Rating: N/A

The movie begins with a cavern, an underwater river, ornate furniture sparsely set within the cavern, a man sitting on a table looking up, and where he looks is a man with his back to us, playing an organ. But this is a masked man and the title tells us that this is THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Directed by the late great Terrence Fisher (SPACEWAYS, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA [1958], THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, THE MUMMY [1959], THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE TWO FACES OF DR JEKYLL, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE HORROR OF IT ALL, THE GORGON, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ISLAND OF TERROR, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. In short, if you've ever watched a modern Horror movie, it probably took something from a Terrence Fisher film.),THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA makes a lot of presumptions. The biggest one is that the very name of the film is so well known that merely by flashing the title with presumably scary music, the audience would know what it's about and what was coming. And they would already be in a state of fear just for preparing themselves for the horrors.

As the musicians and crew of an opera gather to bring about a performance, an opera singer prepares her voice for the night. She is Maria (Liane Aukin) and, as we see, the hands of the Phantom (Herbert Lom: THE RINGER, THE LADYKILLERS, INTENT TO KILL, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, RETURN FROM THE ASHES, THE FACE OF EVE, JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, MARK OF THE DEVIL, Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA, DORIAN GRAY, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, ASYLUM, DARK PLACES, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS, THE DEAD ZONE, LA SETTA) are working behind the scenes, preparing for mischief. Frightened by the Phantom himself, Maria must be calmed by the opera producer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza: THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, THE THIRTY NINE STEPS [1978]), who helps her continue the show. But the Phantom means what he threatens and Merry Mishaps occur.

Lord Ambrose d'Arcy (Michael Gough: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, BATMAN [the Tim Burton franchise], SLEEPY HOLLOW, CORPSE BRIDE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND [2010]), the writer of the opera, is incensed by the scandal and public humiliation.

Soon the Opera is looking for another singer and during auditions, they find Christine Charles (Heather Sears: THE BLACK TORMENT) and Hunter hires her on the spot. Impresario Lord d'Arcy (he's "Arse-y, get it?), casts his lascivious eyes upon her and, with the kind of ratty grin that actor Michael Gough used with many a villain role, invites her to have dinner with him.

The Phantom of the Opera - long poster

The moment Christine is alone in her dressing room, she hears a voice come from the wall. The voice compliments her on her singing, then threatens her outright. He also has negative things to say about Lord d'Arcy. Considering that an unknown man is hiding in her dressing room, watching her, and threatening her, Christine takes it all remarkably well - far better than I would have handled it.

That night at dinner in a restaurant, Lord d'Arcy can't even contain himself long enough to wait until after dinner before he puts the heavy moves on Christina and threatens her to either accompany him to his apartment for some "singing lessons" (IF you know what I mean), or be fired.

As she dutifully walks out behind the triumphant Lord d'Arcy, Mr. Hunter comes in for dinner and Christina implores him to be with her at the "singing lessons" as well. Seeing what d'Arcy is up to, he agrees. Frustrated, d'Arcy acquits himself from it all and Hunter gets the girl.

Love blossoms of course between the innocent girl and her dashing hero but it can't be as simple as all that. d'Arcy is a bad guy but he's not the only one, There's the Phantom! Of the Opera, yes. Voice in the wall guy.

It isn't long before the aggressive, yet cowering, sniveling, insulting d'Arcy has threatened everyone working at the Opera, causing a walk-out and leaving him with nothing but a bunch of high-class, soon to be irate, ticket holders for the next show. Lordship or not, the Opera House owner. Latimer (Thorley Walters: MURDER SHE SAID, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMIING, DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THE PSYCHOPATH, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, TROG, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) throws d'Arcy out and prepares for the repercussions that will surely come as the Royal family circles the wagons against him. Harry Hunter comes to the rescue of the Opera house owner and assures him that, as long as they put on a good show for the nobles, d'Arcy will be helpless. Besides which, Harry has been doing a little investigating into the mysterious Phantom and has uncovered some surprising evidence against Lord d'Arcy.

Yes, all would go swimmingly now, justice would prevail and comeuppance would come up, if only the damn Phantom's hunchback friend (aka The Dwarf, Ian Wilson: THE UNHOLY QUEST, MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, THE WICKER MAN) didn't choose that moment to kidnap Christine.

As adapted by Anthony Hinds (aka John Elder: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, CAPTAIN CLEGG, THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE REPTILE, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, THE MUMMY'S SHROUD, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, SCARS OF DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, THE GHOUL), some story liberties and an alternate biography of The Phantom, were put into play to refresh Gaston Leroux's tale which was ultra famous at the time this movie was made. It's not a bad alternate biography, the only problem is, it isn't scary either. In Leroux's work, the Phantom is an object of terror first, tragedy second, and pity last. In this telling, the Phantom is an object of pity. Period. Yes, people die, but much of the blame is put upon the Hunchback/Dwarf who kills without the Phantom's order or knowledge. Without his danger, the Phantom loses his terrifying madness and only has his pathetic madness left. The sinister intelligence of Eric the Phantom from the book, isn't carried over to the movie. The Hunchback can kill, not from superior strength, but because he knows the Opera house. He sneaks around undetected, dropping heavy things on people's heads, or stabbing them in the back. We know that once he's confronted directly in the open, he'll fold like a card.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has the look of a movie that was shot entirely on a sound stage and that "look" takes it's toll in the many outdoor shots. That said, it also takes the time to unveil the unexpected side-street angles of a city, its population, and the characters in that population that lives and breathes, moves through, and sometimes interacts and clashes with the tale (look for Patrick Troughton aka the second Dr. Who, as a Ratcatcher!).

3 Shriek Girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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