31 Weeks to Halloween: Phantom of the Opera (1943)
As we enter into another weekend - and we get one step closer to our favorite day of the year, Halloween - we finally made it to one of Universal's most popular classic horror films, The Phantom of the Opera! The film blends music and terror to create this awesome atmosphere inside of the Paris Opera House where the film takes place. Released in 1943 - in technicolor! - the film was directed by Arthur Lubin (one of Universal's leading directors of his time) and was loosely based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, as well as the 1925 silent horror adaption which had Lon Chaney (father to Lon Chaney Jr aka the Wolf Man). Just by the looks of it, the film was a massive undertaking for its time and is probably one of the most elaborate films in the Universal classic horror lineup we've seen so far in our countdown. It's a beautifully shot, beautifully produced film with one of classic horrors most iconic characters ever, the Phantom! I'll be honest and admit that growing up, this movie just didn't do it for me - I don't know if I just didn't get it or didn't appreciate all of the singing (which there is a lot of) or what the deal was, but it wasn't until I rewatched it as an adult that it really clicked and stuck with me. Whatever it was, I'm past it and can appreciate the true horror that is contained within the walls of the Paris Opera House. The film tells a bone-chilling story - which is also probably one of the studios finest and most elaborate plots in the horror series as well!
To make a pretty in-depth story short, Erique Claudin (Claude Rains aka Dr. Jack Griffin in The Invisible Man) is a violinist for the Paris Opera House and he is let go from the production after twenty years of service after he began to have trouble with his hand. The production management assumes Claudin has a hefty retirement to fall back on, but it simply isn't so: he's used his money for singing lessons for the young and beautiful Christine (Susanna Foster) who he is infatuated with. To try and get some money, Claudin approaches a publishing company about publishing his piano concerto that he says is his whole life's work, only to visit the office of the company and hear his music being played. Claudin becomes convinced the publisher is trying to steal his work, so... he kills him. In retaliation, the publishers assistant throws acid on Claudin's face, disfiguring him - hence the mask the man wears with his become synonymous with the name Phantom of the Opera. And so begins Claudin's reign of terror over the Opera House, as he steals various items (including the master key to the building which grants him access to every room, making it impossibly hard to find him). Claudin's one desire is to have Christine earn the notoriety he believes she deserves. So he does whatever it takes to make sure she gets her chance to perform and showcase her talent... and if she doesn't, oh, there will be hell to pay. Does Christine finally get her deserved fame with the Phantom's help, or will she, too, succumb to his madness?! Find out in... THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA! - in technicolor!
That madness that possesses Erique is one of my favorite elements of the entire movie. His pride, his love, his achievement - they were all contained within his concerto that he worked so hard on. So when he thought it was being stolen, the madness reared its head and Claudin shows no mercy to anyone except the one person he admires just as much (and maybe even a little more) than his music: Christine. I thought the movie did a really sick job showing his pretty desperate and quick descent into chaos as he feels like everything is falling apart and his entire life is on the line. But the things the Phantom does will shock you, disturb you - and you'll find yourself rooting for him the entire time! I think that's part of the fun of this movie, is catching yourself rooting for Claudin as his devious ways to get Christine her deserved fame unfold. I'm not the biggest fan of the music in the film, admittedly, but it plays an absolutely essential role in the storytelling of the movie. Again, the music along with the sets really set a wicked tone and atmosphere for the movie, and as you see the masked Phantom popping in and out of hallways and being chased throughout the Opera House, you'll simply love his character. Rains absolutely slays his role as the Phantom and is probably a big reason the movie is so good in the first place.
There is a lot to take in with this film, but honestly, it's worth your hour and a half investment. It's such a massive movie with some really fantastic characters with some sinister traits, and you'll really be able to get the classic 1940s terror vibe audiences probably experienced 77 years ago! It definitely makes its way onto the top 10 must see classic Universal horror films! Check it out!