Phantom of the Opera (1943)
phantom of the opera | arthur lubin | eric taylor | samuel hoffenstein | nelson eddy | susanna foster | claude rains | based on | novel | gaston leroux | the phantom | edgar barrier | leo carrillo | drama | music | romance | thriller | united states | jane farrar | j. edward bromberg
Film: Phantom of the Opera
Director: Arthur Lubin
Writer: Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein
Starring: Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster and Claude Rains
This version was the fourth of the story I saw. Since then, I’ve seen even more and revisited this one as well. I’ve even seen the play as well. I’m giving this a rewatch as part of my Traverse through the Threes. I also didn’t necessarily remember what this version had to offer opposed to others.
Synopsis: an acid-scarred composer rises from the Paris sewers to boost his favorite opera understudy’s career.
We begin with the Paris Opera putting on a performance of ‘Marta’. The lead is Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy). There is a young woman who is the understudy to the lead, Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster). She goes backstage to meet with a police officer she has been seeing. His name is Raoul Daubert (Edgar Barrier). He wants her to come to dinner. In the process this means leaving before the performance ends. She doesn’t want to and misses going onstage for the curtain call. She is scolded by Amiot (J. Edward Bromberg) for missing it. I take it that he’s the stage manager. She is saved by Villeneuve (Frank Puglia) who is the conductor.
Villeneuve tells her that she needs to decide if she wants to make a life out of this career or to live a normal life. If she chooses opera, she will have to choose someone to marry who is involved in it, because it will take so much of her time. She appreciates his advice and leaves, running into a violinist. His name is Erique Claudin (Claude Rains). He is awaiting a meeting with Villeneuve as well.
The reason he was called in was that he noticed Erique during the performance and there is something off about him. He plays a lullaby from his hometown flawlessly, but then reveals there is something wrong with his left hand. It affects most everything he plays. He is dismissed from the orchestra due to his condition as they demand perfection.
We then learn that Erique doesn’t have a lot of money. He’s been paying a teacher for Christine, but she doesn’t know that he’s the benefactor. The vocal teacher is Signor Ferretti (Leo Carrillo). Erique visits him after finishing his lesson. He’s told by the teacher that without money, he won’t be able to continue training her. Erique is off to see where a company is with publishing his concerto.
He waits all day. He ends up forcing his way in to see Pleyel (Miles Mander). Pleyel blows him off and has the woman with him try to find his concerto. She can’t seem to find it and tells him to check back. Pleyel doesn’t like him and believes that it was probably tossed for not being good. Erique then hears it being played in the other room, by an old composer named Franz Liszt (Fritz Leiber). He doesn’t realize that this composer likes it and thinks its brilliant. Erique snaps and kills Pleyel. The woman in the room throws acid in the face of Erique during the commotion, causing him to flee to the sewer for reprieve.
Things seem to go on without Erique, but he steals a cape and two masks. He then ‘haunts’ the Paris Opera House. He is out to help Christine become the lead. Erique goes as far to demand it. This upsets Biancarolli (Jane Farrar) since she plays opposite Garron. There’s also a love triangle between him and Raoul for the heart of Christine. Erique will stop at nothing, including bringing the opera house down as well.
That should be enough for the recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I find it interesting that it used the same set as the 1925 version. This take is just in color. It surprised me to see that his movie was presented this way. I believe the reason there was to capture the pageantry as we get a lot of stage performance. It does feel a bit like filler though if I’m honest.
Where I’ll go from there is that I didn’t remember that Rains was the Phantom here. I like that for this version, he is a violinist. He sees that Christine has talent despite her not knowing who he is. They have a deeper connection though. They’re both from the same hometown. She knows a lullaby that he does as well. It is specifically from their area. I did like the implications and the reveal here as well.
What was a disappointment for this version was that the horror and Phantom elements are light. I don’t mind the set up. We learn who Garron, Christine, Erique, Biancarolli and Villeneuve are. It builds to turn Erique into this entity. From there though, we know that he’s lurking. There are little things dropped that he’s doing and the fear he is instilling. That is all good. The movie then shifts quickly to the climax and the Phantom taking Christine. I just would have liked a bit more before that happened. I might be alone here so I will acknowledge that.
Other than those variations, we are getting the classic story. I want to shift over to the acting then. Eddy and Barrier are solid as the two suitors for Christine. Where things end up in the end makes sense. This one also has these two males vying for attention which can get a bit comedic by the end. That was fine as it added some levity, but not too much. Foster is solid as Christine when it comes to the singing. They don’t give her much to work with though. That is typical for Universal during this era. I did like Rains as Erique/the Phantom. He does disappear for long stretches though as they focus on the love triangle. Other than that, Farrar and the rest the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
The last things to go into would be with the filmmaking. I thought that the cinematography here was good. It was quite grand to give the full size and scope of this opera house. That was good. I like what they do with shadows and the lair of the Phantom. Not the best version for the latter, but still cool. The soundtrack also fits for what they needed here. As I’ve said, we get quite a bit of the opera scenes and it feels like a real for sure. The last thing then would be the effects. They go light here. I did like the mask and look of the Phantom though.
In conclusion, this is a solid take on this source material. I had seen a few variations on it coming in that first time and even more now. This one does well with capturing the opera feel. I also don’t mind the love triangle between Garron, Christine and Raoul. I’m just not sure they needed to focus on it as much as they do as the horror and the actual story fall by the wayside. The acting is good across the board and this is a well-made movie overall. I’d recommend this if you’re out for all the versions of this novel or going through the Universal classics run.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10