The Phantom of Opera (1962)
the phantom | the phantom of the opera | remake | terence fisher | anthony hinds | herbert lom | heather sears | edward de souza | drama | music | mystery | thriller | united kingdom | michael gough | ian wilson | thorley walters | harold goodwin | martin miller | hammer film
Film: The Phantom of the Opera
Director: Terence Fisher
Writer: Antony Hinds
Starring: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears and Edward de Souza
This film is one that I saw quite a few years ago. At the time, I was working through different versions of classic stories. This would be me venturing into the Hammer takes on this story from Gaston Leroux. It has been some time since watching it. I’ll be honest, it makes it interesting with knowing more of the history of Hammer. Even more so that I’ve seen a lot of takes of this story.
Synopsis: an acid-scarred composer has his dwarf helper bring an opera singer to his London sewer hide-out.
We open with seeing an odd-looking man who is a dwarf (Ian Wilson). We move to see a man playing an organ and he is the Phantom (Herbert Lom). He is wearing an odd mask with only one eye exposed. This was an interesting way to start this as we get the credits with a haunting song and it continues to zoom in on the Phantom’s eye.
It then shifts to the opera house where a good majority of this takes place. There is a play that is set to debut from Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough) and it is a take on St. Joan of the Arc. From the very beginning we learn that weird things are happening. This includes music sheets going missing. Instruments sabotaged and the star is warned to not go on stage. The manager of the talent is Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) while the manager of the opera house is Lattimer (Thorley Walters). There is talk that the place is haunted by a phantom. They believe it to be a ghost.
Despite all these things happening, Ambrose doesn’t care and the show will go on. Tragedy strikes near the end of the performance when a man is killed. Maria (Liane Aukin) will not perform anymore so a new lead is needed. We also get an interaction near the end of the night between Harry and Lattimer. The former is surprised that Ambrose wrote this opera, because he doesn’t have good musical taste so he is skeptical of him.
A try-out is held. The clear favorite is Christine Charles (Heather Sears). Ambrose is upset that he wasn’t consulted until he hears her. He then asks her to dinner. During this, he tells her that he wants to help her train for the part and she should come back to his apartment. Harry shows up to the place they are having dinner and ends up saving her, much to the displeasure of Ambrose. They spend most of the night together and have a great time. She reveals that she had an encounter with the Phantom so Harry wants to check it out. They go back to the opera house that night and have an odd encounter with a rat catcher, (Patrick Troughton). After they part ways, he is killed by the dwarf. Harry goes to see what happened and the Phantom appears to Christine. She screams and faints.
Ambrose is upset with the events and wants someone else as the lead. Christine and Harry are let go. This allows them time together. Harry notices something at the boarding house that Christine is staying. It leads to a Professor L. Petrie. The deeper he investigates it, the truth of this opera, Ambrose and even the identity of the Phantom is revealed. The Phantom also has specific plans for Christine.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the important characters. I wanted to bring back up something I’ve said before. I’ve seen quite a few adaptations of this source material. This is one that I’ve also seen on the stage before in London, which gives me an interesting connection to it as well. This is also Hammer’s take on this classic.
To start delving deeper, where I wanted to start is with commentary I take from this version as well as some of the others as well. This is looking at class. We have Lord Ambrose who is a jerk. He is the ‘playwright’ and he seems to have quite a bit of creative control due to his standing. Lattimer and Harry early into this know how to tiptoe around him. Harry does get caught mocking him, but Ambrose seems to file that away until he needs it. We learn more about this situation, there is a connection with Prof. Petrie who is the true writer of the play. This is a slight spoiler, but the movie lowkey reveals this early on if I’m honest. One last thing for this concept, Harry dresses nice, but we see he’s a good guy. He treats the women who are rummaging through the Opera house trash with respect. He isn’t rude to the rat catcher. I like that we establish that he is decent.
Sticking with Ambrose and his treatment of people. This product is exploring toxic masculinity. Ambrose is a womanizer. He is fine with giving the part to Christine, only if she comes back to his apartment. When Harry gets her out of it, Ambrose releases her from her contract and then looks for a replacement who will sleep with him. Without spoiling it, I don’t like that this movie doesn’t fully give him a punishment in my opinion. He's not the only one who is toxic. I’d even say that the Phantom is as well. As our synopsis said, he kidnaps Christine and wants to train her to sing better. It is odd though as he only wants her to sing for him. I’ll give him leeway; he is descending into madness for what happened to his face and his banishment to the sewers. He is a flawed character for sure.
There is a bit more about this character that I want to explore. I’ve already set up that the Phantom is going crazy. He works with the dwarf who he can’t control. He acknowledges that. This fellow has been beaten down for so long, he is prone to fits where he is murderous. The Phantom also has issues where he relives the events that led to him being in the sewer. It makes him tragic to be honest. I’ll give credit here to Lom in that portrayal to take the ‘monster’ of this movie and make him sad. Writer Anthony Hinds and director Terence Fisher deserve praise here as well. Him being where he has taken its toll. Where things end up explore this too. Having an actor like Lom is perfect for this in my opinion.
Now I do need to shift to a negative. The route they take the story, I do find this a bit slow. Humanizing our monster is good. The issue that I found is that the villains aren’t punished. What they do with Ambrose feels empty. He also doesn’t feel like the true adversary here, even though all the events lead to that. I found that to be problematic and it hurts my thoughts on this product in the end.
To get back to a positive, let me go over to the acting. I’ve already said my piece on Lom who is great. Sears brings a cuteness to the role that makes her seem innocent. I thought she was good. De Souza has an arrogance about him, but we see that he’s a good guy in standing up for Christine and against Ambrose. Walters was fine. It is funny to see a young Gough as I know him from the Batman movies as Alfred. I liked him in this more villainous role. Other than that, the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is left is with the filmmaking. Where I want to start here would be with the effects. I love the look of the Phantom. It is a variation on the classic version that I grew up with. There is a grey mask that covers his face. I like that there is only one eye hole as well. Other than that, it is limited on the rest used. The blood is bright, but I have a soft spot there. I do think that the cinematography is good. I expect that seeing Fisher as director. We get changes in perspective which is good. Other than that, I think that the soundtrack also fits. We get some classic songs that add atmosphere. The opera singing also works.
In conclusion, this isn’t my favorite version of the story. I think that Fisher, Hinds and Lom do well in bringing this classic story to life for Hammer. The rest of the cast is solid. This is a well-made movie from the effects to the cinematography and soundtrack. If I have a gripe, I think this pulls punches. I like humanizing our ‘monster’, but I don’t like not punishing our villain. It makes it feel empty for what they’re doing. Regardless of that, I still enjoyed my time with this one. Not the best from Hammer, but still work a viewing if you’re a fan.
My Rating: 7 out of 10