Phantom of the Opera (1943)

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*. Too much opera. Way too much (tedious, ersatz) opera. And not nearly enough Phantom.
*. Director Lubin wanted a horror film but apparently the studio wanted a musical. No surprise, the studio got the movie they wanted.
*. In Technicolor! How beautiful early colour looked! And they gave it a workout here with the sumptuous furnishings and enough costume changes to fill a warehouse of wardrobes. Not to mention how red they painted Susanna Foster’s lips.
*. All Foster’s make-up actually makes her look older. She had just turned 18 when production on this film began. Nelson Eddy, by the way, would have been 42. That age differential is about right for Hollywood, then and now.
*. “Based on the composition by Gaston Leroux.” I wonder what that means.

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*. It’s interesting that Claude Rains, best known for his distinctive voice, had to work so hard to train his voice for acting (he had a speech impediment and a strong Cockney accent). Is this ironic? Or perhaps what you would expect from someone who put a lot of work into it?
*. Pauline Kael: “there’s something in this morbid kitschy material that really hooks people, and there was a surprisingly scared, enthusiastic response to this bummer.” The contemporary response was mixed. Audiences ate it up, but also laughed at it. Still, there was singing, and colour, and a bit of pretty tame horror. That was all you needed.
*. The female lead’s name has changed from Daaé to DuBois. I think because American audiences had an easier time pronouncing the latter.
*. Fritz Feld comes close to stealing all his scenes as Lecours. So indolent at times he seems almost incapable of standing, or even sitting upright.
*. How tight-ass was the Breen Office at enforcing the film code? They had major problems with some of the costumes in this film showing too much cleavage. Some scenes had to be cut and others re-shot. That’s tight.
*. In the original script Claudin was going to be revealed as Christine’s father. This was later scrapped because of the incest angle. Enough traces are left behind, however, to make the whole thing seem odd, awkward, and (in director Lubin’s estimation) “a little nasty.”
*. Claudin doesn’t want Christina to be a star, or to steal her love. He wants to keep her locked away in the vaults, where she can sing to him forever.

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*. I like it that Christine doesn’t scream when she sees the Phantom’s face. In truth, it’s not so bad. Just some skin damage. Not a very demanding job for the legendary Jack Pierce, who wanted to do a lot more.
*. Notice the complete absence of emotion on Pleyel’s secretary’s face after she throws the acid on Claudin. I don’t know what happened there. It’s like she didn’t think she was in the shot.
*. That’s the same opera set that they built for the 1925 version, and it was recycled again (along with Susanna Foster) just a year later for a lousy Phantom rip-off called The Climax. I believe the set is still there.
*. I was sure I’d seen the actor playing Franz Liszt before, and recently. A family resemblance had fooled me. Turns out the part was played by Fritz Leiber, father of Fritz Leiber, Jr., the SF writer who had a non-speaking cameo in Equinox.

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*. The comic subplot of the two suitors is painful. Since only Nelson Eddy gets star billing, my money would be on him getting the girl. Poor Edgar Barrier.
*. In the big unmasking scene there is a sudden zoom out of focus that I think is borrowed from the original. But I’m just not sure how intentional it was.
*. Overall, this is one of the weaker Phantoms. The plot is padded, awkward, and dull. You just have the sense that no one was quite sure what they wanted the movie to be. It was a successful entertainment in its time, but hard to recommend today.

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