Killtoberfest 1 – #27: The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

In All, Movies by Kyu

No, not the new one. The other one. No, the other one. Yeah.

This is the 1943 version, starring Claude Rains as The Phantom. This was Pretty Good, You Guys.

Everybody remembers Rains as Captain Renault in Casablanca, but his first big role was as The Invisible Man (although naturally it was mostly voice work). In that one he played a hilariously bitter villain who went around refusing to suffer fools. I was expecting an arrogant Phantom here, and there’s a little of that, but we get so much of him before he turns evil that we fully understand the bitterness. Nowadays this material would get pointlessly shunted off to a prequel. But it was and remains a great strategy for investing horror villains with sympathy. In this case, we see how Rains, an aging member of the orchestra, loses almost all at once his job, his chance to care for his beloved Christine (1), and his creative opus–not to mention his face. It would drive anybody a little mad, and we can understand why he flees into the immense labyrinthian opera house he spent his adult life working in. Less understandable are the standard Phantom story series of murders, as he attempts to force Christine into the leading role.

Unfortunately, between the two Phantom versions I’ve seen (this and the Chaney one), there’s a bit of trade-off. While the narrative is stronger in this one, the underground portions disappoint, particularly when compared to the dreamlike expanse they travel through in the 1925 version. It’s still a pretty entertaining film, in that old Hollywood way–Drama! Comedy! Romance! Horror! As the trailer puts it, “Here is all you’ve ever wanted in entertainment, in one superb show.” A bit of a jack of all trades, master of none situation, though. What stands out is mostly Rains’ performance, and the film tends to suffer when he’s not on screen. Still, it’s never not satisfying seeing that giant chandelier come down.

1 The age difference and other clues led me to believe that it would eventually be revealed that the Phantom was Christine’s father, not an admirer, but that revelation never came (although it’s not disproven, either). Wiki says it was deleted from the script, which I think hurts the film.