Claude Rains - Erique Claudin
Susanna Foster - Christine Dubois
Nelson Eddy - Anatole Garron
Edgar Barrier - Raul D'Aubert
Hume Cronyn - Gerard
Arthur Lubin - Director
George Waggner - Producer
Eric Taylor - Screenwriter
Hal Mohr - Cinematographer
Jack Pierce - Make Up
In 1943 Universal returned to The Phantom of the Opera with a lavish remake in Technicolor and sound. The Phantom of the Opera was directed by Arthur Lubin and starred Claude Rains, who had acquired some stature as a horror film star in such earlier Universal films as The Invisible Man (1933), The Myster of Edwin Drood (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941), as the Phantom, Erique Claudin. The motion picture, Universal's most expensive endeavor up to that time, costing a total of $1.75 million, was well received by the public and garnered the studio a pair of Academy Awards, one for best use of color.
Again the original Phantom sets were utilized. But director Lubin concentrated more on lavish production numbers than upon the gothic mood of the Lon Chaney version and detracted from the aura of mystery surrounding the Phantom by humanizing the character and bestowing upon him a specific origin. Nonetheless, despite the complaints of horror buffs that the film boasted too much Opera and not enough Phantom, this Phantom of the Opera remains a classic in its own right and is in many ways more fluid and entertaining than the original.
Erique Claudin, a violinist in the Paris Opera orchestra, suffers from arthritis and hopes to compensate for his loss of employment by selling his lifetime work, a piano concerto. With his anticipated profits, Erique wishes to continue paying for the voice-training of lovely Christine Dubois (played by popular opera star Susanna Foster). When Erique goes to his potential publisher and is told that the manuscript has been rejected, and then hears it being played from another room, he assumes that his work has been stolen. Erique attacks and stangles the publisher, after which the latter's secretary throws acid in the composer's face. Clutching his seared flesh, Erique flees to the sewers and the sanctum beneath the Opera House.
Erique wants Chrisine to become the star of the Opera. The opertic numbers of The Phantom of the Opera were created especially for the film with lyrics added to the music of Tschaikovsky, Chopin and Flotow. During these musical performances, the Phanton, face hidden by a prop room mask, strikes. He sneaks a drugged goblet to the prima donna Madame Biancarolli while she performs on stage, in order that her understudy Christine can replace her. After Madame Biancarolli denies Christine the fame she deserves, tha Phantom secretly enters the prima donna's room and strangles both her and her maid.
Later, after a brief peiod during which the Opera House is closed, French police inspector D'Aubert (Edgar Barrier) enacts a plan to lure him out into the open. he insists that Christine does not appear, substituting another soprano in her place. he dresses his men in prop masks like the Phantom's (in a sequence replacing the "Red Death" masque of the 1925 version) and publicizes the fact that maestro Listz will play Erique's concerto following the last curtain of the opera.
But Erique has plans of his own. he murders one of Daubert's men and dons his hooded cloak. Then he appears at the chandelier which hangs majestically above the audience. This sequence is surely the prime moment of the 1943 Phantom, a supreme exercise in suspense utilizing both sound and visuals, as Erique saws away at the chandelier's chain in tandem with the music below, both reaching for a climax.
The chandelier sequence is perfectly described by writer Chris Steinbrunner: "A rapt audience concentrates on a stage ringing with passionate music . . . while the camera slowly moves upward, far above the pit and stage, slowly ascending to the very dome of the opera house, where Erique Claudin hangs above a vast chandelier. Cut to the stage once more--and voices lifted in song. Cut to the audience: the orderly rows upon rows, hushed in the semi-darkness. The camera cuts back to the Phantom, his saw inexorably cutting through the chain which holds the massive ironwork fixture. Then back to the opera-in-progress. Lubin cross-cuts for what seems like an endless amount of time, in an unbearable little masterpiece of cinematic suspense. Then the chandelier breaks away. Quick closeup of the soprano, screaming. For one breathless second there is absolute silence as the great circular frame hurtles straight down upon the audience. Then, a sickening crash, and pandemonium."
During the commotion, Erique, claiming to be one of the policemen, manages to kidnap Christine and bring her to his sinister underground realm. There, the Phantom proudly plays her his concerto on the piano. Christine tears away his mask as the camera quickly dollies in for an extreme close-up and the music blares to a crescendo. Again, as in 1925, audiences screamed--yet not as loudly as they had at Lon Chaney.
Rains was no Lon Chaney and was certainly not expected to suffer the pains of the original Phantom make-up. His make-up, created by Jack Pierce, consisted only of scar tissue marring one side of his otherwise handsome face. This visage was horrifying when seen for the first time via the quick "shock cut" which climaxed the unmasking. Nevertheless the studio has never released still photohgraphs of the make-up and the only existing colse-up pictures are enlargements from the actual movie frames.
Christine's horror of the Phantom changes to greif and pity when her two suitors, Raoul D'Aubert and opera star Anatole Garron (the extremely popular actor and singer Nelson Eddy), enter his lair. During their attempt to save the woman from this scar-faced fiend, Daubert fires his pistol which precipitates a cave-in. Christine has been saved while all that remains of Erique Claudin is a discarded violin. Not for nearly two decades would there be another serious remake, Hammer Films' The Phantom of the Opera starring Herbert Lom.
--DONALD F. GLUT, from Classic Movie Monsters, 1978
A selection of Phantom related merchandise.
Find Phantom of the Opera on eBay
A selection of Phantom of the Opera books.
A History of Horror
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