CREDITS
BACKGROUND
PLOT
COMMENTARY
REVIEWS
MUSIC IN THE FILM


Universal.
Released August 27, 1943.
Directed by Arthur Lubin.
Produced by George Waggner.
92 minutes.
Technicolor.

Swedish release title: Fantomen På Stora Operan (Phantom of the Great Opera House)
Danish title: Spøgelset i Operaen (Specter of the Opera)
French title: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
Portuguese title: O Fantâsma (The Apparition)
Based on the novella “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux, published in Paris in 1910. Screen­play: Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein. Adapta­tion: John Jacoby. Executive Producer: Jack Gross. Photography: Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene. Technicolor Director: Natalie Kalmus. Art Directors: John B. Goodman and Alexander Golitzen. Sound Director: Bernard B. Brown. Sound Technician: Joe Lapis. Set Direction: R. A. Gausman, Ira S. Webb. Dialogue Director: Joan Hathaway. Costumes: Vera West. Hair Stylist: Emily Moore. Makeup Artist: Jack Pierce. Musical Score and Direction: Edward Ward. Opera Sequences: William von Wymetal, Lester Horton. Choral Direction: William Tyroler. Orchestrations: Harold Zweifel, Arthur Schutt. Editor: Russell Schoengarth. Assistant Director: Charles Gould. Western Electric Recording.

Other Phantoms: The Leroux work has inspired a number of film and stage versions:

1925 – Lon Chaney made an indelible impression as the Phantom in Universal’s silent screen classic, produced and directed by Rupert Julian. Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry played the lovers. The film featured Gibson Gowland (star of Greed) and William Tyroler, who would be choral director of the 1943 version. Disributed in hand-colored prints and, in 1930, with a musical score.

1930 – Universal reissued their earlier film with music and sound effects and new sequences. Chaney had died, but those actors still living dubbed their voices to the silent footage.

1957 – James Cagney played the Phantom in one sequence of his Lon Chaney biography, The Man of a Thousand Faces, for Universal.

1962 – Herbert Lom starred and Terence Fisher directed in Technicolor for Universal. Heather Sears played the ingenue.

1974 – Phantom of Hollywood, starring Jack Cassidy as a John Barrymore-ish actor, his face scarred by an explosion, who now lurks around old, unused movie sets.

1974 – Brian DePalma directed a rock adaptation, Phantom of the Paradise, which starred William Farley as the Phantom, plus Paul Williams and Jessica Harper.

1983 – A TV movie was made with Maximilian Schell as the Phantom, and Jane Seymour and Michael York as the lovers. Robert Markowitz directed. Filmed in Budapest.

1983 – A stage version by Arthur Kopit.

1986 – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical version premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 10/9/86, with libretto by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman (the second Mrs. Webber) starred as the Phantom and Christine when the show opened in New York at the Majestic on 1/26/88.

1989 – Producers capitalized on Robert Englund’s fame as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series to cast him as the Phantom. Directed by Dwight H. Little. Also filmed in Budapest.

1990 – Another TV movie, shown originally in two parts. Burt Lancaster starred as the Phantom’s father (!), a character absent from all other versions. Charles Dance was the Phantom, and Teri Polo was Christine. Ian Richardson also starred. Directed by Tony Richardson.

1998 – A surreal slasher version called Il Fantasma dell’opera, directed by Dario Argento, produced in Italy and Hungary and filmed in French and English. A maskless phantom seeks to protect the rats of Paris under the Opera House. Starring Julian Sands as the Phantom and Asia Argento (the director’s daughter) as Christine Daae.

2004 – Film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler as the Phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine.

Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron)
Susanna Foster (Christine DuBois)
Claude Rains (Erique Claudin)
Edgar Barrier (Inspector Raoul Daubert)
Leo Carrillo (Signor Ferretti)
Jane Farrar (Biancarolli)
J. Edward Bromberg (Amiot)
Fritz Feld (Lecours)
Frank Puglia (Villeneuve)
Steven Geray (Vercheres)
Barbara Everest (Aunt)
Hume Cronyn (Gerard)
Fritz Leiber (Franz Liszt)
Nicki Andre (Lorenzi, diva playing Russian Princess)
Gladys Blake (Jeanne, lady-in-waiting in Martha)
Elvira Curci (Biancarolli’s maid, Yvette)
Hans Herbert (Marcel, Anatole’s valet)
Kate [Drain] Lawson (Marie, the landlady)
Miles Mander (Pleyel)
Rosina Galli (Christine’s maid, Celeste)
Walter Stahl (Doctor Lefours)
Paul Marion (Desjardines)
Tudor Williams, Anthony Marlow (Singers in Martha)
Beatrice Roberts (Nurse)
Marek Windheim (Renfrit, the secretary)
Muni Seroff (Reporter)
Belle Mitchell (Feretti’s maid)
Ernest Golm (Office manager)
Renee Carson (Georgette, girlfriend of Pleyel)
Lane Chandler, Stan Blystone (Officers)
Cyril Delevanti (Bookkeeper, Pleyel & Desjardines)
John Walsh (Office boy)
Dick Bartell, James Mitchell * (Reporters)
Alphonse Martell (Policeman)
Wheaton Chambers (Reporter)
Edward Clark (Usher)
Hank Mann (Stagehand)
William Desmond (Stagehand / theatre extra)
Hal Varney (Claude Rains’s double)
Eric Mayne, Manuel Paris (Christine’s admirers – extras at end)
Edmund Mortimer (Opera patron, extra)
Francis White (Opera singer)
* The dancer/actor.

Oscars

Best Color Cinematography: Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene.

Best Color Interior Decoration: Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman, Russell A. Gausman, and Ira S. Webb.

Oscar Nominations

Best Sound Recording: Bernard B. Brown.

Best Scoring for a Musical Picture: Edward Ward.

Phantom of the Opera was presented on Cecil B. DeMille’s Lux Radio Theatre, 9/13/43, with Nelson, Susanna Foster, and Basil Rathbone as the Phantom.


Background

In July of 1942, Eddy obtained a release from his MGM contract to freelance. He didn’t make another film for six months, but this hardly meant he was “at liberty.” His heavy schedule of concerts, radio appearances, and recordings was now supplemented by his wartime volunteer work—as air raid warden (a serious job for anyone living on one of our nation’s coastlines) and as entertainer at the Hollywood Canteen and abroad.

In 1943, he signed with Universal for a lavish Technicolor remake of Universal’s silent classic, Phantom of the Opera. The original had starred Lon Chaney as the “Phantom” who terrorizes the Paris Opera, plus Norman Kerry and Mary Philbin as the love interest. The 1943 version employed the glories of three-strip Technicolor as well as the obvious addition of opera. (The sound rerelease of the Chaney silent in 1930 had used two-strip Technicolor inserts and dubbed music and dialogue.)

In the novella on which both films were based, “Erik” is born deformed. A genius, he designs the Paris Opera House and builds himself an underground retreat. The silent film version has Lon Chaney playing a maniac escaped from Devil’s Island who is secreted in the opera cellar as the film opens. He guides Christine to stardom, then unleashes a reign of terror to get her better roles. Finally he kidnaps her and brings her to his lair where she unmasks him. Her sweetheart, Raoul, rescues her, and a mob chases the Phantom to a watery death in the Seine. Faust served as the key opera in both the book and the silent film.

The 1943 sound version reputedly cost $1,500,000 and uses the original Universal Opera House set. Eddy plays “Anatole,” the romantic lead and now the star of the opera company. Claude Rains, who had started out in horror films at Universal in 1933 and then “gone straight,” completed Casablanca at Warners and returned to Universal for the role of the Phantom. Leading lady Susanna Foster was very well received although her career was to be short lived. She was Universal’s backup to their own Deanna Durbin, but she never transmitted the Durbin spontaneity and warmth. Her unique ability to hit F above high C gets full play in the film.

Producer George Waggner (who wrote the lyrics for the film’s “folk song”) had a bunch of horror films to his credit (The Wolf ManGhost of FrankensteinFrankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Man Made Monster), and he selected a director, Arthur Lubin, who had dealt mostly in gangster Bs and Abbott and Costello movies. Given this background, it is surprising that, as one critic put it, there is “too much opera and not enough phantom” for the film to rate as a horror classic. And the manufactured opera sequences are too thin for the film to rate high as a musical. The chance to make a first-rate picture on both counts was lost, despite the obvious efforts of the participants.


Plot

The titles set the high visual standard with gilt lettering against a red velvet curtain. The film opens in the magnificent Paris Opera House, circa 1880, with Anatole Garron (Nelson) singing “The Porterlied” (“Plunkett’s Aria”) from Martha just as magnificently. He is very dashing in a brown leather jacket, boots, and a wide-brimmed hat. To break his “blond” image, Eddy dyed his hair black and sported a moustache for this role, perhaps seeking some of the dramatic quality that his The Chocolate Soldier makeup had given him. Unfortunately, his romantic rival in the film, Edgar Barrier, also has black hair and a pencil moustache.

The “Porterlied” opera sequence is delightful, although Eddy said later that when the film was assembled, it was obvious the scene should have been played faster. “Anyone can tell you things like that after the film is completed,” he noted. “What you need is someone who can tell you while you’re filming.”

During his song, there is a superb tracking shot up past the massive chandelier. The opera is nearly over when the Inspector of Police, Raoul Daubert (Edgar Barrier), appears backstage. It is not a police matter that has brought him, but the shining eyes of a pretty chorus girl, Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster). It becomes obvious that she is being courted by both Raoul and Anatole, but that her heart is currently pledged to her music.

Someone else in the Opera House also has strong feelings about Christine—Monsieur Claudin, a violinist in the orchestra. Raoul’s exuberant greeting has caused her to miss a curtain call, and she is ordered to the director’s office for a scolding. Little Claudin (Claude Rains) waits outside the office, also summoned by director Villeneuve (Frank Puglia). As Christine passes Claudin in the waiting room, he summons his courage to ask if she is all right. He is being presumptuous, of course, but he has worked there so long. As she smilingly turns to go, he calls her back: “Christine.” The gaucherie of addressing a strange lady by her Christian name in the 1880s is evident from the discordant notes of background music. Christine frowns and departs.

The little man’s problems are further compounded in his interview with the director. Villeneuve has long been aware that someone in the string section is not playing well. He suspects Claudin and asks him to play something. Claudin nervously takes up his violin and begins a haunting little tune, a folk melody. It is perfect. Still Villeneuve wonders. He’d like to hear the opening movement of the third act of Martha.

Claudin must confess. His hand is partially paralyzed. He could only play the lullaby because it required no fingering. Reluctantly, Villeneuve discharges Claudin, despite his twenty years of service. No doubt Claudin has saved a tidy little nest egg from his earnings, Villeneuve says cheerfully, and the opera will issue him a season ticket.

Shattered, Claudin quietly leaves and makes his way to his hovel of a room. There is a superb shot of him walking over wet cobblestones glittering under the gas streetlights. His landlady (Kate Lawson) is waiting to demand her rent. He may choose to hoard his money and starve to death, but she must be paid. Alone, he strokes the piano keys with his stiffening fingers, playing the concerto he has written around the little folk tune.

The next day, he pays an important call on the studio of Signore Feretti (Leo Carrillo), where Christine is having her singing lesson. Christine is not in good voice, and the Signore scolds her. If there is some man upsetting her, she must get him out of her life. Christine murmurs obediently that she understands. “Women never understand,” the Signore says. “But,” he adds happily, “they are docile.” She departs without seeing Claudin.

Signore Feretti is delighted to receive Christine’s patron and discuss her progress. Claudin has come, however, to beg Feretti to continue the lessons without payment until he can find another position. It means everything to him. But, Feretti replies, it means nothing to him. His expenses are high, and there are paying pupils waiting for an opening. However, out of consideration for the business Claudin has given him, he will teach Christine a few more times for nothing, and then tell her she no longer needs him.

Such a pity, Feretti says, because she was just ready to be launched on a career—if only she had the money. Claudin is desperate. He will pay. He has written a concerto and is sure that Pleyel & Desjardines Music Publishers will buy it and give him a large advance. Feretti chuckles at his optimism as the little man hurries off.

At Pleyel & Desjardines, Claudin sits hopefully, hour after hour, while M. Pleyel (Miles Mander) is amusing himself with his two hobbies, women (Renee Carson) and etchings. Finally Claudin asks for his manuscript back. A vague secretary and an officious clerk are unable to find it, and, when Claudin becomes irate, Pleyel appears and insultingly orders him out. Claudin is frantic, for it is his only copy. He stands outside the door, not knowing which way to go. Suddenly he hears a piano playing his concerto. Unknown to him, Desjardines (Paul Marion) is showing the manuscript to Franz Liszt (Fritz Leiber), who is delighted with the work. Claudin runs back into the office, crying that they have stolen his music.

He rushes at Pleyel, seizing him by the throat. As Pleyel crumples to the floor, his pretty companion seizes a tray of etching acid and flings it in Claudin’s face. Claudin’s cries are horrible, and he flees into the night like a wounded animal as the woman screams for the police. In another exquisite color sequence, Claudin lowers himself into a slimy sewer while the gendarmes comb the lamplit streets for him.

Mysterious things begin happening around the Opera House. Vercheres, the stage manager (Steven Geray), suspects ghosts. Costumes and masks have disappeared, as well as food. Then the master key to the entire Opera House is stolen.

Unaware of all this, Christine is entertaining Anatole with “Lullaby of the Bells,” a charming Provençal song of her childhood. It is the same theme Claudin used for his concerto. They are interrupted by Raoul. Although no one has seen Claudin since the murder, the police have concluded that he is now a “homicidal maniac” and very dangerous. In searching his room, they have found a statuette of Christine (carved in real life by Eddy). Anatole steps forward and identifies the piece as one he had sculpted for Christine’s birthday. Claudin must have stolen it. Raoul and Anatole take their leave, each murmuring “after you, Monsieur,” until they start through the doorway simultaneously and get stuck.

A big night at the opera. Madame Biancarolli (Jane Farrar, niece of diva Geraldine Farrar) is gaily vocalizing in her dressing room. Christine, too, is making up in her private dressing room (a unique chorus singer, indeed!) when a mysterious voice is heard: “Christine, you’re going to be a great and famous singer. I’ll help you.”

The opera, called Amour et Gloire, begins with the chorus in Empire court attire singing Chopin’s “Polonaise.” The effect is a bit startling, and we feel ungracious at not accepting it, since a similar “manufactured” opera was so successful in Maytime. However, the Maytime “Czaritza” sequence can keep a casual opera buff guessing for hours at the identity of what, he is sure, is a real opera. The Chopin themes fool no one. (Perhaps this is because Tchaikovsky wrote for the voice and Chopin did not.) Von Wymetal, who created the “Czaritza” sequence, here tries a similar feat but without the stunning success.

Madame Biancarolli is dazzling the audience while Christine watches from the wings. Anatole slips up behind Christine and repeats the words she heard in her dressing room. A coincidence, but she is extremely puzzled.

Anatole joins Madame Biancarolli on stage for a duet. Madame drinks from a prop goblet of wine—a goblet into which we have seen a mysterious hand empty a packet of powder—and she exits. Backstage, she predictably passes out, and Christine is recruited to perform in her place. The audience roars its approval for Christine, and, far below the Opera House, the masked Phantom sits in the ghastly green light listening to their applause.

Raoul, in his official capacity, is quite interested in Madame’s charges that Anatole has drugged her. He summons the parties to the incident and challenges Anatole, who had motive and opportunity. “Certainly, Inspector,” Anatole replies coolly. The camera records each face in the room in quick succession. “We all did.” Madame, however, will have her revenge. During the two years remaining to her contract, Christine must return to the chorus—and stay there. Otherwise, Madame will charge Christine and Anatole with attempted murder.

The Phantom has overheard and comes to threaten Madame Biancarolli. Bravely, she snatches off his mask. Her screams of horror are heard from the hall. Rushing into her dressing room, her maid (Elvira Curci) encounters the departing Phantom and she, too, falls at his hands. A horrified crowd finds them both murdered.

The Phantom flees into the rigging, pursued by Anatole, who is wearing an identical opera cape. Raoul spots Anatole climbing into the flies and mistakes him for the Phantom. In the eerie half-light over the stage, the chase goes on. Anatole pauses on a narrow scaffold to listen for his quarry. Silently, the Phantom swings a rope weighted with a heavy metal pulley straight at Anatole’s back. Anatole is knocked into space. He grabs at the rope and clings precariously as he is carried out over the stage. There he thuds against the curtain and loses his grip. Clawing frantically at the velvet drapery, he plummets to the stage, where he lands in the middle of a freshly painted canvas flat.

The Inspector confronts Anatole, who protests that he has been chasing the murderer. Surely the Inspector saw the man? “No, Monsieur,” replies Raoul, “I was chasing you.

The Opera House is closed, and Paris talks of nothing but the murders. Raoul proposes a plan that will stop the talk and draw the murderer into the open. The Phantom has sent a note demanding that Christine replace Madame Biancarolli. They will end the speculation in the press by reopening the opera, but Christine will not sing. A substitute singer will go on—a substitute who will lure the irate Phantom out of hiding.

The opera is reopened. Again the camera moves from the expectant audience up past the ominous chandelier that will play an important part in the coming scenes. Police are posted throughout the theatre and on stage. The plucky Madame Lorenzi (Nicki Andre) has agreed to be the bait, and the “fish” is rising. Another threatening note is found, but, Raoul declares, Madame Lorenzi can be in no danger. A police matron is in her dressing room, and a detective is waiting to escort her to the stage. We see the stalwart detective quietly being strangled by a claw-like hand, and begin to suspect that Madame Lorenzi will not be doing much singing.

Anatole also has a plan to bring the Phantom out of hiding, but first the opera. The curtain rises on a picturesque scene in a Tartar camp. Anatole enters in a Mongol chariot drawn by four horses. He is wearing an Oriental half-mask covering the upper part of his face, and the chorus is similarly masked. In excellent Russian, Anatole delivers an aria based on Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and then, with a crack of his whip, he snatches a vivacious dancing girl into his chariot. The audience is rapt, too rapt to notice a movement high in the vaulted roof over their heads. A masked figure is sawing the massive chain that holds the chandelier.

We cut back and forth between the exciting action on stage and the patient labor of the little man above. Madame Lorenzi appears and begins her aria. She throws back her head to hit a high note, and her eyes fill with horror. The note turns into a scream.

The chandelier is just tearing loose. It trembles, lurches, and crashes into the orchestra. In the midst of the pandemonium, a masked chorus member takes Christine’s arm. She knows that Raoul has disguised dozens of his men as singers and assumes this is an officer. She follows him blindly as he promises to look after her. He has always looked after her, he says. Suddenly she realizes who he is. She tries to run, but his strength is too much for her. Petrified with fear, she is half carried, half dragged, into his subterranean realm. As she shivers in terror, he tells her of the peace and beauty of his underground home. Here he has everything, even the music from the stage of the opera above. The subdued green lighting is superb, reflecting on the slimy walls and mysterious lake.

On the opera stage, Anatole’s plan goes into effect. As he and Raoul enter the underground caverns in search of Christine, Franz Liszt and full orchestra begin playing Claudin’s concerto. (Presumably, there are still dead bodies pinned under the fallen chandelier.)

The Phantom’s world is not as secure as he imagines. The walls are giving way with age and water damage. Raoul and Anatole just miss being struck by crumbling rocks in the ghostly passageways. The music vibrates downward, increasing in resonance with its distance. “Sing,” orders the Phantom, and Christine takes up the melody. Anatole and Raoul follow her voice in search of the Phantom.

Like Madame Biancarolli, Christine wants to see the Phantom’s face. She snatches off his mask, and we see the hideously scarred face of Claudin. We are half horrified and half fascinated by the superb makeup job. Claudin takes up a sword from the theatrical props around his cave, and Raoul fires his pistol. The reverberations grow and grow as Anatole and Raoul grab Christine and run for safety. In a cataclysm of tumbling rock, rushing water, and Technicolor, the entire subterranean world collapses. All that is left of Claudin is a violin, bow, and mask amidst the rubble.

The music changes to a brighter motif, and we find Christine in her dressing room after a triumphant performance. Anatole has come with a bouquet to take her to dinner. Raoul arrives with an identical bouquet and request. Why, suggests the lady, don’t they dine together? Raoul declines. He does not take baritones to dinner. Anatole declines. He does not wish to be seen with a policeman.

Christine’s public swarms in the door, and, oblivious to both gentlemen, she is borne away in the crush of their enthusiasm. Raoul relents. Will Anatole join him for dinner? If only they can fight their way through the crowd. But after all, who would notice a mere baritone and a lowly detective. “After you, Monsieur,” they both cry, and then, arm in arm, they go off to enjoy their dinner.

A nice, off-beat ending for a picture that generally could have used more subtlety. Historically, it is interesting as the only Eddy vehicle in which he didn’t get the girl.


Reviews

The newly influential “family” magazine reviewers lauded Phantom, and the National Legion of Decency found it morally unobjec­tionable for adults: “[Eddy and Foster] both give performances under Lubin’s direction that surpass anything they have ever done. Miss Foster definitely bids for stardom…” Variety called it “vivid, elaborate, and, within its original story limitations, an effective production geared for substantial grosses.”

Film Daily thought that “the studio has also been wise in building up the musical aspects of the story and cutting down the phantom role,” but the New York Times disagreed: “the richness of the decor and the music is precisely what gets in the way of the tale. Who is afraid of a Phantom that is billed beneath Mr. Eddy in the cast?” Some felt the film implied that Christine was Claudin’s daughter. A scene apparently had been filmed stating this, but later cut.


Music in the Film

In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.

Overture: trumpet fanfare, “Lullaby of the Bells” INTO:
“The Porterlied” (“Lasst Mich Euch Fragen”-Plunkett’s aria) (Eddy and male chorus) – from
the opera Martha, music by Friedrich von Flotow, special libretto by George Waggner, translated into French by William von Wymetal (possibly due to anti-German sentiment)
INTO:
Third act finale of Martha (“Mag der Himmel Euch Verbegen”) (Tudor Williams, male
chorus) – credits as above
“Lullaby of the Bells” (violin solo) – music by Edward Ward, lyrics by George Waggner
“Lullaby of the Bells” reprise as piano concerto.
“Lullaby of the Bells” reprise (Susanna Foster and Eddy)
Amour et Gloire, an opera contrived from Frédéric Chopin themes with French lyrics by
William von Wymetal
“Grand Polonaise” (chorus)
“Nocturne in E Flat” and “Waltz in C Minor” (Eddy and Jane Farrar, possibly dubbed by Francia White, with chorus
Le Prince de Caucasie, an opera contrived from the Fourth Symphony of Peter Ilich
Tchaikovsky, English libretto by George Waggner, Russian translation by Max
Rabinowitz.
Opening chorus (chorus, tenor, and bass-baritone, possibly Tudor Williams)
Duet (Eddy and Nicki Andre)
Solo, interrupted by the falling chandelier (André)
“Lullaby of the Bells” reprise (Foster with piano)
Finale: “Lullaby of the Bells” (orchestral)