Color, 1943, 92m.
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier
Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)
Hollywood's second stab at the venerable Gaston Leroux novel took its cue from the Lon Chaney original by tossing huge amounts of money at the screen, creating a visual spectacle barely rooted in the gothic tale of a disfigured madman lurking in the Paris sewers and pining for the love of an operatic ingenue. It's to the credit of everyone involved that this Phantom turned out as well as it did, for even with its flaws, the film has become a regular favorite even outside the circle of monster movie fanatics.
Shy, middle-aged violinist Enrique Claudin (Rains) harbors a secret love for the Paris Opera's newest vocal discovery, Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster), but finds his dreams torn asunder when he loses his job and, in a fit of rage, murders a devious music publisher and receives a faceful of acid for his trouble. The scarred Enrique retires below the opera house, where he observes Christine's progress and the amorous advances of both dashing singer Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and police inspector Raoul de Chagny (Barrier). (Exactly why there had to be two romantic heroes in this piece is anyone's guess.) Enrique becomes the dreaded phantom, who lurks in the shadows and uses his craftiness to dispose of those who stand in the way of Christine's happiness. Ultimately he whisks the young diva down to his lair, where she discovers the horrifying truth about her benefactor.
Though far removed from the original novel and the silent film in terms of plot, this Phantom retains enough horror elements to overcome the long passages in which Foster and Eddy sing... and sing and sing and sing. The chandelier cutting is a particular highlight, and Rains' excellent performance indicates his potential as a leading man which was never quite fully realized. The lavish sets and Technicolor photography are among the best ever captured on film, while Foster proves capable as both an actress and singer, something no other Christines have managed to pull of on film. As far as all of the Phantoms go, this isn't as thrilling as the 1925 version or as poetic as the 1963 variation from Hammer, but this film occupies its own justified spot as a respectable twist on a well worn tale. Fans of this film have long bemoaned the miserable video and TV presentations, with the pastel-looking laserdisc the best of a truly lousy bunch. The Universal DVD goes a huge distance towards correcting this oversight with an eye-popping transfer that finally resembles genuine Technicolor. The print is a little too spotty and scratchy to be called pristine, but the robust restoration of the original color schemes and the astonishing depth of detail make this a welcome sight indeed. As with their other Universal monster classics, the studio has decked out this DVD with a lavish series of extras, including a feature length commentary track by Scott MacQueen in which he methodically lays out every shred of detail you could possibly want to know about the production. You also get “The Opera Ghost: The Phantom Unmasked,” a 50 minute documentary from David J. Skal covering the various incarnations of the Phantom from his literary inception through the '60s. (Not surprisingly, the four filmed versions since the early '80s are brushed off entirely.) The original trailer is included and, like the other Universal trailers, is in noticeably rough shape. The same basic package was later ported over to Blu-ray as part of Universal's line of monster movie upgrades; much of the damage has been mitigated, presumably with digital assistance, and it looks quite pretty for the most part.
Color, 1943, 92m.