Color, 1962, 84 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton, Ian Wilson
Anolis (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.00:1) (16:9), Final Cut (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The The Phantom of the Operathird and final (to date) Universal-released The Phantom of the Operaversion of the popular Gaston Leroux novel about a disfigured mystery man haunting the Paris Opera House, The Phantom of the Opera occupies a strange place in the history of Hammer Films. Originally tailored as a vehicle for Cary Grant, the film was a major box office letdown and marked a temporary parting of the ways between Hammer and its most important director, Terence Fisher, who wouldn't return again until two years later with The Gorgon. Like the earlier Lon Chaney silent classic and the 1943 Claude Rains version, this one takes major liberties with the source novel and its title character, usually called Erik but deprived of a first name here. The film was also the splashiest entry in a string of Hammer titles for Universal, a prime period that also included such favorites as The Kiss of the Vampire, The Curse of the Werewolf, and Paranoiac, which meant it also went into TV circulation for decades where it left a stronger impression on younger horror fans.

Several plot elements from the Rains version have been retained here, notably with the Phantom (Lom) being motivated by the theft of his musical masterwork). Here the action is relocated to London, where the basic setup is the same with young understudy Christine (Sears) attracting the attention of the "Opera Ghost" who claims possession of an empty box seat in the opera house. This arrangement chafes the extremely nasty Lord Ambrose d'Arcy (Gough, sneering like crazy), composer of the new opera going into production, but things get even worse when a dead body disrupts the first performance and sends the main diva packing. Producer Harry Hunter (The Kiss of the Vampire's de Souza) protects Christine from Ambrose's advances as she looks likely to step into the leading role, while the Phantom seems to have his own plans in his subterranean lair. Meanwhile the Phantom's mute henchman (Wilson), lurks in the shadows and seems to have a much more violent and unpredictable side than his master.The Phantom of the Opera

Fisher really pulls The Phantom of the Operaout all the stops in this outing with an extravagant fantasia filled with vast underwater moats, inspired deep-focus color compositions, and far more pathos than you’d expect with Lom as perhaps the most sympathetic and passive Phantom of them all. It's an odd switch that threw fans of the earlier versions as the real villain duties here go to Gough, who strangely doesn't really get the comeuppance you would normally expect. The perverse subversion of what audiences wanted turned out to be a problem of course; the usual elements are all here like the falling chandelier, the Phantom's organ playing in his cave (later parodied by Lom in the brilliant The Pink Panther Strikes Again), and the opera house managers grappling with the crisis. However, it's all been scrambled around a bit to create a markedly different story by the end with a climax that's quite different from any other version. It's still an extremely rich, fast-paced entertainment if you take it on its own terms, and it certainly deserves a more esteemed place in the Hammer rankings than it usually enjoys. Like two other Universal Hammer films (The Kiss of the Vampire and The Evil of Frankenstein), the film was heavily edited for television and padded out with new scenes showing Scotland Yard at work trying to unravel the mystery; however, this edition rarely turned up again and was supposedly destroyed in a studio fire several years ago.

Universal kept this film off the home video market until fairly late in the game, eventually hitting VHS and laserdisc in 1995 in an okay but unremarkable full frame transfer. Projectionist notes in the Universal vaults indicated that this and a handful of other films (The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures) were ideally intended to be projected at the odd 2.00:1 aspect ratio, something that seems highly questionable in practice with the tops of actors' heads often sheared off in the The Phantom of the Operacompositions. Those aspect ratios stuck when Universal brought them all to DVD in 2005 as part of the Hammer Horror Series set, which compiles all of the Universal Hammers into one package (with zero effort for extras). The framing on this one didn't ignite as much controversy as The Brides of Dracula (which is disastrous with such heavy cropping), but it still looked a bit odd. The same transfer was later reissued separately as a DVD-R in the Universal Vault Series. The Phantom of the Opera

For such a marginalized film, it's a nice development that we've had three Blu-rays to choose from so far. The first and weakest came from Final Cut Entertainment in the UK in 2014, featuring a grainy, rough-looking but colorful transfer framed at 1.85:1 with severe cropping on all four sides of the frame. At least it was salvaged by one notable extra (along with a still gallery), "The Making of The Phantom of the Opera" (30m59s), with de Souza guiding a tour through the troubled creation of this film and its place in the history of Leroux adaptations. In 2016, Universal upgraded all of its films to Blu-ray with the equally no-frills Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection, sporting a much improved 2.00:1 transfer that added quite a bit more to the sides compared to the Final Cut and featured vastly superior color rendition and detail. Last and best is the 2017 German edition from Anolis, whose superb track record with Hammer titles includes restoring the most spacious possible aspect ratios for such past films as The Brides of Dracula. They work similar wonders here, offering a 1.78:1 presentation with the most visual information on all four sides and featuring the most comfortable compositions out of them all. The color scheme and detail level look comparable to the U.S. release, albeit with a more adept compression job. The English mono track is presented in DTS-HD MA along with the German dub and a German-only audio commentary by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad. The Final Cut documentary is ported over here, and the theatrical trailer is included in far more pristine quality than anywhere else. Also included is a sample of the German main titles (which are very different), some German-shot signs of opera posters throughout the film, and the closing credits; also on hand are an image gallery, a U.S. radio spot, and samples of international pressbooks in English, German and French.

ANOLIS (Germany) Blu-ray

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FINAL CUT (UK) Blu-ray

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UNIVERSAL (US) Blu-ray

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Reviewed on December 23, 2017