Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviews From a Modest Movie Buff (The Phantom of the Opera - 1943)

I waited until after my second viewing (again, gotta love YouTube!) to review this one, so here we go!

Erique Claudin (played by Claude Rains) is a violinist in the orchestra of the Paris Opera. He's also in love with young soprano Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster). After an accident that leaves him disfigured and a fit of rage that drives him to commit murder, he's forced to go into hiding and become the Phantom of the Opera.

It's the same story...kind of. It's the same plot...for the most part. It's the same characters...wait a minute, who is this Anatole Garron, anyway? And where did Franz Liszt come from? This adaptation doesn't exactly follow the line of Gaston Leroux's book or the earlier silent movie, and as such it just didn't feel the same to me.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it quite a bit. The design was gorgeous (in flaming Technicolor!) and the music was superb. The parts where Claudin's beloved concerto were played were just lovely, and it was clever how the producers managed to tweak the details of actual operas to avoid copyright issues...but if you're not into classical music, you probably won't go for all of it. My beef with the whole thing lies in two details: the focus on Christine's love triangle and the sudden tragedy that forces Claudin into the sewers beneath the Opera. Christine's dilemma of choosing her career, Garron the famed baritone or Inspector Raoul D'Aubert felt like extra weight to me. I mean, I thought this was supposed to be about a masked musical genius and his obsession with a beautiful singer! And it was complicated enough between said genius and viscount inspector before they added another singer! The slight "accident" during which Claudin is scarred really threw it for me. The appeal of the story is the man born with a hideous deformity that kept him from living a normal life and spending his years completely unloved. To change that all but destroyed the tragedy of the character. I still feel sorry for him, but my heart doesn't bleed for him.

There's a lot to like here, despite those issues. This was shot using the same set that was used for the Lon Chaney movie (and a few of the shots themselves looked ripped right out of the Chaney movie), the art direction and cinematography bagged some Oscars, and don't let's ever, ever, forget Susanna Foster. Oh my word, that woman could sing! I think that note was called G over high C, but whatever it was, it was amazing! From now on, whenever I think of Christine, I will hear Ms. Foster.

It seems there was also a radio presentation of this with Basil Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes fame cast instead of Mr. Rains...I'll have to find that and see what I think. Who knows, it might be on YouTube as well!

All in all, I'd give this one five, maybe six out of ten stars. They really don't make movies like this anymore, but I was too disappointed by the departure from the original story to give it a higher rating. It was good enough to watch twice, though, and I'll have to see if I can find a DVD and add it to my collection.

Susanna Foster - Lullaby of the Bells

And just in case you want to watch it yourself...

The Phantom of the Opera (1943) 

Your pal,

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