Saturday, September 19, 2020

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) Blu-ray Review

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) d. Terence Fisher (UK) (84 min)

When tragedy strikes Lord D’Arcy’s (Michael Gough) London opera house during an opening night performance, it’s soon clear that the “accident” is the work of a deranged madman – The Phantom (Herbert Lom). After Christine (Heather Sears), cast as the lead in this new version of Saint Joan, is contacted by the shadowy specter, her producer/lover (Edward De Souza) investigates, tracking the ghostly Phantom to his secret underground lair. Disfigured and nearly destroyed, the former composer and musician now demands hellish revenge on those who have wronged him, with Christine, the sole glimmer of light in his dark, violent life.

Riding high on their Frankenstein (Curse of Frankenstein, Revenge of Frankenstein) and Dracula (Horror of Dracula, Brides of Dracula) films, and having enjoyed moderate success with other celebrated horror figures such as The Mummy (1959), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Hammer now set their sights on a new screen version of Gaston Leroux’s classic tale of suspense and intrigue.

Curiously enough, this creative spark occurred as a result of a visit from none other than Cary Grant, with the Hollywood icon reportedly wishing to star in one of Hammer’s well-received (commercially if not critically) features. Excited by the notion, producer Anthony Hinds set to adapting Leroux’s novel under his established “John Elder” pen name and soon had a working script that, with an eye toward keeping Grant’s likability factor high for viewers, conjured a dwarf sidekick (Ian Wilson) to execute the nastier bits of business.

But when the magic moment came for dotted lines to be signed, Grant was nowhere to be found, and Lom, a 25-year screen veteran whose star was recently on the rise with appearances in The Ladykillers, War and Peace, and Spartacus, found himself with face behind the mask and name above the title. In keeping with Hammer’s winning formula, directorial duties were presented to Terence Fisher, who had helmed all of the previous features listed above, with cinematographer Arthur Grant (Quatermass and the Pit, The Plague of the Zombies), production designer Bernard Robinson (Dracula Prince of Darkness, The Witches), and editor James Needs (The Devil Rides Out, The Hound of the Baskervilles) rounding out the usual suspects.

Strangely enough, for a movie with music at its core, stalwart Hammer composer James Bernard was passed over in favor of Edwin Astley, better known for television work (his seven-year run on The Saint began the same year as Phantom’s release) and the occasional foray into features (The Giant Behemoth, The Mouse That Roared). The results are serviceable enough, although one can’t help but wonder what Bernard’s thundering drums and brass might have wrought.

The film itself, like its predecessors, is a handsomely mounted melodrama filled with romantic ingenues (Sears, hot from Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top, and Souza, who would go on to play the lead in Kiss of the Vampire the following year), sneering villains (Horror of Dracula’s Michael Gough, in his second Hammer appearance), and myriad quirky supporting characters assayed by the likes of Patrick Troughton (Scars of Dracula, The Omen), Thorley Walters (Frankenstein Created Woman), Marne Maitland (The Reptile), Miles Malleson (Brides of Dracula), and Michael Ripper, veteran of no fewer than 33 films for Hammer.

While some have groused about the patchwork quality of the Phantom’s mask, I find makeup man Roy Ashton’s on-the-fly creation both creepy and unique, more so than either worn by Lon Chaney or Claude Rains in previous incarnations. That said, it’s a little disappointing that we only get the briefest glimpse at Lom’s “horror” makeup and in supremely unmotivated fashion. (Why exactly does he take it off to swing from the ropes to save Christine, especially when he’s proven pretty nimble with it on until that point?)

For Phantom’s, er, 58th anniversary, Shout! Factory has released a marvelous Collector’s Edition, bursting with supplemental materials, commentary tracks, and alternate versions. While not nearly as popular as his Universal Classic Monsters brethren, this Phantom deserves a space on your shelf and in your Hammer Horror heart. True, it’s a little light on legit scares and the body count at times feels “oh, we need to off someone soon to keep the fans happy,” but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment value, and unlike Universal’s 1943 version, it doesn’t leave the monster kids stuck watching full-length Opera numbers when they really only came to see the Phantom.

Trivia: Peter Medak, who would go on to direct The Changeling, Species II, and Zorro the Gay Blade, served as second assistant director on this film as well as Night Creatures (aka Captain Clegg) for Hammer.


NEW 2K scan from the Interpositive – Two Aspect Ratios 1.85:1 And 1.66:1

NEW audio commentary with film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson (1.85:1 Version)

NEW audio commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman and Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr (1.66:1 Version)

NEW The Men Who Made Hammer: Anthony Hinds (28 min)

NEW “Phantom Triumphant: Edwin Astley and Hammer's Horror Opera” with author David Huckvale (16 min)

NEW “Herbert Lom: The Soul Behind The Mask” with film historian C. Courtney Joyner (16 min)

NEW “Behind the Scenes” Interview with special effects artist Brian Johnson (3 min)

“The Making of The Phantom of the Opera” with Edward De Souza, Richard Golen, and Alan Lavender (31 min)

Longer TV Version (Standard Definition) (98 min)

Theatrical Trailer

Still Gallery

The Phantom of the Opera is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:

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