Phantom of the Opera (1962) 

Herbert Lom stars and Terence Fisher directs Hammer's underrated adaption of the classic book. Universal R1 Hammer boxset.

The Film

Hammer had hit it big in the late 1950s with their record breakingly sucessful gothic horror films - Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy. They tried to continue this sucess with a horror themed adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959, but it met with little sucess - not scary enough for the horror fans and not clever enough for the Holmes fans. Brides of Dracula (1960) was sucessful despite its messy, endlessly re-written script but the elaborate Curse of the Werewolf (1961) fared quite poorly at the box office. For their next horror themed production, Hammer turned to another former Universal Horror topic, an apadation of Gaston Leroux's classic Phantom of the Opera.

In Victorian London it is the opening night for a new opera composed by Lord Ambrose d'Arcy (Michael Gough), but the production has been plagued by difficulties, and the performance is hurredly stopped when the dead body of a stagehand crashes through the set. With their lead singer gone, d'Arcy and his producer Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) find a suitable replacement in the young Christine Charles - but when she rejects d'Arcy's letcherous advances, she finds herself fired from the production. However, someone else has got their eye on the young singer, and she finds herself kidnapped and taken to the mysterious underground lair of a man who is hidden behind a mask...

Scripted by the producer, Anthony Hinds, Hammer's Phantom is as far removed from its original source as their adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula. Settings (London not Paris), characters and the entire background to the Phantom are completely altered for this screenplay - with Hinds adding a much more interesting motivation to the Phantom's actions than the simple blackmail of
Leroux's original novel, the background to which is well revealed throughout the script. Much more time is given over to characterisation than normal, meaning that the slimy Lord d'Arcy and the quite noble Mr Hunter can be properly developed, and the romance between Hunter and Miss Charles is not as rushed as many screen romances are. Moving the film from Paris to London is a good idea - many of Hammer's titles are set overseas, but with their very British casts, their foreign atmosphere's never work too well. Generally slow paced, it does build to a suitably dramatic conclusion.

Director Terence Fisher was Hammer's top name and his experience with the gothic horror titles made him the obvious choice to direct this period production. As usual his directoral style is very minimal, letting the story largely tell itself - although he does make effective use of Dutch Angles during the key flashback sequence. Unfortunately Fisher does drop the ball on a couple of key scenes, the unveiling of the Phantom himself, and the crashing of the hanging body of the stagehand onto the stage during the first performance - in both cases, a lot more shock value could have been obtained with some better shooting and editing - however, the dramatic effects of these scenes were also toned down to help the film secure an A rating (similar to a PG or 12 rating today). Set designs are up to Hammer's usual excellence, while the soundtrack by Edwin Astley is very effective, with some good operatic sequences.

Phantom's boasts a distinguished cast of character actors, although only a few Hammer regulars are present. Top billed is the Austrian born Herbert Lom who was fast becoming a big name in Hollywood and European cinema - spending most of the film behind a mask, but granted a brief unscathed flashback, he gives a strong turn throughout the film. Edward de Souza plays the heroic lead, a theatre actor more than a film actor (this being his first lead role on the big screen) he looks perfectly suited to the role as stage producer, while Michael Gough gives a fantastic turn opposite him as the unpleasant but not unrealistic Lord d'Arcy. Thorley Walters became a familiar Hammer face in their later years and is almost unrecognisably young here, sporting a stylish beard to play the theatre's owner. Keep an eye open for short turns by Hammer regular Michael Ripper and the wonderfully eccentric Miles Malleson in his final Hammer appearance as a cab driver, while future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton plays the theatre's rat-catcher.

Unfortunately for Hammer, Phantom of the Opera was not to be a sucess; audiences wanted a dramatic X rated horror, not an A rated period romance, and its failure almost spelled the end for the studio. Today the film holds up well, with some good performances all round, a clever script and Hammer's typically good production values outweighing the mistakes in the direction and the toning down for the A rating. Phantom of the Opera fans should certainly seek out this very interesting adaptation, while Hammer fans will find plenty to enjoy here provided they don't expect a gothic horror film.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Herbert Lom - the incredibly versitile character actor, in everything from Pink Panther to Mark of the Devil.
Michael Gough - the widely travelled British actor, best known now as Alfred in Batman (1989) and its sequels.
Directed by anyone interesting? Terence Fisher - Hammer's best known director who helmed their gothic horror Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
Is it scary?A couple of jump shocks, but it never really tries to be scary.
Any violence? Some blood and a few murders.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
Hammer fans, and fans of Phantom of the Opera productions should enjoy this well written film.
Good soundtrack? A well written mix of opera and incidental music.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.00:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The picture quality is good - rather dark in places with some speckling, it is always watchable.
Audio Original English mono - Dolby Digital - sounds fine throughout.
Subtitles English HOH, Spanish and French.
Extras None.
      AvailabilityOnly available as part of the Hammer Horror Series boxset.
      Region Region 1 - NTSC
      Other regions? Not released elsewhere.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut - an alternate cut of the film was created in America for television broadcast with some additional scenes being shot to pad out the run-time. These are not included here.



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 24th June 2007.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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