The Phantom of the Opera Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds (as John Elder), story by Gaston Leroux
1962, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 11th, 2020
Herbert Lom as The Phantom
Heather Sears as Christine Charles
Edward de Souza as Harry Hunter
Thorley Walters as Lattimer
Michael Gough as Lord Ambrose d’Arcy
Ian Wilson as The Dwarf
Patrick Troughton as The Rat Catcher
The new opera, Saint Joan, the Joan of Arc story, by Lord Ambrose d’Arcy, is set to open in London despite a number of curious setbacks. The conductor’s sheet music is missing pages, a timpani drum has been slashed and the diva Maria hears a strange voice coaxing her from somewhere in her dressing room. Producer Harry Hunter encourages everyone that the show must go on and before long the opera house is filled with music. The performance comes to an abrupt end during Maria’s solo when the lifeless body of a stagehand swings from a rope onto the set. Maria vows never to sing in this country again, leaving Harry and d’Arcy in a tough position.
Enter Christine Charles, a lovely chorus singer with a beautiful voice elevated to the position of lead performer. She is invited to dinner by d’Arcy and agrees, but soon hears a mysterious voice warning her he is a vile man to be avoided. This proves true when she spurs his advances and is immediately removed from the opera entirely. Harry does his best to intervene, but d’Arcy is a despicable man who will not be undermined. Christine is abducted and taken to a lair beneath the opera house where she meets The Phantom, a mysterious masked figure playing the organ. He tells her he wants to help her grow as a singer and perform his music. Does this man mean her harm, and if so, can Harry save her in time? And what is the connection between the Phantom and d’Arcy?
Of all the classic Universal horror monsters, The Phantom was the first, brought to terrifying life by the legendary silent film star Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux, it tells the story of a disfigured, mad genius composer living beneath a Paris opera house who falls for a beautiful singer and kills anyone who crosses his path towards happiness with her. The story lay dormant for twenty years and was later remade in 1943 with Claude Rains in the titular role. The property remained in limbo for another twenty years before being revised by Hammer Films in 1962.
In this version, the action has been relocated to London, and the Phantom is no longer a love-struck homicidal maniac, but rather a sympathetic figure cheated by others. The dirty work of murder is assumed by a sinful dwarf who takes care of things, leaving the Phantom’s hands clean. Directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher (The Devil Rides Out) and written by frequent collaborator Anthony Hinds (The Reptile), under his usual alias “John Elder”, The Phantom of the Opera is more of a Faustian tragedy. There are significant changes to be certain but the iconic unmasking and chandelier drop are included in the finale.
Herbert Lom (Mark of the Devil) stars as the fallen composer seeking redemption in the wake of being taken advantage of by the bastard d’Arcy, played devilishly by Michael Gough (Horror of Dracula). Heather Sears (Room at the Top) is Christine, the key to the Phantom’s vindication and she does a fine job as the reluctant heroine. Some of her best scenes are opposite Edward de Souza (The Kiss of the Vampire) as Harry, the charming and good-natured theatre producer. The supporting cast is populated with familiar faces from Hammer’s stable of actors, most prominently Thorley Walters (Frankenstein Created Woman) as Lattimer, the manager of the opera house who is under d’Arcy’s thumb but eventually stands up for himself. Patrick Troughton (Scars of Dracula) has a memorable scene as the ill-fated Rat Catcher and the always welcome Michael Ripper (The Plague of the Zombies) turns up as a cab driver.
Phantom was Hammer’s most expensive and lavish production to date and features gorgeous cinematography by Arthur Grant (Quatermass and the Pit) and music by Edwin Astley (The Giant Behemoth). The sets from production designer Bernard Robinson (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) are beautifully realized, particularly the Phantom’s lair. The film met with mixed response, doing well in the US, but performing poorly in the UK due to extensive cuts by the British board of censors.
Once again, it would take another twenty years for the story to return, this time in the form of the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (1986), followed by a more gruesome horror film starring Robert Englund in 1989’s Phantom of the Opera. Ten years later, Dario Argento made a truly dismal version starring Julian Sands as a Phantom who is only emotionally disfigured and raised by rats (?!). Most recently, the Broadway musical was adapted to film in 2004 by director Joel Schumacher (8mm). Chaney’s original version remains the best, but Hammer’s take is the most human.
Video and Audio:
Presented in both the 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 aspect ratios, the film’s original interpositive has received a 2K scan and restoration leading to gorgeous results. Image quality is superior to the previous Universal Blu-ray release from 2016. Colors are well-saturated and detail is strong, particularly in hair and fabrics.
Music plays a big part of this production and audio arrives in a lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track that more than gets the job done. Dialogue levels are always clean and understandable and the operatic sequences are properly represented without being overpowering.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
There are two newly recorded audio commentaries on this disc, the first featuring film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson (on the 1.85:1 version), in which they examine the numerous film adaptations and draw notes from the original story. Moving forward, they offer background information on the cast and crew and list the many cuts instilled by the censors. They also delve into the additions made for the television broadcast version in the US. One of the more interesting topics is that of the varying aspect ratios the film was projected in internationally.
The second commentary appears on the 1.66:1 presentation, featuring the insights of historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, who open with notes from the original script. They reveal the efforts the producers went through to secure a more audience friendly rating only to be stung by the censors later. They go on to explore the themes of the film as a Gothic romance and the parallels to Faust. Nasr shares some thoughtful personal stories of his interaction with actor Michael Gough that are nice to hear. They discuss the work of Terence Fisher and Anthony Hinds and the film’s mysterious connection to Cary Grant. Other topics include the design of the Phantom’s mask, notes on the cast, set design and music and finally the film’s box office.
In The Men Who Made Hammer: Anthony Hinds (28 minutes), editor/publisher Richard Klemensen takes a look back at the legendary producer/writer’s career. He details Hinds’ unique approach to the material and navigates his lengthy time with the studio.
Author David Huckvale offers insight into the contributions of composer Edwin Astley in Phantom Triumphant: Edwin Astley and Hammer’s Horror Opera (16 minutes), starting with his success in television. He focuses on the amount of work that went into scoring this film and plays selections of the various themes.
Film historian/screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner provides a thoughtful video appreciation of the film’s star in Herbert Lom: The Soul Behind the Mask (15 minutes), chronicling his lengthy acting career and he also shares stories of his personal interactions with the man.
In the short segment Phantom of the Opera: Behind the Scenes (3 minutes), special effects artist Brian Johnson shares his memories of the shoot; specifically, the Phantom’s lair set and the challenges of working with rats.
The vintage documentary The Making of The Phantom of the Opera (2014, 31 minutes) is an informative look back at the production, narrated by star Edward de Souza. Topics covered include the project’s early connection to Cary Grant, the director, casting, the music and the Phantom’s make-up design. Interviews with de Souza and crew members Richard Golen and Alan Lavender are intercut with clips from the film.
When the film aired on television in the US, there were numerous cuts made to remove all traces of violence. Additional material was shot (not by Hammer) to pad the running time (98 minutes), featuring a subplot of Scotland Yard detectives investigating the case. This alternate version is included (in Standard Definition, 1.33:1 aspect ratio) for completists, but the new material is pretty worthless.
The original theatrical trailer offers a look at the marketing campaign.
A photo gallery plays as a silent slideshow (4 minutes) featuring publicity shots, production stills, lobby cards and international poster art.
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