Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1943. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein, Adaptation by John Jacoby, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. Cinematography by W. Howard Greene, Hal Mohr. Produced by George Waggner. Music by Edward Ward. Production Design by Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman. Costume Design by Vera West. Film Editing by Russell F. Schoengarth. Academy Awards 1943.
Gaston Leroux’s original novel inspired this film as well as the original silent version with Lon Chaney and the more recent Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The story is so tricky a combination of horror and romance that no one who has ever adapted it has ever managed to achieve a satisfying balance. Some concentrate too much on the horror aspects (as in the version with Freddy Krueger, which was intentionally bent that way), while others, like this one, focus too much on the romance and rob the audience of the chills they should be experiencing in between the musical numbers and mushy feelings. Claude Rains stars as an impoverished musician who is fired from the Paris opera house for bad playing but insists on continuing his secret patronage of a beautiful young singer (Susanna Foster). When he is badly injured in the face by an overly sensitive music clerk, he dons a mask and plunges himself into the bowels of the opera house and decides, in his anger, to run the place his way. Anyone who doesn’t follow his requests is met with a very sorry end (though they’ve tamed the violence down for the 1940s audience here). An overabundance of uninspired opera singing drags the action down, but the photography is beautiful and the performances committed. Foster has a lovely voice, but Nelson Eddy is wasted as her operatic co-star.