Phantom of the Opera (1943) is the only Universal monster movie released in technicolor. It was given a much more lavish production set in a grand colorful opera filled with elaborate musical numbers. All that added attention also made Phantom of the Opera the only Universal monster movie to win Academy Awards. It was nominated for Best Music & Sound Recording and won the Oscar for Best Art Direction & Cinematography. Despite so many distinctions, I always knew more about the silent 1925 original than the 1943 adaptation. Maybe because Phantom of the Opera makes so many changes from Gaston Leroux’s French novel and the more faithful 1925 film. Changes that would define later versions of the Phantom for decades.
Lon Chaney Jr. was understandably mad about not being asked to play the role his father revolutionized. Instead his on-screen father Claude Rains wears the mask. Rains has matured a great deal since his days as The Invisible Man, but I have mixed feelings about the direction. The Phantom was meant to be a deformed man with a mysterious past who haunts the Paris Opera House. The renamed Erique Claudin is given an entire backstory that removes all the mystery. Claudin is a humble violinist with an unspoken love for renamed Opera singer Christine DuBois. Christine is now loved by three men including Edgar Barrier as the renamed Inspector Raoel Dubert and Nelson Eddy as original opera singer Anatole Garron. Their rivalry is very overly comedic.
Susanna Foster is a fine singer and lead actress, but there’s way more focus on well composed music than genuine horror. Claudin only appears monstrous when he thinks his music is being stolen and acid is thrown in his face. So he dons a cape, a fedora, and an opera mask. Like the silent film, the Phantom appears mostly in shadow, harms anyone who threatens Christine’s career, brings down a chandelier, and lures his love into an underground lair where she pulls off his mask. The reveal doesn’t have the same impact since his red disfigurement is more unsightly than terrifying. Since a sequel titled The Climax never officially happened, the Phantom’s supposed death feels very anticlimactic. Phantom of the Opera is well arranged for the horror studio, but it doesn’t always live up to its legacy.