Although each film is drastically different, Phantom Of The Opera has been adapted to film several times. Based on the novel (Le Fantome de l’Opera) by Gaston Leroux, each of these films has changed the story to included different amounts of horror, music and drama in an attempt to create the ultimate film adaptation. In a somewhat ironical sense, the silent 1925 Phantom Of The Opera starring Lon Chaney is regarded as the best of all film versions, but in 1943, Universal made a rather interesting remake staring Claude Rains as the mysterious phantom that proved to be extremely popular with audiences, even if the story was altered significantly.
Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) has been a violinist in the opera house for twenty years, but now due to an ailment in his fingers that is affecting his performance, he has been fired. Unfortunately he has spent his life savings anonymously paying for singing lessons for an up and coming soprano named Christine (Susanna Foster). Claudin tries to publish a concerto in order to raise enough money to continue paying for Christine’s lessons, but mistakenly thinks that the publisher is trying to steal his work. In a moment of rage, Claudin strangles one of the publishers, and in an attempt to stop him, an assistant throws a tray of etching acid on his face, disfiguring him.
Claudin, now on the run from Inspector Raoul D’Aubert (Edgar Barrier), hides in the sewers and makes a home underneath the opera house. Raoul, along with Christine’s other suitor, Anatole (Nelson Eddy), dedicate themselves to protecting Christine now that Claudin’s violent nature and obsession with her have become public. Claudin (or the Phantom) continues to try to help Christine’s career, and is willing to do anything that is necessary to achieve her stardom.
Of all the Universal “horror” films from the 1930’s and 1940’s, Phantom Of The Opera is the least horrific. Perhaps it is because the original novel and early movies versions are filled with “horror” elements that lead us to expect this film to head in a similar direction, but with this film director, Arthur Lubin makes more of a dramatic musical than a horror film.
Arthur Lubin directed several movies in his career, including five of the Abbott and Costello movies in 1941 and 1942. Abbott and Costello movies are always remembered for being great comedies, but they have included some truly remarkable musical numbers as well. Lubin used his musical experience to create some unforgettable opera sequences in Phantom Of The Opera. Some have said that the opera sequences are too much to intertwine into this movie, and they are probably right. Instead of small segments of a particular song, Lubin chose to include full opera scenes, which with the use of Technicolor and phenomenal sound recording look and sound exquisite. Also by using a wonderful cast of singers, Lubin has made certain that all of the opera scenes have an authentic feel to them. With the strong musical sequences and the subplot of Christine continuously being told that she will have to choose between a personal life and a professional life, one can’t help but think of The Red Shoes (1948) and wonder if Phantom Of The Opera served as an inspiration or influence for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film.
Phantom Of The Opera proved to be a success, and it is easy to see why. The sets and art direction are impeccably crafted, including using some sets from the original 1925 film. Phantom Of The Opera won two much deserved Academy Awards for the Art Direction as well as the Cinematography. It was also nominated for Sound Recording and Music, which is understandable, especially considering the lovely piano concerto, “Lullaby Of The Bells” that Edward Ward wrote for the film.
While not one of the scary “Universal Horror Films”, it is still an enjoyable film that focuses more on the feelings and motivations of the “Phantom” and less on his murders and violence, although Lubin did include the intense “chandelier” scene that is quite memorable. Claude Rains was perfect for this role because so much of the film takes place while he is just a lovesick man and not a killer. He plays the role of killer well too, but there are few actors that can portray a character to be pitied and feared at the same time. It is similar to his own role in The Invisible Man (1933), only in Phantom Of The Opera it is easier to sympathize with him due to the 30 minutes of back-story that we are given and the maturity that Rains had achieved as an actor by this point in his illustrious career.