Pit violinist Claudin hopelessly loves rising operatic soprano Christine Dubois (as do baritone Anatole and police inspector Raoul) and secretly aids her career. But Claudin loses both his touch and his job, murders a rascally music publisher in a fit of madness, and has his face etched with acid. Soon, mysterious crimes plague the Paris Opera House, blamed on a legendary "phantom" whom none can find in the mazes and catacombs. But both of Christine's lovers have plans to ferret him out.
From the same director
Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron), Susanna Foster (Christine DuBois), Claude Rains (Erique Claudin), Edgar Barrier (Raoul Daubert), Leo Carrillo (Signor Ferretti), Jane Farrar (Biancarolli), J. Edward Bromberg (Amiot), Fritz Feld (Lecours), Frank Puglia (Villeneuve), Steven Geray (Vercheres), Barbara Everest (Aunt), Hume Cronyn (Gerard), Fritz Leiber (Franz Liszt), Nicki Andre (Lorenzi), Gladys Blake (Jeanne), Elvira Curci (Biancarolli's Maid), Hans Herbert (Marcel), Kate Drain Lawson (Landlady (as Kate Lawson)), Miles Mander (Pleyel), Rosina Galli (Christine's Maid), Walter O. Stahl (Doctor (as Walter Stahl)), Paul Marion (Desjardines), Richard Bartell (Reporter (uncredited)), Edward Biby (Operagoer (uncredited)), Stanley Blystone (Officer (uncredited))...
When Universal decided to remake Lon Chaney's classic silent version of the opera, sound opened up a rather obvious vista for the film. We can make it as much about opera as the phantom haunting the Paris Opera.
A task rendered considerably easier by the presence of Nelson Eddy and Susanne Foster. Unlike his screen partner at MGM, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy came from the opera to the cinema. He always viewed himself as a singer first, films were something he did to get publicity for his concert tours. But Eddy always loved the grand opera, it could easily been his career path. Consequently The Phantom of the Opera and the arias he sings here always had a special place in his affections. We see a lot of the real Nelson here.
Another one of his interests was sculpture. The bust of Susanna Foster that Claude Rains stole from Eddy's dressing room is something that Nelson Eddy actually did. Sculpting was a hobby of his and as you can see he was quite good at it. Might have made a living doing that as well.
Susanna Foster who had a lovely soprano voice gave up her career soon after this most acclaimed of her films. A pity too, it was a real loss to the screen.
This Phantom of the Opera has a bit of comedy in it as well. Baritone Nelson Eddy and Inspector of the Surete Edgar Barrier have an uneasy rivalry going for the affections of Foster. The scenes involving this are nicely staged by director Arthur Lubin, more known for doing Abbott and Costello comedies.
This may have been Edgar Barrier's best film role. He was a more than competent player, his career probably suffering because he was a bit too much like Warren William who was himself a poor man's John Barrymore. Barrier played equally well as villains or as a good guy as he is here. Another fine role for him even though he only has one scene is in Cyrano de Bergerac where he plays the very sly and all knowing and discerning Cardinal Richelieu.
Of course Phantom of the Opera is really made by the performance of Claude Rains as the mild mannered, inoffensive Eric Claudin, a violinist in the Paris Opera who is crushing out big time on Susanna Foster. We see him first being told after 20 years he's being given the sack by the company. What they describe sounds an awful lot like Carpel Tunnel Syndrome that he's developed which is affecting his playing the violin. Bad news for Susanna Foster also because he's been her secret benefactor in paying for voice lessons.
There isn't any middle aged man who doesn't identify with Rains. Tossed out of his job, the rent due, crushing out big time on a young girl, a lot of us have been there. Then when he thinks an unscrupulous music publisher is stealing a concerto he's written, he loses it completely and kills him. And when acid is thrown in his face disfiguring him, it's a short journey to madness.
Rains really makes us feel for Claudin. In that sense the film is not a horror picture in that we're dealing with monsters or unworldly creatures that Universal so specialized in. The man who becomes the Phantom is all too real, too human, and if we're pushed right, could be any one of us.
Can you do better than opera arias by Nelson Eddy and a classic performance by Claude Rains? I think not.
[Christine has left Raoul and Anatole in her dressing room while she greets a crowd of admirers]
Raoul D'Aubert: Would you join me for a bit of supper at the Cafe de l'Opera?
Anatole Garron: With pleasure, monsieur.
Raoul D'Aubert: Think we can get through this crowd?
Anatole Garron: Certainly. After all, who'd pay any attention to a baritone and a detective?
The auditorium and stage of the Paris Opera House seen here was the same set built for the 1925 version. It still stands at Universal Studios today as Stage 28, and has been used for countless other productions, including Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and The Sting (1973). It is the oldest remaining film set in the world and rumored to be haunted.
El fantasma de la ópera (Argentina; Chile; Spain; Mexico) • Das Phantom der Oper (Austria) • Het spook van de opera (Belgium (Flemish title); Netherlands) • Le fantôme de l'opéra (Belgium (French title); France) • Фантомът от операта (Bulgaria (Bulgarian title)) • O Fantasma da Ópera (Brazil; Portugal) • Spøgelset i operaen (Denmark) • Suuren oopperan kummitus (Finland) • To fantasma tis Operas (Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title)) • Az Operaház fantomja (Hungary)
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