"The music comes down and the darkness distills it, cleanses it of the suffering that made it..."
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) is often considered a remake of the silent 1925 version also by Universal, but I was surprised to find that this film is actually it's own story only loosely based on the same source material, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux. Erique Claudin has been a violinist in the employ of the Paris Opera for over twenty years, this should make him a very well-off man but unfortunately he has been anonymously funneling all of his money to support lessons for a young soprano named Christine Dubois who Erique is infatuated with. When Erique loses the use of his hand and gets fired from the Paris Opera and his luck turns completely sour he can't deal and it pushes him over the deep end. Erique decides to make things work in the opera the way he he thinks they should.
I really liked the script and the original take on this story. The script has a LOT of comedy written in, which is a really interesting take. Most of the humor revolves around Chirstine's two pursuers for her hand: Raoul, the captain of the police (?) and Anatol, a Baritone in the Opera. (which makes the love triangle a love square... when you include the Phantom?) A majority of the comedy doesn't hold up that well but I found it amusing at least.
Another interesting thing is that this film is the version for people who love opera. There is a lot of screen time dedicated to showing full songs from different operas and while this isn't my forte I could see how some people would really like this. It's a rare example of a story that takes place int he opera so you might as well take advantage of that, and I appreciate the fact that they didn't try to replicate the original's Bal Masqué scene.
The movie has some awkward time jumps as a result of pushing the story from Erique's previous life to actually being the phantom full-on. Then then we've spent so much time with the Phantom telling his story that most of his interaction with Christine is just implied or takes place off-screen. Christine doesn't even meet the phantom until the last third of the movie!
Also the comedy in the script is what dates this film pretty bad, there's sexist things that stand out and even a joke about firing the costume lady because she's too fat!
I didn't care for the ending too much, the Phantom's end is poetic and original but I didn't care for it and the actual resolution with Christine, Raoul and Anatol is just plain silly, fitting more for a romantic comedy film.
I thought it was super interesting to start with the origin of the the Phantom. This causes some problems with the first half, but I really liked the thought behind it, and it makes you feel super sympathetic for the phantom right from the beginning. When Erique loses his job, I felt SO bad for him. It was crazy! This was the intention with casting Claude Rains I'm sure, and his portrayal in The Invisible Man (1933) showed he was very capable of playing crazy too. But having the beginning the way it is, very smartly makes you still feel bad for Erique even when he's pushed to basically clinically insane by the end of the movie. This film is definitely a departure from the original though, because it would be very hard to consider this a monster film, it's even barely a horror film truthfully.
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) is not the best version of the story but I appreciate it's original approach. It's better and a more original take than the remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) from a couple years before. 3.5/5 stars.
For further stimulation:
Check out my review of the previous 1925 version.
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