There are countless versions of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. The original from 1925, starring Lon Chaney, is generally considered the best. There is no debate that Chaney’s makeup was the most horrific. There are various TV versions, the 1962 Hammer Horror film and even numerous versions from Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, the one classic version I’ve seen the least would be Universal’s from 1943. It was the last film of the Universal Monsters Blu-ray set, so it was perfect timing to dive in for a late-night Halloween viewing. Everyone knows the primary storyline about a mysterious phantom haunting the Paris Opera House. For this version, Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) stars as Erique Claudin, a violinist for the opera house who is let go after he loses the use of his left hand. Having spent all of his money on the lovely Christina DuBois (Susanna Foster, The Climax), he tries to survive by publishing a concerto he wrote. When he discovers the publishers are planning on stealing his concerto, a fight breaks out, which results in acid being thrown on his face. He flees into the sewers, where he lives as his interest in Christina develops into obsession.
We get a lot more background story in this version that we do in others, particularly the 1925 silent classic. In addition to Erique, Christina would have two suitors in baritone Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and Raoul (Edgar Barrier). We are dealt lengthy opera sequences, which really makes the movie feel more like a musical than a horror movie. In fact, this version has far less horror than Chaney’s and the Hammer version. However, the movie did win two Academy Awards for Art Direction and Cinematography, more than any other Universal Horror movie. It was also successful enough that a sequel was originally planned. Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster and Claude Rains were poised to return in The Climax. However, when Rains became unavailable and script issues developed, the movie forged ahead but as more of an inspired film than a sequel. New characters were introduced in a cast headlined by Boris Karloff. Both movies used the same opera house set that was created for the 1925 version. The stage had to be extensively soundproofed before filming since it was not needed for silent films. The set is still partially intact on Stage 28, with only the opera boxes existing. It’s even rumored to be haunted, not surprising considering it’s’ history. The chandelier was still there until 1965, when Alfred Hitchcock removed it for Torn Curtain. It was placed in storage in the prop warehouse but has since disappeared. However, considering one of the original shark props from Jaws was discovered at a junkyard, you never know when this piece of cinema history might still turn up.
I have to admit that this version is not my personal favorite. While I love all types and genres of films, musicals are not something I gravitate towards and this version has plenty of music. However, Claude Rains does wonderful as Erique and the picture clarity is the best it’s ever been as the Blu-ray definitely delivers. It is essential viewing but not necessarily required Halloween viewing. Go with the 1925 version for that.