In 1943, Universal had released the remake of Phantom of the Opera. It was a huge hit, one of Universal’s biggest, and by August 1943, plans were already in the mix to produce a sequel. However, those plans were scrapped early on and the decision was made to adapt a 1909 Edward Locke play into a new theatrical sensation called The Climax. Many revisions were made to the script, now placing it in 1870s Vienna. Despite plans to bring Phantom star Claude Rains onto the production, Universal chose instead to cast Boris Karloff, fresh off his impressive run in Arsenic and Old Lace. Only actress Susanna Foster would return in a new role.
Karloff is Dr. Fredrick Hohner, physician at the Vienna Royal Theatre. It’s clear early on that Dr. Hohner is obsessed and the resident bad guy of the film, as if we could expect anything else from Karloff at this point in his career. He has murdered his fiancée, a young opera star, out of jealousy of her success and having to share her with others. She refused to leave the opera so he obviously had no choice but to kill her. Now, ten years later, he hears another young singer, Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster), whose voice immediately captures his heart. She is singing music from the same opera as his dead fiancée and he is determined that no one should hear her sing but himself. Through hypnotism, Dr. Hohner hopes to control the girl but how long can he keep her away from singing in front of the audience? And what other extremes will the mad doctor go to in making sure her voice is only for him forever?
I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of The Climax. In fact, the movie wasn’t even originally part of this tribute. However, being that it was Karloff’s first time in Technicolor and its strong ties to the legendary Phantom of the Opera, I opted to include it. The movie suffers from a poor script and meandering storyline. The musical numbers will either bring joy to opera lovers or leave the rest of us praying for a reprieve. Now, I love a great variety of music but, admittedly, opera is not high on my list. I guess I’m not cultured in that regard. If done well, I can appreciate it to a point. Here, however, it detracts from a story that, admittedly, isn’t very original.
The character of Franz Munzer is played by actor Turhan Bey. Bey had stumbled into acting through an English class he was taking after he and his mother came to the United States from Austria. He would appear in other horror films including The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mad Ghoul (1943) and The Amazing Dr. X (1948). Luise is played by Gale Sondergaard who some of you may recognize from her starring roles in the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Spider Woman (1944) and The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), which is not a sequel despite its title.
The Climax is beautiful to look at if for no other reason than it used the same and legendary lavish sets from the original Phantom of the Opera (1925). However, Karloff’s performance here is uninspired and the plot is bogged down with musical numbers. There is very little horror or suspense here. At nearly 90 minutes long, it really isn’t recommended viewing except for die-hard Karloff fans. It is available as part of the out-of-print Boris Karloff Collection, a set well-worth tracking down. Catch the trailer and view at your own risk.