Grading the Phantom of the Opera Movies
In 1909, French novelist Gaston Leroux penned a story about a deformed musician who haunted the Paris Opera House. As he lurked in the shadows, the man known as “the Phantom” becomes obsessed with the budding star Christine, and he is willing to do anything, no matter how violent, to put her in the spotlight. Over the decades which followed the Phantom of the Opera has served as the source material for countless stories in other mediums. It has been made into everything from a gritty horror film to a sweeping romance. This is a look at the major adaptions of The Phantom of the Opera.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925): One of the landmark films of the Silent Age, featured legendary actor/make-up artist Lon Chaney as his most horrific character yet. Lurking in the shadows of the Paris Opera House, a Phantom or “Opera Ghost” has filled the hearts of everyone with fear, except for the budding Christine. Her lover Raoul wants her to run off with him, but her career is taking off especially when the Phantom ensures she takes the lead role. As the Phantom descends further into madness, putting Christine in danger, Raoul must join forces with the mysterious Inspector Ledoux top stop him once and for all. This silent feature is filled with iconic moments, including an early use of technicolor when the Phantom dresses as the Red Death. Perhaps this version of Phantom is most known for having the greatest unmasking scene of any adaptation. Even close to a century after its release this incarnation of the classic tale has lost little of its power.
Phantom of the Opera (1943): The only film of the legendary Universal Monsters franchise to receive the color treatment. As grand and pageantry-filled as it was Phantom of the Opera was the perfect choice for this. While jealously protecting an opera he wrote, violinist Erique Claudin is horribly burned and seeks refuge in the tunnels beneath the opera house. From the shadows, he continues to guide the career of Christine DuBois who is in the midst of a love triangle between Inspector Raoul and fellow opera singer Anatole. When the Phantom kidnaps Christine, these two men put aside their differences to save her. While it was impossible for the legendary Claude Rains to turn in a “bad” performance, the Phantom is as close as he probably ever got to phoning it in. That being said, compared to most he really did not have much to do in the lead role as the film focused mostly on the love triangle between Christine and the two men in her life.
Phantom of the Opera (1962): With Dracula, Frankenstein, ghosts, witches, a werewolf, and mummies, under their belt, the legendary Hammer Horrors was a perfect fit for the Phantom. While none of the Hammer regulars like Christoper Lee or Oliver Reed donned the mask, character actor Herbert Lom does a solid job in the lead role. It helps that the mask he wore was incredibly eerie and the make-up beneath it was some of the best Phantom make-up ever. When the London Opera House needs a new lead, the chorus girl Christine Charles is chosen. This puts her in the attention of the sleazy Lord Ambrose. As she avoids his advances, the show’s producer learns that the original author was a Professor Petrie who was burned and supposedly killed at Ambrose’s hands. But Petrie is not only alive, but he is the Phantom who supposedly haunts the opera house and he is willing to be as strict as he can to have Christine prepared to sing his music. This version of Phantom does hold an interesting twist, where the Phantom is largely an innocent misfit as it is an evil dwarf committing the murders he is blamed for.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974): A story which originated at the turn of the century could use a fresh spin, which is what Brian DePalma did with this take on Phantom. DePalma and songwriter/producer Paul Williams, took the Phantom from the opera and into the 70’s glam rock world of the Paradise. After composing a rock opera based on the legend of Faust, Winslow Leach is left disfigured and betrayed by the villainous Swan. Winslow takes on the guise of the Phantom to have his revenge, but his desire to see a singer named Phoenix performing his music is too much and he enters into a devilish pact with Swan to finish the opera. While it flopped when released the killer music and overall weird coolness has turned Phantom of the Paradise into a major cult favorite.
The Phantom of the Opera (1989): During the 1980’s the biggest star in horror was Robert Englund, so naturally when Hollywood wanted an edgy, modern take on Gaston Leroux’s novel, he was the actor they turned to. In modern New York, opera singer Christine Day discovers the sheet music for Don Juan Triumphant and is transported to 1885 London. Here she meets Erik Destler, a musician who sold his soul to the devil for fame and in exchange is disfigured. He becomes obsessed with Christine performing his opera and is willing to sadistically kill anyone who gets in his way. This version of Phantom of the Opera is easily the most violent, but that does not make up for how boring the film is. While it tried to bring some new elements to the classic tale it all lands with a dud. The critical and commercial failure of The Phantom of the Opera killed the studio’s hope for a franchise.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s the Phantom of the Opera (2004): In 1986 Broadway producer Andrew Lloyd Webber turned The Phantom of the Opera into a grand romantic musical. It quickly became one of the most successful and longest-running stage productions in history. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling, and in 2004 the show finally hit the big screen. Every single penny of this film’s $80 million budget is put to work in this grand visual spectacle. Faithfully adapting Webber’s show, Christine Daae is a young performer secretly tutored by her “Angel of Music”. She discovers this “angel” is actually the ominous Phantom. When Christine’s old flame returns to her life, the Phantom becomes insanely jealous and possessive. In the title role, Gerard Butler may be too good looking to be a traditional Phantom, but it fits perfectly with this vision even if his singing leaves something to be desired. Emmy Rossum as Christine was nothing short of inspired casting as she nailed the character perfectly.