May 13, 2014

Queer Review: Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Phantom of the Opera
Director: Arthur Lubin
Writers: Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Jacoby, and Hans Jacoby. Based on "Le Fantôme de L'Opéra" by Gaston Leroux.
Cast: Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, Jane Farrar

An awkward take on the tale first told by Gaston Leroux, the 1943 version of the Phantom of the Opera mixes comedy, romance, and horror to poor effect. At least there is a same sex romance to keep things interesting.

Moved by the voice of Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster), Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) secretly funds her singing lessons using his income as violinist while nearly going broke in the process. Desperate for money, Claudin attempts to sell one of his compositions to a publisher but when that fails and he believe that his work is being stolen, he snaps. During the following struggle, Claudin kills a man and has his face disfigured with acid. Hiding in the shadows of the Opera House where he once worked, he attempts to pave Christine a path to stardom. Meanwhile, she is being courted by two men - police officer Raoul (Edgar Barrier) and Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) - although they both appear to be more into each other than Christine.

The Queering
What is the 1943 version of the Phantom of the Opera? Is it a romance? A horror film? A comedy? All of the above apparently. None of the elements really gel very well. Throw in some bad pacing (it feels like it takes forever to get through any of the opera sequences) and you have what I can only imagine to be (as I have not seen any of the others) one of the weaker versions of the Phantom of the Opera to make it onto the silver screen.

However, there is the romance between Anatole and Raoul, who pretend to be courting the actress Christine so they can spend more time with each other, which helps keep things interesting. The two make every effort, including developing a ritual around who will walk through a door together. However, Christine eventually chooses a life with the theater. Clearly relieved that they no longer have to continue the charade, Raoul and Anatole walk out arm in arm as the camera fades to black.

There is something very strange about a film version of the Phantom of the Opera being filmed in technicolor. It doesn't feel right. Director Lubin tries to add a sense of dread to proceedings by showing shots of The Phantoms' shadow against walls but the framing is too stagy and awkward to be effective. The infamous chandler crashing scene is ineptly shot and way too drawn out.

Tonally the film is all over the place. The original story is a classic of gothic horror but the 1943 version tries to turn it into a romantic comedy. This causes the entire production to feel as off key as an opera singer after inhaling an entire balloon of helium. If you really want to be entertained, watch out for the floating rocks during the climax.

Not worth learning opera nor becoming a phantom of in order to see this movie, not unless one really digs older movies.

The Rating
2 out of 4 stars.


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