Screen gems...with M.V. Moorhead
Phantom of the Opera
So, has Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera left you wanting more of that masked man? Well, don't worry. There's plenty more, available on video. Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel is one of those tales that have been made and remade and imitated and spoofed so often that they clearly qualify as modern myths. The adaptations vary widely both quality and content, but the essential elements—the chandelier, the catacombs, the mask, the Big Scene in which it is removed—continue to thrill audiences.
Here are a few of the more readily-available versions:
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)—This initial, lavish Hollywood rendering remains the definitive movie of the yarn, and one of the most enduringly entertaining of all silents. The performance of Lon Chaney, Sr. in the title role is one of the all-time great pieces of acting ever captured on film, a harrowing, overscaled pantomime of unrequited love, and lovely Mary Philbin, as Christine, makes his feelings understandable. The unmasking scene is unforgettable, as is the headlong chase finale. The 2-disc Image DVD edition of this is really packed with extra goodies, including various music-track options and restored early-Technicolor sequences.
Phantom of the Opera (1943)—Another big Hollywood production, this first sound version emphasizes the singing of its musical stars, Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster, over the lurkings of Claude Rains as the Phantom.
The Phantom of the Opera (1962)—This British chiller, starring the excellent Herbert Lom, relocates the tale from Paris to London, among many other alterations. At this writing, it appears to be available only on VHS, not on DVD. I include it because it creeped me out pretty good when I was a little kid.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)—In this inevitable rock-music variation, William Finley plays a songwriter who goes masked after he's robbed of his work by corrupt music tycoon Paul Williams and disfigured in a record press. The amusing, tongue-in-cheek direction is by the young Brian DePalma.
Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture (1989)—Despite capable performances by Robert Englund in the title role and Jill Schoelen as the object of his obsession, this version, which stresses murderous violence and gore, is pretty forgettable.
The Phantom of the Opera (1990)—This lushly produced and psychologically detailed three-hour TV miniseries is, perhaps, the likeliest to please fans—or "Phans," as they proudly call themselves—of Webber's musical. Charles Dance plays the Phantom; Teri Polo is his Christine.
Il Fantasma dell'opera (1998)—In this bizarre spin on the material from Italian horror master Dario Argento, the Phantom, played by Julian Sands, is unscarred and wears no mask. He was raised, you see, by the rats beneath the Opera house, and declares war on those who would exterminate his furry adoptive family! Not a very popular film with the Phans.