THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. (1962) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. A UNIVERSAL INTERNATIONAL RELEASE. BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY GASTON LEROUX IN HIS NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME.
STARRING HERBERT LOM, MICHAEL GOUGH, THORLEY WALTERS, EDWARD DE SOUZA AND HEATHER SEARS. FEATURING MICHAEL RIPPER AND MILES MALLESON AS CABBIES AND PATRICK TROUGHTON AS THE RAT-CATCHER!
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This fantastic Hammer Horror has as its central character one of the greatest horror icons of all time, Gaston LeRoux’s Phantom Of The Opera, a chap made immortal by Lon Chaney’s stunning silent movie performance of same in 1925. Lon Chaney’s Phantom will always be the best, but Claude Rains turned in a great performance too in the 1943 movie and so does Herbert Lom in this version we’re discussing today.
So, we’ve got a gorgeous London theatre (sorry but it’s not a patch on the Paris Opera House, sorry sorry sorry, lol) in which Michael Gough’s Lord Ambrose D’Arcy is about to stage for le premier fois an opera about Joan of Arc he’s written himself (ahem!). More about this scurrilous lie later on.
Lord Ambrose is the meanest villain you’ve ever seen. He’s rude, haughty, proud and arrogant already because he’s aristocracy, although aristocratic is as aristocratic does, surely? He’s a diva-like little uppity snob, this fella. And as for his behaviour on the casting couch, well! He makes some of today’s disgraced ‘celebrities’ look like amateurs and also-rans…
He engages as his Joan a pretty and immensely talented chorus singer called Christine Charles. He takes her out to dinner as part of the deal and tries to entice her home to his apartment afterwards so that she can show him exactly how ‘grateful’ she is for his having given her the job. The dastardly devil!
Christine, however, has the common sense and good morals to be repulsed by the Lord’s odious intentions. She turns for help to Lord Ambroses’s detested producer, the much younger and handsomer Harry Hunter, played by the darkly delicious Edward de Souza (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE). Harry is only too delighted to save Christine’s honour by performing as we say in ze French, le cock-block for the furious Lord Ambrose. Heh-heh-heh. So funny.
Christine gets the sack, unfortunately, for not putting out. You could totally sue for that nowadays. Harry resigns in sympathy with her and these two are an item from now on. Their troubles aren’t over, however. Far from it.
‘There’s something evil in this theatre,’ as an astute Harry observes. Someone has committed ‘suicide’ there during a performance and there have been odd little things happening that have led the theatre staff to think that the place is haunted. The deserted Box Five is the place from which You-Know-Who watches the performances. His beloved music continues to be his life.
And certainly, Christine has been spoken to in her dressing-room by a disembodied male voice, cultured and authoritative, who seems to want to turn her into the greatest singer the world has ever known. Well, that’s not to be sniffed at, I daresay.
I must say that I thoroughly approve of the Phantom’s musical Boot-Camp, which comes later on in the film. If I’d had someone to slap me about, shout abuse at me and throw water in my face every time I looked to be putting down my pen, I might have gotten more writing done in my lifetime, lol. Some people would pay good money for that kind of encouragement. It’s worth its weight in gold, truly.
When we learn of the tragic Professor Petrie’s story, it really is perfectly obvious that Lord Ambrose D’Arcy is a thief, a bully, a scoundrel and a villain of the highest order. How dare he do what he does to Professor Petrie, a musical genius and an honest if impoverished man of morals? A come-uppance is sorely needed here for the evil Lord Ambrose.
The performance of Joan is so moving I was in tears at the end of it. I was also thinking of two things during it. Firstly, did Heather Sears really have to cut her lovely long hair in order to give her that sleek, utterly boyish cap she sports at the end of the performance? That would have been a shame, because her crowning glory is so gorgeous.
Secondly, I was thinking of THE SIMPSONS. In one of their historical anthology episodes, Lisa Simpson plays the martyr Joan of Arc and, in one scene, when she’s sitting down, the voice of God calls out and says: ‘Joan, give me your dessert!’ and you just see this chocolate eclair ascending into Heaven in a ray of heavenly light accompanied by celestial music. Sweet.
The scene in Joan where she’s being ‘tried’ for heresy by a court full of men makes me so freaking angry. They sentence her to burn at the stake because she refuses to say that she no longer believes in what she believes in, that in fact she now believes what they believe.
The timing of me re-watching this film is kind of funny because yesterday, October 26th 2018, the Irish people (those that could be bothered, that is, because a lot of us apparently didn’t) went to the polls to decide whether or not they want blasphemy to no longer be a crime. As in, you can no longer be charged with blasphemy if you say something that someone else doesn’t agree with, or say something derogatory about God.
I don’t know if that many people were ever charged with blasphemy here in Ireland, but it’s probably just as well to do away with such an out-moded concept. When you think of all the women- and men- in Joan’s day who were tortured and/or executed in horrific ways for saying or believing things the Church didn’t agree with, well, it’d make your blood run cold.
The Salem Witch Trials are another terrible example of such ridiculous fears and intolerances taking hold of a community and rampaging through it like wildfire. Anyway, the lovely Christine Charles’s Joan is an absolute triumph. If you don’t sob like a baby when she’s going up those stairs towards the flames, well then, you must have a heart of stone, lol. Enjoy le film. It’s another marvellous triumph for Hammer Horror.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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