The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Director: Terence Fisher

Given that Universal had already assayed this story twice (1925 and 1943), it’s not surprising Hammer would have a crack at it too, although I’m interested to discover this was actually originally going to be Universal’s third go at it before they decided to let Hammer make it for them instead. Even more that Cary Grant was originally slated to play the romantic lead… Anyway, I read the original novel by Gaston Leroux earlier this year, which is terrific and I endorse it whole-heartedly; it also means I have a pretty exact sense of the… changes Hammer made, of which relocating the story from Paris to London is actually not the most egregious. Hammer’s Phantom is one of those frankly unfaithful film adaptations of literary works that really only retains the broadest outline of the narrative and a few specific incidents while changing almost everything else, introducing entirely new characters, etc; indeed, the Phantom’s motivation in this film seems to have been inspired more by the 1943 Universal version (he’s an up and coming composer whose work is purchased by the odious Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, who then publishes it under his own name; Ambrose thus becomes the real villain and the Phantom a much more tragic figure whose acts of havoc are actually perpetrated by the dwarf who tends to him) than anything else. Of course, that means it’s essentially no different to Curse of Frankenstein or Horror of Dracula in that respect; it’s just that they’re both much better films than this one is… although it’s not actually that bad as such. Herbert Lom plays the Phantom nicely and brings out the tragic side of the characterisation quite well, and it does get off to a cracking start at least (some nice shock edits in that opening reel), but it’s still hard to share the enthusiasm some have for it. Certainly audiences at the time had little enthusiasm for it at the time; Sinclair McKay’s book on Hammer notes they toned it down some to get an A certificate rather than an X and thereby hopefully attract a wider audience, but that plan evidently failed miserably, and Hammer shut Terence Fisher out for a while as a result. Shame.

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