The Phantom of the Opera (1963): Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Michael Gough, Edward De Souza, Ian Wilson, Liane Aukin, Thorley Walters, Marne Maitland, John Harvey, Miriam Karlin, Martin Miller, Harold Goodwin, Sonya Cordeau, Leila Forde, Miles Malleson, Renee Houston, Patrick Troughton, Laurie Main, John Maddison, Geoffrey L'Oise, Liam Redmond...Director Terence Fisher...Screenplay Anthony Hinds.
This is a Hammer horror film production directed by Terence Fisher and released in 1962. French author Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel "Phantom of the Opera" has been made for film and television for years, each version being completely different from the other, none of them faithful to Leroux's original novel. The most famous and closest to the novel is legendary Lon Cheney's silent film from 1926. In this version, Herbert Lom portrays the Phantom and Heather Sears portrays Christine. Following the plot to the 1943 Phantom with Claude Rains and Susanna Foster, the Phantom was once a normal-looking man, a resident of London. He is an obscure and aspiring composer, a music professor named Petrie who makes a deal with the licentious and wicked Lord Ambrose D'Arcy (Michael Gough)to whom he sells his compositions for publication. But Lord Ambrose takes the credit for writing the works, including an opera, Saint Joan of Arc, which triggers the fury of Professor Petrie. He breaks into the publishing building and sets it on fire, only to scar himself in the process. His face becomes deformed and he seeks shelter from the world by living beneath the Opera house. The opera "Joan Of Arc" premieres but it's a disastrous night after a stagehand is killed by a mysterious force. Although the opera company speaks of a resident ghost, the heroic and curious Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza) investigates who this Phantom really is. Things are further complicated when the Phantom abducts the bright new star, Christine Charles, whom he holds in thrall. His desire: to make her into the world's greatest soprano. Phantom fans will be pleased with the little familiar elements that are part of the Phantom legend: the death of a stagehand by hanging, an arrogant diva whose brief limelight is soon replaced by Christine, the Phantom's abduction of Christine and his role as her vocal coach, the masked Phantom playing the organ in the dark depths of the opera house by a lake, and a chandelier that falls. But quite frankly, these things, which although true to the novel, are not put together in faithfulness. Spoilers: The death of the stagehand happens far too soon and the Phantom has a hunchback, dwarf assistant who is a totally made-up character for the film (played by Ian Wilson of My Fair Lady). The story is not set in Paris but in London. The chandelier which famously falls around the middle of the story, falls toward the end and even crushes the Phantom who unmasks himself (Christine never unmasks him) who leaps to save Christine. Everything is therefore actually inaccurate to the novel and the Lon Cheney version, which subsequent versions have always aspired to resemble. The best parts of the film lie in the color and cinematography. The Hammer film series were done in gorgeous and innovative color and cinematic style. The look of this film is as lovely as the 1943 Claude Rains version. Beautiful and period-correct costumes, fine theatrical interior scenes and the original music by Edwin Astley is grand, especially the fictional opera "Joan of Arc". Still another good thing is the quality of acting from the principal actors. Michael Gough steals the show as the egotistical, arrogant, womanizing and villainous Lord D'Arcy who is responsible for the Phantom's tragic situation. But again he is a character that never appeared in the original source. Herbert Lom is fine but clearly inspired by both Claude Rains in his "Professor" role and Lon Cheney in his "Phantom" mode. The Lon Cheney influence is evident in his body language and the gesticulations of his hands. He raises them and points at Christine the way Lon Cheney did with Mary Philbin. Heather Sears is not impressive as Christine, but then again her character in every version has always been flat and simply the Phantom's romantic interest. It's interesting to note that in this version she is NOT the Phantom's object of love. He is merely her teacher, and he is more brutal with her (even slaps her) because she is a means to achieve his masterpiece, the opera that he was never given credit for. We do not get a genuinely romantic feeling from this film in regards to the Phantom and Christine except for Christine's relationship with Harry. So when the Phantom risks his own life to save her it's very much a surprise and an ending that is too abrupt and spontaneous. Because this film is not faithful to the Phantom we all know and love from Cheney to Andrew Lloyd Webber, I rate this film with a 6 out of 10.