Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough
What? No songs? Yeah, we kept breaking into Music of the Night through this one, but it’s not really the film’s fault that I’m listening to the Lloyd-Webber soundtrack as I write this. The story shouldn’t need much description, but there are some interesting differences from other version. Here, the Phantom (Lom) is actually a disgruntled composer, who sold the publishing rights for his work to Lord D’Arcey (Gough), only to have him claim the compositions as his own and publish them. An accident involving nitric acid at the printers leads to the Phantom’s disfigurement and seclusion in the opera house, from where he sabotages D’Arcey’s attempts to stage the opera. But he is seduced by the voice of Christine (Sears), and kidnaps her to teach her the proper delivery of his work. For obvious reasons, that disturbs her boyfriend, theatrical producer Harry Hunter (de Souza), who heads off into the sewers beneath the theatre in search of his missing beloved.
There’s not much threat to this Phantom, who comes over as an almost entirely sympathetic figure, especially at the end, where his behaviour is positively heroic. If there’s a villain in the piece, it’s D’Arcey, who oozes with slime as he tries to convince Christine to go back to his apartment for a little late-night “singing practice.” The film seems to be building towards a confrontation between him and the Phantom, particularly given their previous history, but this angle is never fully-developed. The other aspect I was surprised to see omitted is that there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between the Phantom and Christine: he is just her teacher, and appears to be from the Jack Bauer school of music tuition. He slaps her about, makes her sing scales until she falls into unconsciousness, then pours sewer water on her to revive her – he makes Simon Cowell seem gentle in comparison. Like the rest of the film, it’s a different approach from every other adaptation, but the various pieces never quite come together in the way that they should, and the result is a good deal less than the sum of the parts.
[Also starring: The rat-catcher who gets stabbed in the eye is played by the second incarnation of Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton.]