Sunday, October 29, 2017

Good Artists and Masks

It would be sort of comforting to think that influential men in the entertainment industry who prey on women are also talentless. That's part of the fantasy presented in the 1962 Hammer version of Phantom of the Opera, and a big part of why the film never rises above moderately interesting. It does, though, have some really gorgeous cinematography by Arthur Grant, beautiful makeup and costumes, and is a surprisingly lush production next to the typically low budget movies released by Hammer.

Directed by Terence Fisher, the female lead is renamed Christine Charles from Christine Daae for the story's relocation from Paris to London. She's also reduced to the pretty sack of potatoes one usually sees in Fisher's films. Played by Heather Sears, her singing voice was dubbed by an opera singer named Pat Clark pretty seamlessly and there are some really nicely put together scenes featuring bits of an opera about Joan of Arc composed for the film.

Michael Gough plays Lord Ambrose D'Arcy, the film's real villain. He uses his position as the composer of a series of successful operas to abuse the women who appear in them and it looks like Christine is going to be his latest victim until the opera's producer, Harry--the dull Edward de Souza in a role supposedly written for Cary Grant--rescues her from dinner with D'Arcy. The Phantom, played with some elegance but little dimension by Herbert Lom, is mostly portrayed as a victim in this film, having no control over his Igor-like assistant (Ian Wilson) who perpetrates the murders the phantom is guilty of in the original story. He murders a rat-catcher played by Patrick Troughton in one of the film's more enjoyably macabre scenes.

The Phantom's interest in Christine is apparently entirely in her singing voice and at worst he comes off as a much too strict instructor. The film actually seems like its makers took the plagiarism subplot from the beginning of The Red Shoes and took out all the complications to create a simpler story of a downtrodden artist and a thoroughly villainous liar. Gough does play a good villain, though, and the sets are truly extraordinary. The Phantom's lair is fantastic, perfectly paired with the makeup and costume on Herbert Lom.

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