The Phantom of the Opera

Starring Charles Dance as Erik Carriere

Saban Entertainment, 1990, Romance with Light Mystery

When you sing, I live in the Heavens. When you do not, down below.

~Erik, to Christine, when she asks where he lives

Hell is up there, and I will not send an angel to hell.
I was born so she could save me.

~Erik to Gerard, about Christine

Twice in my life, I have been touched by an angel.

~Erik, to Gerard, in reference to his mother and to Christine

The Sensitive 90's Phantom

Just like any of the other movies, this one takes great liberties with Leroux's story. Erik is significantly younger and has never known any life outside of the Paris Opera House, but in many ways he at least remains an incredibly gifted person. He's not a ventriloquist, but he knows how to speak through the walls as though he were a ghost. While he has no involvement in the architectural designs of the Paris Opera House nor of any other buildings, he has spent his life designing and building quite an interesting "palace" of his own on the lake in the catacombs beneath the cellars. He is also a self-taught musician and singer. It is the first movie since the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney that has Erik as the Trap Door Lover. It is also the first since the Chaney film to acknowledge that Erik has an incredibly beautiful operatic voice and an incredibly amusing sense of humor. Another touch that I like is the way in which Erik switches the masks he wears depending on his moods. (Refer to my section on Erik's Many Masks for a discussion on this topic.)

As in accordance with Leroux, Erik's visage has been with him since birth. There are no acid scars, chemical burns, or fires this time. This is the face Erik has always had since birth. This is the first movie which remains clearly loyal to Leroux on this matter. (Even in the 1925 movie starring Lon Chaney, the audience is never quite certain.) In this movie, however, one can be lead to believe that the deformity is a result of a failed attempt at an abortion.

The romantic interest that Erik has in Christine Daee (Teri Polo) stem from her striking resemblance to his mother Belladova (also played by Polo), who had died of a fever while he was a child. According to Gerard Carriere, Belladova was the only woman who could look at his face and smile. She found nothing wrong with her son that she loved very much.

Gerard Carriere (Burt Lancaster) had managed the Paris Opera House during most of Erik's life. For many years, he had taken good care of Erik and encouraged the myths of the cellars being haunted by the ghost of a man who was tortured there during the Communist siege. In return, the artistically gifted Erik had been able to help Carriere as advisor in operatic productions. Unfortunately, Carriere is forced into retirement and unable to select the new management himself. The new manager, Alain Cholet (Ian Richardson), is not fond of any myths about a ghost, and so trouble starts to brew. The problem is further aggravated when the vain and bad-tempered Carlotta (Andréa Ferréol) will be the new diva. She simply cannot sing worth a poop and, even worse, she thinks she does not even need rehearsals. She happens to be married to Cholet, meaning she will always be cast in all of the starring roles.

While Erik's background differs greatly from the Leroux description, this is the only movie (besides the one starring David Staller) that shows a very loyal portrayal of the relationship between Christine and the Viscount de Chagny (Adam Storke). Christine is the costume girl instead of a chorus girl as an employee of the Opera House, but her upbringing remains amazingly loyal to Leroux's novel. Raoul is renamed Phillippe, however, and he is now portrayed as a womanizing playboy until his first love Christine once again captures his heart.

As in most of the other movies, Erik does not give Christine any singing lessons as an Angel of Music through her dressing room mirror. Instead, he simply approaches her as an eccentric maestro who simply wishes to remain anonymous. As the singing lessons continue, a warm friendship develops between Christine and Erik. Instead of threatening letters to Carlotta commanding her to be ill for important performances (he sends nasty notes about Carlotta to Cholet instead), Erik sabatoges Carlotta's performances via practical jokes with stage props. Refusing to play the buffoon, Carlotta quits singing until the guilty party or parties are brought forward. Erik then assists in having Christine's talent as singer discovered at a company Bistro.

Christine's big chance as a performer arises when Carlotta continually refuses to sing the role of Marguerite. Christine takes the role, much to the pain and horror of La Carlotta. The jealous diva deceives Christine into drinking a tonic which is supposed to calm the nerves. Instead, it is a drug that disables Christine's voice long enough to have her boo-ed off the stage. In a fit of outrage at Christine's mistreatment, Erik cuts the rope holding up the chandelier and takes Christine down to his lair. The police try to pursue him but are not fast enough. One of them thinks he hears singing but it soon stops. It was Erik singing Christine to sleep.

"Send her back? Hell is up there, and I will not send an Angel to Hell!" Erik tells Carriere as he proceeds to spread enough barrels of gunpowder everywhere to blow up the entire Opera House. (Yes, the gunpowder is loyal to Leroux. It is the motive that is different this time.)

Carriere is able to have a talk with Christine, as he explains Erik's past and why he wears the mask. Christine cannot be convinced to leave Erik's lair and even believes in the possibility that she could learn to love his face. Apparently, she has already been taken by the Erik she knows and, for the first and only time, there exists the possibility that Christine could actually choose Erik over the French aristocrat.

Later on, Christine consents to "have a picnic" in Erik's "forest." It's an incredible design down in his lair, but not a torture chamber as in Leroux's novel. While on this "picnic," the infamous unmasking scene occurs. This time, however, Christine does not tear it off. Instead, she convinces him to remove it himself. Unfortunately, she faints in horror. Erik is now emotionally crushed and cries out "Why!" It is a cry that I cannot even begin to describe, and it is very much loyal to the original story. Erik's cries are what keeps Christine going back to him time and time again. How on earth Charles Dance was able to do that cry, I'll never know. It says a lot for him as an actor. That cry still gets to me after all these years.

When Christine wakes up, she sees Erik literally destroying his own lair with his bare hands. For fear of her life, she is eventually able to run out and find her way back up to the Opera House. Her emotions are running high, however, as she falls ill and is plagued by guilt-ridden nightmares. She confesses to Phillipe that she loves Erik but reassures him that it is a different kind of love from what she feels for her Viscount. In the meantime, Carriere goes to the catacombs to comfort Erik. Carriere lets Erik in on a few secrets: that he is his father and that Christine indeed loves him. At this point, Erik is thinking of his own death. Carriere agrees that, upon Erik's death, he will bury the body deep in a well-hidden area so that he will never be on display.

She eventually returns, and convinces the manager to allow her to sing Marguerite so that the Phantom will be brought back up from his lair. During the prison scene of Faust, Christine is able to see Erik in Box Five. Christine sings to Erik and, overtaken by the emotions of the moment, Erik comes out of hiding and sings the role of Faust back to Christine. (I posted more comments on this at the Phuzzy Phantom Moment.)

The audience loves this exchange between Christine and Erik, but the police lead by Inspector Ledoux (Jean-Pierre Cassel) unfortunately have a job to do. Bullets are fired, but they miss Erik. A chase occurs, as Erik once again takes Christine with him. This time, they go up to the top of the Opera House. A fight breaks out between Erik and Phillippe. Phillippe is almost killed, but Erik saves and then spares his life at Christine's pleading.

The police at this point have Erik surrounded and Ledoux wants him taken alive. Keeping his promise to Erik (and upon Erik's nod of approval), Carriere shoots Erik down. As Erik lay dying in Gerard Carriere's arms, Christine approaches him. She gently removes his mask and kisses him on the forehead. She looks at his face and smiles. It's a good weeper moment.

The Music

Correct me if I am wrong on this, but it seems the only fictional piece of music here is one of the folk songs Christine sings. It is the one she is singing when Erik hears her for the first time. The trend with this film makes me doubt even that. I recognize the other folk song she sang right before that, but do not know the name of it. Granted, that means again there is no music composed by the Phantom, but this movie is chock full of many different operatic pieces.

Carlotta's disastrous debut occurs as she is trying to sing "Sediziose Voci" from Bellini's Norma.

Carlotta's next embarrassing disaster occurs while she attempts to sing "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from Verdi's La Traviata.

The aria Christine sings at the Bistro is "Par le Rang et par l'Opulence" (Marie's Aria) from the opera La Fille du Regimént (The Daughter of the Regiment) by Donizetti.

The chorus girls at the Bistro dance to "The Galop" (the song most associated with cancan these days) from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld as Christine and Phillippe sneak off together.

Then there is old faithful, Faust by Gounod. Christine is shown singing "Ah! je ris de me voir" (The Jewel Song) and later, she is joined by the Phantom in "The Final Trio." It sets a much different mood than "The Church Scene" used in the 1983 film and "Me voici" from the 1989 film, that is for sure! After they sing that trio, they had me feeling so fuzzy inside.

My Own Comments and Musings

This has to be by far the cuddliest re-telling of the famous story that I have ever seen. There is no horror or even thriller in this one. It is all romance with perhaps just a touch of mystery. In fact, the horror elements have been removed so much, the audience is never even shown Erik's face. The unmasking and the display of his deformity has, in many ways, become cheap and trite. This is one time when we are allowed to see the man and not focus so much on "the freak show" that continually provokes undue hatred against him. I admit, when I first watched this movie, I could not wait for the unmasking myself. When they did not show his face, I felt showed up. I felt guilty about my little eagerness. That one little detail had an impact on me.

While the colorful, light-hearted 1943 extravaganza has way too much singing and singing and singing (and mostly from fictional operas), this one has just enough singing of real arias during appropriate moments. For instance, I have read that the opera Carlotta chose for her debut is a soprano's worst nightmare because it is so difficult to sing. It shows how extreme her ego is, when she even thinks she does not need rehearsals. The only thing missing here is a piece of music written by Erik. It is one of the very few versions that omits Erik's gift as a composer.

Speaking of Carlotta, it is difficult for me to have any sympathy for the pompous diva this time. In other versions of the story, she can be difficult but she is still a talented performer who simply happens to be in the way of Erik's plans for Christine. This time, she is a blatant villainous and so her humiliations on the stage are hysterical. The mean-spirited, egotistical, office-politicking old bag is asking for it. The look on Cholet's face during her disastrous debut is classic. I'm with Inspector Ledoux when he says, "I never knew opera could be so funny." (According to Philip J. Riley, the real person who inspired Leroux's Carlotta was actually a lot like this portrayal. More about the "The Real Carlotta" here.)

This is one of my favorite versions of the young Viscount. I do not really care for his womanizing but it is redeemed within context of this movie (he missed Christine and so could not get emotionally close to other women). Of all the new characters inspired by Leroux's work but never originally in his novel, Gerard Carriere is by far my favorite. Ironically, he is the strongest character in this story, even stronger than Erik. Lancaster does a great job as Gerard. Richardson as Cholet is just hysterical.

Polo sings the folk songs herself but they had to dub an opera singer after her lessons, which is fine. I have heard and read criticism that while Ferréol overdoes the lip-syncing, Polo underdoes it. I think that is okay within context of this movie. I do not know much about actual voice training or singing but as an audience member, I do not worry about that detail. It shows Carlotta's comical nature (although she hates to be considered the buffoon) and Christine's now-effortless bel canto thanks to the Phantom's lessons.

The scene in which Christine kisses Erik on the forehead is the one of the only movies I have seen in which Christine does this. The other would be the children's animated adaptation. Ironically, this is NOT a guilty pleasure. This is very much in accordance to the original story. It was not a long, soggy kiss on the lips as shown in Lord Andy's musical. It was a simple kiss on the forehead, which moves Erik so much that he releases her and her lover with a golden ring as a wedding gift.

Faustian Phantoms | Phuzzy Phantom Moment | The Real Carlotta | Erik's Many Masks

Movies Index | Chaney | Rains | Lom | Finley | Schell | Englund | Dance | Staller | Sands | Butler

Books | Movies | Musicals | Children | Musings | Trivia | Phunny | Links

Main Page

. .