The Phantom of the Opera

Starring Herbert Lom as Professor Petrie

Hammer Films, 1962, Eastman Color, Mystery with Light Horror
directed by Terrence Fisher

He was standing just over here... Black, all over black, and his eye staring at me... One eye in the middle of his forehead!

~Maria's testimony after seeing the Phantom in her dressing room

Do you think you can become a great artist without suffering? Do you think I have not suffered?

~the Phantom to Christine during singing lessons (after he slaps her face)

Good Phantom, Bad Dwarf: A Kinder, Gentler Phantom

Like the 1943 Universal Studios production, this movie deviates very much from the Leroux story. For instance, the setting is moved out of Paris and into London. Again, the French aristocrat Raoul de Chagny is written off and replaced by the opera house producer-turned-mystery sleuth Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza; I have read that the role had originally been intended for Cary Grant). Christine Charles (Heather Sears) while not an understudy, is still vulnerable due to the unethical practices of the manager Lord Ambrose D'Arcy (Michael Gough) who, these days, would be a sexual harassment lawsuit screaming to happen.

In this 1962 film, the Phantom is all good. He's just misunderstood. Misdeeds, of course, are still occuring. The opera house's star soprano Maria (Liane Aukin) is terrorized into leaving after a dead body falls on stage during her performance. However, the Phantom, formerly a quirky and eccentric Professor, is wrongly suspected. The guilty party this time is another resident living under the Opera House: a dwarf (Ian Wilson).

That's right. Blame the dwarf. (Shakes finger at imaginary dwarf) Bad dwarf! Bad bad dwarf! Stand in the corner and think about what you have done!

Unlike the 1943 film, there is no misunderstanding this time about anybody's music being stolen. Professor Petrie's life's work, which includes several concertos, a symphony, and an entire opera about Joan of Arc, are clearly and cruelly stolen by D'Arcy who is incompetent in everything except for the pursuit and abuse of power over others. Outraged by the dishonesty and injustice, Petrie breaks into the printing shop at night with the intentions of destroying the printed scores and printing plates. As he tosses the printed scores into the furnace, some of the fire accidentally spreads out into the shop. Petrie attempts to put out the fire with what he mistakes for water but turns out to be nitric acid. Within seconds, he is severely wounded in a chemical fire. He falls into a river and is rescued in the sewers by a mute dwarf, who serves as Petrie's assistant ever since this encounter.

At least this time, the Phantom has an assistant and a time span of several years to get that organ into his Lair in the sewers.

The romantic interests Leroux's Phantom has in Christine are removed. Petrie's "love" for Christine in this film is strictly platonic. He overhears her singing during an audition and believes she is the right person for the role of Joan of Arc in his opera, which had been stolen by D'Arcy. Unfortunately D'Arcy has found her unfit to sing in his opera after she rejects his advances and has found himself another more "willing" soprano Yvonne (Sonya Cordeau). Literally falling apart from the chemical damage he had suffered, Petrie realizes his days are quickly becoming numbered. In an act of desparation, he has the dwarf kidnap Christine and taken to his Lair.

At this point, Professor Petrie becomes quite the tough workaholic Maestro who always works and never sleeps. The singing lessons are gruelling and extremely exhausting for Christine. In a moment of discouragement, she mutters, "I can't." Petrie slaps her in the face a few times for saying that, accompanied by his own version of a "no pain no gain" speech which I quote at the top of this page. Later on, an exhausted Christine faints. Petrie throws a cup of water across her face to wake her back up and continue with the lessons.

The famous...or should I say infamous...unmasking scene does not occur because of Christine. Never once does Christine attempt to even touch the Phantom's mask. After Christine's lessons are finished and she is ready to sing the role of Joan of Arc, Professor Petrie pays a visit to the manager D'Arcy. D'Arcy rips off the mask, recognizes the face even with the scars, and disappears in panic. What becomes of D'Arcy after this is unknown.

The efforts during those exhausting singing lessons pay off. Christine performs remarkably well as Joan of Arc while Petrie watches from Box Five. During one moment, a tear of joy is seen falling from his eye. Meanwhile, the dwarf is pursued by one of the stage hands. During this chase, the dwarf causes the chandelier to fall. As the chandelier is about to fall on Christine, Petrie rips off his own mask - showing the severely damaging chemical burns - and jumps out of Box Five. He pushes Christine out of the way, but he himself is crushed and killed during this heroic moment.

The Music

This opera is dominated by a single fictional opera, St Joan of Arc, written by Professor Petrie. One exception occurs during the moment Christine is first dragged into the Phantom's lair. The familiar tune he plays is "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach. This is the only time it is played in any phantom movie. Not even any children's adaptations I found have used this tune. No musical has used it, as far as I know. Yet it has often been associated with the phantom ever since I could remember.

My Own Comments and Musings

This was the first movie I had ever seen on Le Fantôme, and so the completely and obviously sympathetic portrayal had a lasting impact on my young impressionable nine-year-old mind. Following the trend of the 1943 film, there is an even more sympathetic portrayal - especially the wrongful assumptions made against the Phantom for various misdeeds. (Even Christine, upon her first siting, cries of how he was trying to burn her brain with his eye. Say what?) The viewer is given a chance to see a possible but entirely different scenario before assuming an "evil Phantom" is up to trouble. While I make jokes about the dwarf, I must emphasize here that Leroux mentions other residents below the opera house although he never gets into specifics. There are very few versions, including this movie, that keep this in consideration. Hammer films skillfully portrays a kinder, gentler Phantom, a workaholic maestro, who is misunderstood and has himself suffered abuse at the hands of a villain. With that said, it should not suprise anyone when I say that this sort of sympathetic portrayal is very close to my "take" on the Phantom.

Another aspect of this film that has earned its status as one of my favorite phantom movies is the Phantom's attraction to Christine. His infatuation over her has nothing to do with her physical appearance, home town, or other superficial accidents of birth. As the Musical Genius with the Golden Ear, the Phantom recognizes a Golden Voice when he hears one - even if that voice is untrained. He also knows that her unique voice is the only one suitable - after his gruelling tutelage, of course - for the role in his opera Joan of Arc.

Speaking of a workaholic Maestro, I have seen (online) people new to this film or too acquainted with a romanticized Phantom giving poor Professor Petrie a hard time. It involves the moment when he slaps Christine in the face during singing lessons. I said it before, I say it again, this phantom is misunderstood. Before I get a lecture on domestic violence, keep reading. I know Christine is obviously exhausted. When she mutters, "I can't," he slaps her. If you listen carefully, they go on to rehearse the part where Joan of Arc had been sentenced to death by burning. Later as she sings this aria on stage, there is a closeup of a tear coming from the Phantom's eye. The Phantom knows his days are very seriously numbered. He would have died soon afterwards anyway, had it not been for the accident with the chandelier. He just wanted to hear his opera sung the way he envisioned it when he wrote it. He was just pressured for time and he gave her this emotion to hold onto when she sang this aria.

D'Arcy's character is a deviation from the "typical" Phantom formula I usually see, in which the management usually serves either as comic relief or as themselves victims of circumstances. This one is more interested in running his opera like a harem. Some viewers find D'Arcy's disappearance after the unmasking a bit anti-climatic, but I think it emphasizes what a weak, sniveling, cowardly bully D'Arcy really is. He is a "real monster" in this film.

When I first came to the internet years ago and haunted some of the phorums, I used to see people use the phrase "the spirit of Leroux" a lot. This movie, like the others, takes great liberties with the original story. It will not be accurate according to Leroux, but it is the only movie thus so far that serves as a thriller with some elements of horror. All of the other movies and even the musicals focus on horror, romance, or lavish musical lifestyles. It is the only version to keep within "the spirit of Leroux" in this respect, because Leroux had been a horror novelist and was making the transition to mystery when he wrote his book. I enjoy this movie in and of itself, even if it does not follow a lot of Leroux except in spirit.

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