SHOCK SCENES: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

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SHOCK SCENES:  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA UNMASKED

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

Lon Chaney unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) still one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history.

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at some of the more memorable scenes in horror movie history.

That’s right.  We’ll be scouring horror movies throughout the decades looking at some of the brightest- er, darkest moments they’ve had to offer.  It should be a fun trip.

First up, a look at the unmasking scenes in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.  Now, there have been a bunch of film versions of the famous Gaston Leroux tale— see my blog column THE HORROR JAR:  THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA MOVIES posted on September 12, 2014 for the complete list— but for today’s column, I’d like to concentrate on the first three film versions:  the 1925 Lon Chaney silent classic, the 1943 Universal remake starring Claude Rains, and the 1962 Hammer remake starring Herbert Lom.  These are the three best versions, as none of the remakes since have been as good.

Most surprisingly, however, is that the definitive and most impressive version of this horror tale remains the original 1925 silent Lon Chaney version.  I still find this difficult to believe.  The film was made in 1925.  It’s a silent movie.  And yet this is the best version.  No one since has been able to match it.  Unbelievable, but true.

Similarly, when you look at the famous unmasking scenes, again, it’s the Chaney version which stands above the rest, and seriously, it stands way above the rest.  No other version even comes close!

The Chaney version also is the most faithful version of the Gaston Leroux novel, and likewise, it handles its unmasking scene in a way that is most true to the book.  For starters, in the book, the Phantom is unmasked early on, as he is in the Chaney version.  For some reason, both the 1943 Universal remake and the 1962 Hammer remake chose to unmask the Phantom at the end of the movie.  Bad idea.

In the 1925 silent version, the first half of the movie, the Phantom (Lon Chaney) is exactly that:  a phantom.  We see only glimpses of him, a shadow, a hand, a silhouette, and he’s there wreaking havoc at the Paris Opera House for reasons we don’t know at the time.  The movie captures this brilliantly, and director Rupert Julian truly makes the unknown Phantom a threatening and menacing presence without the audience ever really seeing him.

When the Phantom shows interest in young Opera singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and secretly whisks her away from her dressing room, we see him for the first time, and he’s wearing a mask so neither Christine nor the audience can see his face.  In the famous unmasking scene, which occurs midway through the film, the Phantom plays the organ, while Christine sneaks up behind him and attempts to remove his mask.  In classic suspenseful fashion, she reaches for it but then backs off, afraid he’ll turn around, before finally ripping it off his face, exposing the horrific make-up by Lon Chaney.

This is one of the best scenes in the 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  In fact, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in horror movie history.  The same cannot be said for the unmasking scenes in the 1943 and 1962 versions.

Chaney’s Phantom opens his mouth in what looks like a shriek of terror, and then he turns on Christine with a viciousness that would make Mr. Hyde proud.  He physically attacks her, thrusting his face into hers, screaming at her to behold is ugliness, and then he laughs at her, in what we can only imagine to be an insane maniacal laugh.  It’s a terrifying and brutal scene.

Supposedly, Chaney shot most of this scene himself— he and director Julian were at odds throughout the production and Chaney directed most of his own scenes— and to get the desired reaction shots from Mary Philbin, Chaney hurled insults at her, and she was under the impression he was furious with her and disappointed with her acting abilities, and so her reaction here was based on real emotions.

Interestingly enough, more than one version of this scene exists— heck, various versions of this movie exist!  The history of this film reveals there were multiple cuts of the film upon its release, and over the years as it was re-released multiple times things didn’t get any simpler and different prints surfaced.  I’ve only seen one version, but supposedly there exists out there another version of the unmasking scene shot from different angles.

After this shocking scene, the Phantom lets Christina go, to return to the Paris Opera House, but later, when he spies her with her lover Raoul (Norman Kerry) he vows revenge and then brings his wrath down upon the Opera House one last time while abducting Christina once more in the film’s extremely exciting conclusion.

In the 1943 version, Claude Rains portrays a very different and much more sympathetic Phantom. His Phantom is a violinist who is ultimately wronged and then goes insane later in the movie, and so when this film starts, there is no Phantom haunting the Opera House since he’s a meek violinist at this point in the story.

The mask in this version is probably my favorite mask in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies, and it’s so prevalent in this movie that it becomes synonymous with the Phantom, much more than Chaney’s mask.  When you think of Lon Chaney as the Phantom, you see his terrifying make-up, but when you think of Claude Rains as the Phantom, you see his slick white mask.

The entire time Rains is the Phantom, he wears the white mask.  Unlike the 1925 version, the unmasking scene in the 1943 film doesn’t come until the end of the movie.  This scene just doesn’t have the same effect as the Chaney scene.  The mask comes off, and we see minimal make-up on Rains’ face, and then he promptly dies in the film’s conclusion.  Gone is the maniacal laughter, the threats to Christine, the essence of what made the character the evil Phantom.  I like the 1943 version a lot, but its unmasking scene and its abrupt anti-climactic finale are two of the weakest parts of this movie.

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

Claude Rains unmasked in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

For some reason, Hammer Films chose to follow the style of the 1943 version instead of the 1925 version.  I’m guessing this decision was a financial one.  The 1925 version was an epic production, complete with a massive set of the Paris Opera House, and its enormous catacombs, which were used in a huge part of the movie, unlike the subsequent remakes which spent little time underneath the Paris Opera House.  Hammer probably didn’t have the budget to make a movie on the scale of the 1925 version.

Hammer’s 1962 version gets off to a rousing start, however, as the Phantom (Herbert Lom) is wreaking havoc immediately, and so in this regard Hammer did choose to follow the 1925 version.  And I’ve argued that the first half of the 1962 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is among Hammer’s and director Terence Fisher’s best work, but then things take a dramatic turn as we see via flashback the story of how the Phantom became the Phantom, and suddenly Herbert Lom’s Phantom becomes even more sympathetic— albeit, even heroic— a heroic Phantom?  Come on!— than Claude Rains’ Phantom.

And the unmasking scene in the 1962 version might be even weaker than the one in the 1943 version.  Again, it occurs at the end of the movie.  Again, there’s no insane rants by the Phantom, there’s nothing terrifying or frightening, as there was in the 1925 film.  Again, the make-up is inferior to the Chaney make-up.  There’s a little excitement involving a falling chandelier, but it’s so quick and abrupt that if you blink suddenly you’re reading “The End” on the screen.

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

Herbert Lom unmasked in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962).

The 1962 version by Hammer Films cries out for an additional 20 minutes where after the Phantom is unmasked, he whisks Christine into the catacombs beneath the Opera House while the heroes pursue them into the Phantom’s lair, where they must face all the traps set for them by the insane Phantom.  But alas this doesn’t exist.  The Hammer version simply ends with the unmasking.  The good news is this part of the story does exist in the 1925 silent version, and it’s one of the more exciting parts of that film.

The unmasking scene in the Lon Chaney 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is one of the most terrifying scenes in horror film history.  It’s not to be missed.  The unmasking scenes in the 1943 Universal Claude Rains version and the 1962 Hammer Films Herbert Lom version are both duds and strangely remain the weakest parts of both movies.  Go figure!

So, there you have it:  a look at the unmasking scenes in the three most prominent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies to date.

I hope you enjoyed this new column, SHOCK SCENES, and that you’ll join me again next time when I look at more classic scenes from classic horror movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

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THE HORROR JAR: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Movies

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Lon Chaney Sr. remains the definitive Phantom of the Opera, even after nearly 100 years.

Lon Chaney Sr. remains the definitive Phantom of the Opera, even after nearly 100 years.

THE HORROR JAR: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we compile lists of odds and ends about horror movies.  Today we look at the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.

It still amazes me that the best version of this terror tale remains the original silent version starring Lon Chaney Sr. I love this movie, from its incredible sets to its amazing Phantom make-up created by Chaney himself, to the way it tells its story.  It’s the most compelling and exciting of all the Phantom films.

Seriously, none of the remakes come close to matching it.

Here’s the list of the lot:

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)

Directed by Rupert Julian

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux.

The Phantom: Lon Chaney

Christine: Mary Philbin

Raoul: Norman Kerry

Ledoux: Arthur Edmund Carewe

Make-up: Lon Chaney

Running Time: 93 minutes

By far, the preeminent version of the Phantom tale. Certainly the most faithful, and the one which most fully captures the spirit of Gaston Leroux’s novel.  Chaney is the definitive Phantom, even after nearly 100 years.  He’s phenomenal.  If you’ve never seen this silent classic, you’re missing one of the finest horror movies ever made.  Don’t wait any longer.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943)

Directed by Arthur Lubin

Screenplay by Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein

The Phantom: Claude Rains

Christine: Susanna Foster

Anatole: Nelson Eddy

Make-Up: Jack Pierce

Running Time: 92 minutes

Thoroughly entertaining movie, although I think Universal got confused when they made this remake and thought they were making a straight musical. Lots of musical numbers in this one.  Claude Rains makes for a decent Phantom, but his sympathetic interpretation of the character is less effective and far less chilling than Chaney’s.  Memorable Phantom mask, but make-up by Jack Pierce is surprisingly ordinary.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by Anthony Hinds

The Phantom: Herbert Lom

Christine: Heather Sears

Harry: Edward DeSouza

Lord Ambrose D’Arcy: Michael Gough

Lattimer: Thorley Walters

Make-Up: Roy Ashton

Running Time: 84 minutes

Hammer’s foray into the Phantom universe. Not bad, and Herbert Lom makes for a sinister Phantom, at least during the first half of the movie, before he follows in Claude Rains’ footsteps and turns on the sympathy.  The first half of this film is among Hammer’s best, but uneven use of flashback and the emergence of a sympathetic Phantom weigh down the second half.  Tepid make-up by Roy Ashton.  Chaney’s interpretation keeps getting better and better.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma

The Phantom: William Finley

Phoenix: Jessica Harper

Swan: Paul Williams

Make-Up: John Chambers

Running Time: 92 minutes

1970s rock opera version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Like everything else about the 70s, it’s far out, man.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1983)

Directed by Robert Markowitz

Screenplay by Sherman Yellen

The Phantom: Maximilian Schell

Maria: Jane Seymour

Michael: Michael York

Make-up: Jim Gillespie

Running Time: 96 minutes

TV movie version of the Phantom story. Ho-hum re-telling.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989)

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Screenplay by Duke Sandefur

The Phantom: Robert Englund

Christine: Jill Schoelen

Make-Up: John Carl Buechler

Running Time: 93 minutes

Inferior movie tries to take advantage of Robert Englund’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET popularity, but Englund’s presence simply is not enough to lift this one up.  Decent make-up, at least, but Englund’s performance as the Phantom underwhelms.  Dark, violent version lacks imagination.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1990)

Directed by Tony Richardson

Teleplay by Arthur Kopit

The Phantom: Charles Dance

Christine: Teri Polo

Gerard: Burt Lancaster

Count Philippe de Chagny: Adam Storke

Make-Up: Catherine George

Running Time: 168 minutes

Elaborate TV movie version of the Phantom story.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998)

Directed by Dario Argento

Screenplay by Gerard Brach and Dario Argento

The Phantom: Julian Sands

Christine: Asia Argento

Make-Up: Alessandro Bertolazzi

Running Time: 99 minutes

It’s Dario Argento. It’s dark and it’s bloody.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004)

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher

The Phantom: Gerard Butler

Christine: Emmy Rossum

Raoul: Patrick Wilson

Running Time: 143 minutes

Film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ultra-popular musical THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Not bad.

 

And there you have it, all your Phantoms in one place. And not a single one tried to saw off a chandelier!  Hope you enjoyed this list of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.  See you next time on another HORROR JAR.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)

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Phantom of the Opera 1962 - posterThis is my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Hammer Films version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962), up now in the May 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

Remember, if you enjoy this column, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 In The Spooklight columns, is available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

Hammer Films’ remake of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) starring Herbert Lom as the Phantom is not my favorite version of the Gaston Leroux tale. That honor goes to the Lon Chaney silent classic from 1925, followed by Universal’s elaborate and colorful remake from 1943 with Claude Rains.

And while Hammer struck gold with their Frankenstein and Dracula remakes, their version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was not a commercial success when it was released in 1962.

That being said, it’s not a bad film. It’s just an uneven one.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA gets off to a great start. The first half of this film is extremely well-done, and had the entire film played like the first half, Hammer would have had another classic on its hands.

The film starts with the Phantom already at large, already wreaking havoc at the opera, which is a return to how the story was told in the Lon Chaney version. In the Claude Rains remake, the emphasis was on drama and the musical numbers, not horror, and Rains’ sympathetic character doesn’t become the “phantom” until well into the movie.

Here, the menace begins immediately. There are some stylish murder scenes, showing off director Terence Fisher’s considerable talents, including a hanging body swinging onto the stage, and later, a chilling sequence involving an encounter with a rat catcher, played by Patrick Troughton. The Phantom’s first appearance is also well-done, with a very dramatic and eerie first entrance at the top of a staircase.

The music is also very effective here, with a low disturbing hum whenever the Phantom is on screen. It’s a fine score by Edwin Astley.

In this version, while the mysterious Phantom (Herbert Lom) is terrorizing the opera, he’s also keen on helping young Christine (Heather Sears) sing the lead role, but she’s shunned by the villainous and sexist producer Lord Ambrose d’Arcy (Michael Gough) who intends to sabotage her career because she refused to sleep with him. The opera’s director, the young and dashing Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) is a much fairer man, and when he steps in to help Christine, he too is fired by Lord Ambrose.

What’s a recently unemployed opera director to do? Why, investigate the Phantom of course!

And it’s here, in the film’s second half, where it loses steam.

Whereas in the first half of the movie the Phantom appears to be a menacing and frightening figure, once Hunter begins his investigation into the Phantom’s past, a sympathetic figure emerges, and we learn that the true villain in this movie is the pompous blowhard Lord Ambrose. In fact, by the time things are all said and done, this Phantom becomes even more sympathetic than the Claude Rains’ Phantom, becoming a respectable and even heroic figure by the film’s conclusion. Sadly, this doesn’t quite work.

This particular interpretation of the Phantom makes sense when you realize who Hammer originally had in mind to portray their Phantom. With neither of their two stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, involved with this project, Hammer intended to turn to another even more famous star to anchor their latest production: Cary Grant.

Grant had even signed a contract with Hammer to play the Phantom, but backed out at the last minute when he wasn’t satisfied with the script, a script Anthony Hinds had written with Grant in mind for the lead role, leaving Hammer scrambling to fill the part, which they did when they hired Herbert Lom. But the film was intended to be a vehicle for Cary Grant, which explains the more heroic interpretation of the Phantom.

Herbert Lom is an OK Phantom, although he doesn’t come close to Lon Chaney or Claude Rains. He fares better early in the film where he’s seen fleetingly in scenes that seem to be setting up the Phantom to be like Lon Chaney’s violent psychotic interpretation, but unfortunately, this doesn’t turn out to be the case.

The rest of the cast runs hot and cold. Heather Sears is rather dull as Christine, and while Edward de Souza fares slightly better as the gallant Harry Hunter, at the end of the day, he’s a rather uninteresting character as well.

Only Michael Gough stands out as the vile Lord Ambrose. It’s nothing we haven’t seen Gough do before, but he’s very good at this sort of thing.

The film does have a nice cast of supporting actors who probably do a better job in this movie than the film’s leads. You have Thorley Walters as Lattimer, Lord Ambrose’s assistant, who is forced to bite his tongue at Ambrose’s constant shenanigans. Patrick Troughton is a rat catcher, and appears in one of the movie’s scariest segments, and Hammer favorites Harold Goodwin [FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)], Miles Malleson, and Michael Ripper are also on hand, with Malleson and Ripper each playing a cabbie.

Roy Ashton’s Phantom make-up is disappointing to say the least. It’s as tepid as it gets, and it’s even less chilling than the make-up on Claude Rains. And just like in the Rains’ version, we don’t see the Phantom’s face until the very end, and all too briefly. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Unlike the Chaney film where we see the Phantom’s face throughout, and the famous unmasking scene happens in the middle of the movie, not the end, the unmasking doesn’t happen here until the final scene, as it does in the Rains version, which in both cases is too little too late.

The Phantom’s mask in this Hammer version is actually pretty decent. I’ve always preferred the mask in the Claude Rains’ movie, but my reason for this preference is how it’s used in the film, rather than the actual mask. It’s just a white mask, but it’s the defining characteristic of Rains’ Phantom, and is used to such effect that it’s one of the most memorable parts of that movie. The mask that Herbert Lom wears, by contrast, is actually a bit more sinister looking, but it’s not used as effectively as the mask in the Rains’ film.

The movie also ends way too abruptly. The story should have gone on beyond the unmasking of the Phantom, with perhaps a final act where the Phantom, upon seeing Christine nearly killed on stage, snaps, whisking her off to the “safety” of his underground lair.

Terence Fisher, Hammer’s top director, was largely blamed by the studio when the film flopped, which is too bad, because it really isn’t his fault. The film’s script is the problem, not Fisher’s direction, which, during the first half of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is on par with his finest work. In fact, the first half of this movie ranks with Hammer’s best horror. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t sustain this high quality through to the end.

Hammer’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA scores below the two versions of the Phantom story which came before it, but taken as a whole all these years later, it remains better than any rendition made since.

—END—