The Phantom of the Opera-1962
Starring Herbert Lom, Michael Gough, Heather Sears
Scott’s Review #1,254
Reviewed May 12, 2022
Probably not the best-known film adaptation of the famous 1910 French novel written by Gaston Leroux, but likely the most horrific. Hammer Horror Productions getting their hands on this is a significant win since the story is perfectly suited for the horror genre.
I’ve not yet seen the 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney which I hear is wonderful so I cannot compare that to this.
The possibilities for a macabre telling are endless and director Terence Fisher, a familiar director in Hammer films, is back at the helm to mix the dreariness of a musty London theater with the creepy face mask of its lonely and wounded inhabitant.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this review. It’s impressive to notice the astounding achievements the Horror films obtained by making lemonade out of lemons from a budget perspective. The limited funds necessitated creativity which can be seen in every series frame, especially the colorful sets and costumes.
The Phantom of the Opera (1962) is no different and is even better than some others in the brilliant mix of mood and sympathy for its main victim, specifically the luminous and disfigured ‘phantom’ played by Herbert Lom.
Dastardly Composer Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, wonderfully played by Michael Gough, and his bullied backer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza), struggle to find a replacement for the female lead in their new opera after she quits and flees town in the wake of a gruesome theater murder.
When a new prospect, the virginal Christine Charles (Heather Sears), disappears after the advances of Ambrose, Harry cautiously investigates unaware that there is a lonely figure inhabiting the theater.
Meanwhile, a mysterious masked man (Lom) who is eerily familiar with the opera holds Christine captive and offers to groom her to play the part.
He is a mix of crazy and passionate and his plight is sympathetic when what he’s been through is finally explained.
But the atmosphere is what sets The Phantom of the Opera apart from other similar films of the 1960s, even Hammer films.
This is never more evident in an early scene when the camera follows the characters on the misty streets of London, the darkness and shadows becoming prominent as they walk through streets and dark alleys.
Fisher, now five years into his association with the production company has hit his stride. A limited budget might reduce another director to a fretting basket case but the result and ease that he parlays to The Phantom of the Opera are quite beautiful.
Many scenes take place in the theater itself adding a foreboding element to the events. Dusty yet brimming with musicianship and artistic pizzazz, it’s fun to watch the characters sneak around and scheme within the confines of this structure.
Therefore, the mood and trimmings are exquisite without actually being so.
The music sequences are impressive without going on for too long, and despite the locale being switched from Paris to London for obvious reasons, the main being that the actors are British, this doesn’t hamper the overall experience.
The best, and most gruesome scene, occurs when a poor chap swings across the theater stage in a neck rope, dead as a doornail. The creaking sound of the rope as the man swings back and forth is chilling and dubious.
Lom is my favorite actor in the film and his character’s backstory reveal is humanistic and impressive. Who can’t relate to at least once being swindled or cheated out of work that is rightfully theirs?
Gough, also familiar to Hammer Horror fans, is tremendous as the treacherous main villain.
Sears is okay but perhaps not the greatest actress nor the best choice for the role. She’s rather bland and unmemorable.
The Phantom of the Opera (1962) falters a bit when it ends too suddenly, though many Hammer films suffer the same fate. This film is not for those expecting a grandiose Andrew Lloyd Webber style musical but for fans of down and dirty horror it’s just what the doctor ordered.