Terence Fisher’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA may deviate an awful lot from Gaston Leroux’s original work, but there’s something almost defiantly entertaining about this 1962 picture. Featuring a screenplay by John Elder, this outing is often cited as a misfire for Hammer Film Productions. But its inclusion of the humour from Leroux’s 1910 novel bears mention, as does its unpacking of the titular character (Herbert Lom) as a figure of misfortune.
It is London in the year 1900 and Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough) is trying to mount his new opera. Opening night is not entirely sold out on account of a haunted opera box, so D’Arcy takes out his anger on the manager (Thorley Walters). The opera’s producer Harry (Edward de Souza) is trying to hold things together, but there’s word of a ghost. After the leading lady flees, the lewd D’Arcy sets out to hire a new woman and settles on Christine (Heather Sears). Alas, a ghastly presence has other ideas.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a lively if scattered picture. It spends considerable time developing the romance between Harry and Christine, but this is mostly entertaining stuff. A carriage ride through the park is amusing thanks to the driver, while the appearance of the rat catcher (Patrick Troughton) is a treat for fans of the novel. Fisher uses some of these elements to hint at the class divide, with the affluent opera types contrasted against the coarse workers who rifle through the seats in search of diamonds.
Fisher’s horror likewise has a comic bent, with plenty of smash cuts altering the tempo. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is never truly frightening and even the eventual appearance of the title character is built with humour. He is every bit the choral director from hell, flapping water on Christine after she passes out and beating his chest to ensure the notes are sung right. In the end, the rogue is revealed and Fisher’s class concerns come together. And the chandelier falls, just like that awful mask.