Let’s go to the opera.
A lot like the Gerard Butler version, this Phantom of the Opera isn’t a musical. Instead, we have a more literary retelling of the origins and life of the infamous phantom.
We are introduced to our characters as the prepare for a new opera penned by Lord Ambrose d’Arcy (Michael Gough) or as he is known by people who know him: fucky McFuckface. Seriously, d’Arcy goes a bit far in the villain trope as he just shits on everyone around him—from the singers, to the musicians, and (oddly) the theater owner.
Anyway, d’Arcy needs some new talent and discovers Christine (Heather Sears) has a wonderful voice. Instead of simply hiring her, he has to sexual harass her and pressure her into having sex with him. She is luckily saved by Harry (Edward de Souza) who suspects d’Arcy is up to some shady stuff.
Watching this film in the #metoo era is certainly interesting. The lack of power the female characters have is shocking, but also (sadly) probably accurate. Christine will not be allowed to participate in the opera (thus halting a promising career) unless she caves to the advances of McFuckface. A lot of the first half of the film hinges more on these social issues than our phantom.
The phantom (Herbert Lom) only has about a minute of screen time for the first half or so (excluding opening credits). He becomes obsessed with Christine and wants to teach her to sing as she has never sung before. So, obviously, he kidnaps her and abuses her into singing without explaining anything.
It isn’t until Harry (awkwardly) gets into the sewers does the phantom bother justifying his actions.
His music was stolen by d’Arcy (obviously) and when the phantom tried to burn the printing press, he ended up burning his own face, so now he hides. Why he hasn’t exacted revenge is not clear at all. I suppose they wanted us to sympathize with him.
However, we can’t. Earlier in the film when he wants to talk to Christine, he has his henchman (Ian Wilson—listed as “the dwarf”) straight up murder a dude to distract Harry. “Yes, I have been wronged, but fuck that guy—I gots shit to do.” Why? Who knows? It is almost like the film forgot about that little transgression as it is revealed the phantom is actually a good guy.
The mystery elements offer a bit of fun, but the overarching story here isn’t that great. The lack of epic musical sequences means we get a lot of relatively boring exposition instead of anything to grab us. The more grounded approach could work if the story held together a little bit more.
Honestly, go see Phantom on the stage. I have seen most film versions and none of them stand up to seeing it live. This is one of those films hat I don’t think will ever really work on screen. This is one of the few Hammer Classics I would suggest against. You won’t hate it, but you’ll have a hard time remembering much about it.