Phantom of the Opera is a 1943 technicolor film by Universal Studios and is loosely based off of the Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name. Directed by Arthur Lubin, the movie is a remake of the 1925 silent film of the same title. The screenplay was written by Samuel Hoffenstein, Eric Taylor, and Hans Jacoby. It won two academy awards for Art Direction and Cinematography as well as nominated for Music and Sound Recording. The film was received well and had a scheduled sequel titled The Climax, however the film went in a different direction.
The film opens upon a night at the opera. Young Christine Daae is performing on stage in the chorus when she runs off stage and misses curtain call to see her potential love, Inspector Raoul Dubert. Shortly after, she is asked to see the manager of the opera house where she must face the decision of career and love. As she leaves, Christine meets Erique Claudin, a violinist in the orchestra. Claudin has been released from the orchestra for he has been losing the use of his fingers in his left hand.
Shortly after that, we learn that Claudin has been paying for lessons for Christine. He needs to find money and quickly finishes his opera to sell. At the publishers, he leads that the publisher, Pleyel, has been stealing his compositions. Claudin angers and kills Pleyel. Pleyel’s secretary throws etching acid in his face, disfiguring him. He retreats to the opera house and steals a mask.
Meanwhile, Raoul wants Christine to quit the opera and marry him. She is torn and has another man pursuing her, famed baritone Anatole Garron. During one of the performances, Biancarolli is drugged on stage, allowing Christine to finish the performance. She blames Christine and Anatole and wants to press charges. Biancarolli makes the ultimatum that Christine’s performance will not be released in the papers. That night, Claudin sneaks into her dressing room and kills her.
Needing to catch the murder, Anatole purposes the idea that they use another actress to bait out the phantom. Raoul goes along with it. Claudin is angered and saws the chain of the chandelier, allowing it to fall. In the chaos, he kidnaps Christine and takes her to his catacombs. Raoul and Anatole go after them to rescue her. To distract Claudin, the rest of the company sings Claudin’s opera.
Christine unmasks Claudin seeing his disfigured features. Terrified, she cowers. Raoul and Anatole appear and Raoul attempts to shoot Claudin. Anatole pushes his arm upwards and Raoul shoots at the ceiling causing a collapse. The three escape and the only image left of Claudin is the mask and his violin. The film ends with Christine being celebrate as an excellence singer adored by her fans and ignoring her potential suitors.
Themes and Motifs
Love and Jealousy
Love is one of the major themes of this adaptation. Like other adaptations and the novel, the phantom is driven by his love of Christine to help her and eventually kidnap her. Claudin pays for her vocal lessons, even though he cannot afford it. He is also driven to madness because of his love. However, it is not his love for Christine that kills him like in the book. The love the other suitors had for Christine is what potentially kills him.
Jealousy is constant in this film as well. Christine has three men falling for her and attempting to woo her. As a result, Anatole and Raoul attempt to outdo the other. Raoul sees the sculpture of Christine and questions it. Anatole then admits that it was stolen and that he made it from memory. The struggle between these two males drive the subplot and creates the comic relief in the film.
Jealousy is not as apparent with this phantom unlike previous ones. He is constantly giving Christine gifts and attempting to impress her. A hint of jealously appears when he kidnaps Christine. He kidnaps her because he wants to keep her to himself and away from the other two men. His desire to be with her fuels his kidnapping and as a result shows that
Much like previous adaptations and the original text, this film exhibits a haunted feel. In previous adaptation and the original text, the entire film is haunted by the phantom. Because this film gives the phantom an origin story, the "hauntedness" of the house and the building loses it effect. The novel and previous silent film are centered around an opera house haunted by a phantom that controls most of the decisions by force. Here, the phantom only haunts Biancarolli. The haunting simply becomes a murder. It presents Claudin as more of a stalker instead of a phantom.
However, the ambiguity of the ending creates the hauntedness of the entire film. The last shot of the cavern is a close up on Claudin’s mask and violin. It implies that the phantom will live on, and will haunt the opera house. It also gives the sense that music is constant and that his music will haunt the lives of those to come. The phantom will haunt the opera house, and as a result, leaves a haunted feeling with the viewers instead of a tied up ending.
Appearance vs. Reality
Appearances envelope the entire plot of this film. Claudin keeps up appearances to protect his love for Chrsitine. He uses a mask to hide his disfigured face, as a result hiding his true horrific nature. Claudin is a very sweet man, however, jealousy drives him mad. He originally appears to be monstrous because of his disfigurement as well as his actions. His beauty lies in his artwork.
This theme is not only for the appearance of Claudin but falls into the plot as well. Because Claudin operated in secret, some events appeared to have been caused by others. For example, Biancarolli believed she was drugged by Anatole and Christine because of the performance she gave after the fact. When in truth, Claudin drugged the cup.
Appearance and Reality comes into play with the main character Christine as well. Christine appears to have complete control over her life, however quite the opposite is true. Christine doesn’t pay for vocal lessons, she is conflicted between two men, and has no control over her job. Claudin is the person furthering her career. Christine has no real sense of control over her life until she makes the decision between career and love at the end.
This film introduces a new sense of a female identity. Christine is an independent woman. Even though she fancies Raoul and Anatole, she has a career and can support herself. This is different from the femininity of the novel and the previous adaptation. Christine is enchanted by the Phantom and looses control over herself. Raoul is the one who saves her from the phantom. It is very much the same in this film with the rescue, however, Christine must make the decision between a housewife and a working girl. At the end of the film, Christine chooses her career. She toys with the emotions of the men and is not ready to become the housewife. It is unlike previous adaptations, where Christine chooses to marry Raoul. Christine appears to be in control of her life, and at the end chooses her career.
Importance of Adaptation
This adaptation is one of the first film adaptations to introduce a love square instead of a triangle. Christine must make a choice between her booming career or being a domestic house wife for either Raoul or Anatole. Christine is a strong female character. She makes her own decisions and wants to see where her voice can take her in this career.
This is also the first American film adaptation which recognizes an origin story for the Phantom. In the Chinese remake of the 1925 adaptation, Midnight Song (1937), the phantom is given an origin story based in war and star-crossed love. However,Claudin is a secret admirer and man who snaps. His love for Christine spans well before he became the Phantom of the Paris Opera House. The origin story humanizes the phantom and makes him less terrifying.
The phantom is also disfigured. In the novel and the previous 1925 adaptation, the phantom has little to no facial feature and exemplifies a ghost like creature. However, Claudin is disfigured because of a chemical burn. It only covers a side of his face and can easily be hidden.
In this film adaptation, the phantom composes an opera. This is one of the first adaptations to have the phantom compose a piece instead of just playing the violin. This will be used in future adaptations. This is also the first adaptation where the phantom points out a lake in his underground cavern. It is one of the first adaptations to have a lake, which will pop up in future adaptations.
This adaptation demonstrates lack of genuine horror. The only time the anticipation and anxiety the horror genre produces was present in the film was towards the end of the film. Once Claudin started to saw the chandler to the moment the roof collapses, the tension and anxiety was present. It was only present because Christine was terrified. Every other moment we saw a strong Christine creating a lack of horror.