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It's quite strange watching Phantom of the Opera where the only music involved is the show the film centres around. Usually, we're used to seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical and the wonderment of the writer/composer's songs that have become instantly recognisable. However, this 1943 film starring Claude Rains as the disfigured violinist whose obsession with a young operatic singer puts lives in danger.
Rains plays Claudin, violinist with the Paris Opera House whose fingers are becoming unable to play the music required of him. After he composes a piece for understudy Christine Dubois and mistakenly thinks it has been stolen from him, a mad panic results in him having a tray of acid thrown over his face, and he disappears into the backstage and underground hidden areas of the Opera House, determined to make sure Christine gets the stardom he thinks she deserves, no matter who stands in his way.
Billed as a horror film, this shows more as an intense drama than the horror you might think it would be. The fact that Lloyd Webber has taken it on and turned into more of a dramatic horror musical probably softens the horror blow that this presents, and as a result it's almost tame. However, the music that actually plays rather constantly in the background of the film is very fitting with the pace and style of the film. There's a bit of a double act going on with the baritone and the detective as the realistic male loves in Christine's life, but this plays almost as a separate element of light relief from the rather dark and determined acts of Claudin.
It's when people start getting seriously injured and even killed that it gets real for the cast and also us as viewers. Until then it's an entertaining drama, but as Rains gets stuck into the role and really appears ferocious and dangerous, the film's entrancing nature sort of takes over. I struggle to agree with many people's thoughts of this being a masterpiece, but it certainly does contain plenty of different types of genre to keep the balance quite central. The comedy between the two suitors for Christine for example is a perfect way to strike some of the angst and tension that Claudin's actions cause.
The acting certainly helps things, with Rains being on top form here. I've only ever seen him in Casablanca before, where his charisma won a few hearts. Here, the charisma is there early, but it's his pain and angst and violence that works well. The supporting cast are solid, with the stars all being able to sing as they are parts in the stage show. It's entertaining throughout, and the final scenes build up enough tension to make sure that it ends on a high. I'm glad of this, as too many times an older film will just end without a closing down element - as if we're stopping halfway through a story.
There's none of this though, and I was left feeling entertained. It wasn't the masterpiece I had been expecting if I'm honest, but it was certainly a very good film, and one I'd happily watch again. Recommended.