Farfetched Movie Versions of “The Phantom of the Opera”
There has never been a faithful adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. Even Lon Chaney’s 1925 silent film and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical make significant changes to the plot. But these at least held to the general storyline and kept the names of the main characters straight. Names, however, were the least of the problems in some versions!
Song at Midnight (1937)
Most people have never heard of this one, even though it is considered China’s first horror movie. Song at Midnight is about Song Dangping, a Chinese opera singer who moonlights as a revolutionary. When a rival throws acid in his face, Dangping allows his lover, Xia, to believe his is dead. He then hides himself in the attic of an old theater. Xia goes insane and stays alive only because she hears Dangping serenading her at night.
Obviously, there is very little resemblance to what most people recognize as the Phantom story. However, Song at Midnight is a fantastic movie in its own right. Also, it is unclear whether or not it was ever even meant to be an adaptation of Leroux’s novel. Either way, this was the first in a long line of films which used acid as an explanation for the Phantom’s deformity.
The title of "Song at Midnight" is sometimes translated as "Singing at Midnight" as well as other variations.
1943 version with Claude Rains, Susanna Foster, and Nelson Eddy
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) – Claude Rains
The film with Claude Rains as the Phantom was meant to be a remake of Lon Chaney’s version. The writers, however, took off on their own and completely forgot about both Chaney and the original Phantom story.
Rains plays a violinist who turns to composing after arthritis ruins his career. He is in love with Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster), but hasn’t got a chance as she is loved not only by Raoul (played by Edgar Barrier) but also by her fellow opera singer, Anatole (Nelson Eddy). Rains’ character becomes the Phantom after acid is thrown in his face during an argument at his publisher’s office. After kidnapping Christine he is eventually hunted down and dies a tragic death. Christine ends the film by disappointing her remaining two suitors and deciding she loves singing above all.
The main draw of this movie was that it was filmed in Technicolor. Beyond this, it has basically no appeal. The ending falls flat, the characters don't sing even one piece of music from a real opera, and Nelson Eddy was not at his best vocally. Simply put, this version was saved only by Susanna Foster’s glorious voice:
The Phantom of the Opera (1962) – Hammer Horror
The Hammer Horror version is very similar to the Claude Rains one, in that the Phantom (Herbert Lom) was a neglected composer who was burned with acid. Christine (Heather Sears), however, is loved by Harry, an employee of the opera company, and they are all attempting to perform a version of Joan of Arc, whilst dodging the Phantom and his dwarf sidekick. This was a rather poor effort, even for the Hammer Horror Company
The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)
Also known as The Phantom of Lot 2, this version updates the story to modern times. Jack Cassidy (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) plays a Hollywood star who, after being disfigured, hides out in an unused movie lot. He later turns into a homicidal maniac – and looks sort of like a cross between Rambo and a medieval executioner. Gee, I wonder why this one never topped the charts…..
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
1974 really had a thing against The Phantom of the Opera: a few months after The Phantom of Hollywood was played on television, American movie theaters released Brian De Palma’s Phantom of Paradise. This one is OK, I guess, if you’re really into ‘70s rock music – and also mish-mashed stories of old horror movies and prison torture. But, all in all, this movie has basically nothing to do with the traditional Phantom story.
The Phantom of the Opera (1983) – Maximilian Schell
The acid saga came to a close in 1983 with Maximilian Schell as the husband of a struggling soprano. When a bad review pushes her over the edge, she commits suicide. Her husband, Sandor Korvin, plots revenge but is scarred by printer’s acid and goes into hiding. Years later, he sees Maria (not Christine in this version, for some strange reason) and becomes convinced she is his resurrected wife (despite the fact that her miraculously preserved body is still down in the cellar with him!). To make a long story short, Maria becomes completely creeped out by the whole situation and Korvin eventually kills himself while bringing the chandelier down.
This movie suffers greatly from the miscasting of Jane Seymour as “Christine” and as Korvin’s wife, and even more so with Michael York playing the Raoul character. However, Maximilian Schell is one of the best Phantoms ever filmed and the unmasking scene tops even Lon Chaney’s 1925 version.
Dario Argento’s Opera changes Christine’s name to Betty and has her performing, of all things, Verdi’s Macbeth. This version is set in modern times and is mostly a psychological portrait of Betty, who is fighting off a masked stalker. Oddly enough, the ravens in this movie seem rather reminiscent of the murderous crows in the Maximilian Schell version.
The Phantom of the Opera (1989) – Freddie Kruger
Yes, Robert Englund, star of Nightmare on Elm Street, played the Phantom. In this version, he is a composer who has sold his soul to the devil in order to obtain immortality. The gimmick however is that he will be hideously deformed. He stalks around finding victims and uses their skin to hide his face. Eventually he falls in love with Christine Day, a soprano who, after getting hit on the head by a sandbag during a Broadway audition, gets zapped back in time and into Erik’s world.
This production is difficult to watch because it is EXTREMELY gory. They do, however, get points for performing Faust and mentioning Don Juan Triumphant - this is also one of only two Phantom adaptations which actually show the graveyard scene (the other being Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s).
The Phantom of the Opera (1998) – Dario Argento
And as if once wasn’t enough, Dario Argento STILL continued to ruin the Phantom story 11 years after releasing Opera. Argento’s The Phantom of the Opera is basically a pornographic movie about a man (Julian Sands), without a deformity and without a mask, who stalks a surprisingly willing opera singer (Asia Argento). This one is widely considered the worst Phantom movie ever made, as well as one of the worst films in the world.