This article is my contribution to our Claude Rains Blogathon. Happy Birthday, Claude Rains!
Phantom of the Opera from 1943 is a film which, in many ways, can be appreciated more for what it could have been than what it is. This film has many wonderful points, due mostly to the phantastic performance by Claude Rains, but it also has multiple faults, largely due to the story change which took place quite late in the filmmaking process. However, in this article, I will not dwell on the film’s faults but instead will discuss all the wonderful elements of the film. I will try my very best to show how this largely-forgotten gem is one of the most tragic, heartfelt, and overall beautiful versions of the famous tale The Phantom of the Opera. Join me on this journey to see how the brilliant, heartfelt performance of one of the greatest actors of all time made his Phantom, and the story which surrounds him, one of the best ever.
When we first see the Phantom, he is a normal, kind, good-natured violinist in the Paris Opera orchestra. He is Erique Claudin, the first important character we see in the film, and he is merely one among many violinists, concentrating on playing the very fast music and casting nervous glances at the conductor. He is soon upstaged by Nelson Eddy, as the opera’s lead baritone, Anatole Garron, whom we now see onstage. He is singing an aria from the opera being performed and casting affectionate glances offstage at a young member of the chorus, Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster). She returns his smile as Mademoiselle Biancarolli (Jane Farrar), the Prima Donna, glares at them both jealously. We see Claudin again, who seems to fake playing a couple of notes as the conductor casts a suspicious glare his way. Soon after, during the third act curtain call, Christine slips offstage to speak to Inspector Raoul Daubert (Edgar Barrier), who is her other beau and Anatole’s rival for her affections.
For the rest of the film, her two prospective beaux compete for her affections in a running skit involving them speaking over each other and trying to get through doorways at the same time. This skit adds a strange screwball comedy element to the film, which is entirely out of place in such a drama, and almost seems disrespectful to Erique’s suffering. When Christine passes off Raoul’s profession of love and tells him she doesn’t want to give up her career to marry him, we immediately see that she is a shallow character. We can tell that she is not the type of Christine who would sacrifice her young life, her love, and her career to the Phantom to make him happy.
Christine is reprimanded by the stage manager, Monsieur Vercheres (Steven Geray), for leaving the stage during the curtain call, and the conductor, Monsieur Villeneuve (Frank Puglia), tells her that he wishes to see her in his office after the performance.
When Christine comes to his office later, she is relieved to find that he is not angry with her. However, he tells her that she must choose between her career and a “normal” life as Raoul’s wife. Through this dialogue, he states the true theme of the film for the first time, which is that music is the most important thing and must come before everything else. This theme is later quoted by Christine’s singing teacher in the line, “Music is first. Music is everything,” an idea which runs throughout the entire story. After their talk, Monsieur Villeneuve asks Christine to tell Claudin, who is waiting in the anteroom, that he will see him now. She agrees and thanks him.
We then see Claudin standing beside a table outside the office, looking at Christine as she walks toward him, smiling, to the accompaniment of an achingly sweet violin in the background. The background music in this scene goes on to quote the theme, “Lullaby of the Bells,” as well as a song from the opera which we heard earlier, the title of which means “May Heaven Forgive You.” What follows is a sweet but sad exchange between Christine and Erique, which is their only true exchange in the film. I have written it out below, but you really must watch the scene to appreciate it, since half of its sentiment is portrayed through Claude Rains’s brilliant delivery.
Christine (smiling): Good evening. Monsieur Villeneuve asked that you come in now.
Claudin: Thank you, Mademoiselle. Thank you. (Christine starts to walk away, but Claudin calls out to her) Mademoiselle! May I speak to you for a minute?
Christine (turning around and walking back toward him): Certainly.
Claudin: You weren’t on the stage tonight for the third act curtain calls.
Christine (smiling again): Everyone in the theater seems to have noticed it. It’s really quite flattering.
Claudin (suddenly growing concerned): Why weren’t you there? (Christine gives him a slightly puzzled look.) Oh, forgive me, but I’ve been here so long that you… everybody, everything connected with the Opera is so much a part of my life.
Christine (understandingly): Of course. But, Monsieur Villeneuve is waiting.
Claudin (looking down grimly): Yes. (Looking back up at her, suddenly growing anxious.) You weren’t ill, were you? You’re not in any trouble?… Oh, it’s impertinent of me, I know, but…. (He falters, unsure of how to explain himself. However, Christine seems to understand.)
Christine (smiling and offering her hand): You’re very kind. Goodnight. (She turns and begins to walk away.)
Claudin (quickly stepping after her): Christine!
In the background music, the piano plays a startled, dissonant chord. Claudin immediately realizes what he’s said and quickly steps back. He looks at Christine with an almost frightened expression.
Claudin: Oh… Oh, I’m sorry. (Christine gives him a puzzled look, almost as if he’d called her by the wrong name.) I’m sorry.
Christine looks at him again, still seeming a little confused, then gives him a slight smile.
Christine: Goodnight. (She gives him one last doubtful glance before turning and walking away.)
Claudin (quietly but smiling slightly): Goodnight.
She then walks away.
This scene is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film. Susanna Foster’s Christine comes across as a shallow, slightly clueless character, reflecting her own personality traits. Many people, including myself and my family, feel that this hurts the film, since Christine has a very large, if not the largest, amount of screen-time. However, I like to think that all the faults with the story and the other characters, even Christine’s shallowness, makes Claudin seem even more wonderful, sweet, and tragic. He seems to be one of the only characters with a heart, largely due to the great actor portraying him. For instance, although Christine seems strangely cool and almost nervous in this scene, it makes his love for her even stronger and nobler. The way he smiles just because she offered her his hand and said he was kind shows that even the smallest remark from her makes his life worthwhile. Also, an interesting element unique to Claude Rains gives him a vulnerable, almost child-like quality which is particularly noticeable in this film, largely due to the fact that it is in color and it has been remastered extremely well. Due to the eye injury he sustained during World War I, Claude Rains’s eyes, particularly his right one, have a glassy, staring look to them. In this scene, although I don’t think it was intentional, his eyes look slightly wet, as though he has tears in them. This uncontrollable element brings an even deeper element of sadness to the scene.
After Christine has departed, Claudin picks up his violin case and coat and walks reluctantly into Monsieur Villeneuve’s office. The Maestro looks up at him, his demeanor becoming very cold, bordering on angry. He tells Claudin that for a while he has noticed slight “discord in the violin section” and that tonight he finally located the problem. He looks meaningfully at Claudin as he says this, then asks him to play for him. (Claude Rains took violin lessons to study for this role, and it really shows in the natural way he handles, tunes, and plays the instrument.)
Claudin’s every movement in this scene makes my heart ache for him; even the way he anxiously looks up as he rather absentmindedly tunes his violin touches me in a special way. Monsieur Villeneuve than sits down, and Claudin begins to play a beautifully simple melody. Although I know his playing was overdubbed, Claude Rains’s faking is remarkable. I can truly believe that he is playing it. As he plays, the camera does an extreme close-up on his face. I believe they shined a red light on his face, both to recreate fire-light and to make him look warmer. However, this was hardly necessary, since the placid, loving smile on his face and the aforementioned glassy quality of his eyes give him all the warmness necessary. Once again, his face takes on an almost child-like quality. It would be very hard not to be moved to sympathy for the character in either this scene or the previous one. Even Monsieur Villeneuve, who I consider to be a very cold, unfeeling character, seems slightly moved as Claudin plays.
When he has finished playing, Monsieur Villeneuve asks him what he was playing. Claudin replies, in one of the saddest lines in the film, due largely to its mere simplicity, “A little song.” He pauses, then elaborates by adding, “A lullaby, from Provence, where I was born.” Although his accent, which seems particularly strong on this line, betrays that he is not from Provence, it seems to add to the sadness of the line. Monsieur Villeneuve compliments his rendering of the song and wonders if perhaps he was wrong about Claudin’s playing. However, after considering, he is sure that he was not wrong. Seeming almost angry, he demands, “What could have been the matter, Claudin?! You’re an accomplished musician.” He calms slightly and asks Claudin to play the opening to the third act of Martha, the part of the opera where he realized that Claudin was the source of the problem. Realizing that he has no way of hiding that he was, indeed, the problem, Claudin confesses, “It’s no use, Maestro. Something has happened to the fingers of my left hand.” Monsieur Villeneuve insists that he played the lullaby perfectly, but Claudin confesses that he played it because it’s a simple melody that he can execute perfectly. Villeneuve is quite annoyed that Claudin tried to fool him, but the violinist quickly suggests that his problem might be temporary. However, Monsieur Villeneuve says that, even if it does, in the meantime, the Paris Opera’s goal is perfection. (This seems slightly strange, since most of the singers are far from perfect.) He unconvincingly says, “I’m sorry, old fellow. Very sorry. You’ve been with us a long time, haven’t you?” Claudin sadly replies, “Twenty years.” After a pause, he slightly desperately asks, “What am I to do, Maestro?” Monsieur Villeneuve replies that he knows it’s hard but adds that Claudin must have saved quite a bit of money for his retirement. Claudin doubtfully replies that he has, but we can tell that this isn’t true. Villeneuve says he’ll have a season ticket issued to him. Although this comes across to me like adding insult to injury, Claudin graciously thanks him and begins to put his violin away as it fades to a new scene.
In the next scene, we see Claudin entering a dark, dingy garret. He lights a candle then pulls some keys out of his pocket and unlocks a cabinet nearby. He withdraws a large portfolio and sits down at the table. As he gazes at it depressedly, his landlady enters with a tray of soup and bread. She accuses him of being a miser, hoarding his money and starving himself to death for no good reason. She then reveals that he is six weeks behind on his rent and demands that he pay her. He asks her to be patient a little longer and promises that he’ll pay her soon. She storms out, grumbling about “all that money doing nobody any good.” At the door, she says that if she doesn’t get her money, she’ll throw him out.
After she leaves, he takes the portfolio to the piano and begins playing a concerto which is based around the lullaby he played earlier (a melody by the film composer, Edward Ward, called “Lullaby of the Bells.”) As he plays, although the camera is not very close to him, we can see that he has tears in his eyes. He stares sadly off in the distance as the picture fades out.
In the next scene, we see Christine having a singing lesson. The doorbell rings and a maid admits Claudin. She tells him that he is later than usual and has missed most of the lesson. He tells her he hasn’t come for the lesson today. As he steps into the next room, the maid goes into the studio and tells the teacher, Signor Ferretti (Leo Carillo), that it is time for the lesson to end. Ferretti tells Christine that she was disappointing in her lesson, an observation which Claudin also made when he came in. He then tells her to dispense of whatever is bothering her, especially if it’s a man, saying the afore-mentioned line, “Music is first. Music is everything.” She bids him goodbye at the door, saying she can never repay him for what he’s done for her, while Claudin listens from behind a curtain in the next room, apparently not wanting to be seen. He then goes into the studio to speak to Ferretti, seeming very anxious and uncomfortable.
We learn through the following dialogue that Claudin has been anonymously paying for Christine’s lessons for three years, (though she has only been at the opera for two), and has no money left for himself. When Claudin tells Ferretti that he was dismissed from the opera and will “temporarily” be unable to pay for Christine’s lessons, Signor Ferretti proves to be another cold, unfeeling character; he is the third person of this kind to be seen in Claudin’s life so far. His character, as I said before, is made even sadder and more sympathetic since everyone seems to hate him for no apparent reason. Ferretti tells Claudin that he is a fool, since, as a poor violinist, he could never hope to win Christine. Claudin quickly reminds Ferretti that he agreed not to discuss his motive in helping her. I have included the conversation that follows to give you an accurate picture of Ferretti.
Claudin (pleadingly): Please. Won’t you continue to work with her?
Ferretti (coldly): Why should I? Why should I assume your burden after you spent all your money on her? The girl means nothing to me.
Claudin (desperately): But her career means more to me than anything else! (His tone becomes calmer and very sincere.) I would never let you lose anything on her account.
Ferretti (unconvincingly): I’m sorry, Claudin. Really sorry. If I had the time… But my expenses are great, and you must remember that many who can pay are waiting to study with me. Well, I will let her come a few times, and then I will tell her she no longer needs me.
Claudin (walking quickly over to Ferretti): But that isn’t true!
Ferretti (casually): As a matter of fact, if you had the money, she might be launched on a career very soon. (He pauses) I assume that Mademoiselle DuBois has not the means to pay for her own instruction.
Claudin (passing off the idea as ridiculous): Why, her month’s salary wouldn’t be enough to pay for one of your lessons! (He pauses and looks down at the portfolio he has under his arm, then suddenly becomes exuberant.) But, uh… I have written a concerto. Now, will you trust me if I can arrange to have it published?
Ferretti (chuckling): Every violinist has written a concerto! Come, come, my dear Claudin!
Claudin (hopefully): But I have faith in this one! As much faith as I had in Mademoiselle Dubois, when I came to you three years ago. Now, I was right about her, Signor, and I’m right about this! (Hurrying to get his hat and walking quickly toward the door) Pleyel and Desjardins are certain to publish it, and they’ll give me a substantial advance. (Hurrying out the door) You’ll see!
As Claudin speaks this last dialogue about his concerto being published, he suddenly becomes very exuberant and excited. As he hurries out the door, his excitement and eagerness are almost boyish. His childish manner once again makes all that is happening to him seem even sadder. Also, the first time you watch it, you are on the edge of your seat through approximately the first thirty minutes of the film, just waiting for some kind of accident to happen to poor Claudin to turn him into a masked phantom.
The next scene takes place in the Pleyel and Desjardins publishing office. Claudin is sitting impatiently in the waiting room, apparently waiting to see the publishers. He begins to walk stealthily toward the staircase leading down to the offices, as though he’s going to attempt to sneak inside. When he is halfway down the staircase, he overhears a man saying, “It’s a shame. Pleyel’s in there with his etchings. Why don’t they tell the poor devil he won’t see anyone today, instead of torturing him like this?”
Just then, a man emerges from the office and calls to Claudin. He stoically tells him that Pleyel can’t see him. When Claudin asks him if the publisher has seen his manuscript, he says he doesn’t know anything abut his manuscript, although Claudin objects that he took it into Pleyel himself. The man curtly replies that, if he did take it into him, he will receive it in due time. Claudin, desperate to know what has become of his life’s work, sneaks into the office.
Inside the office, we see Pleyel, a sniveling little old man, who is etching records with his young, attractive assistant, Georgette. He tells her to be careful with the acid, lest she burn herself terribly. However, as she lifts the pan toward him, he kisses her flirtatiously on the cheek. Claudin clears his throat timidly, interrupting them, and inquires about his manuscript. Pleyel, obviously annoyed by this interruption, impatiently tells Georgette to find Claudin’s manuscript. Seeming a little clueless, she asks him what his name is and none-too carefully looks over some music on the desk. He anxiously tells her that it is a large manuscript in a portfolio and that it isn’t among this small music. She just says that she can’t find it and tries to return to Pleyel, but he stops her, desperately telling her that it’s his only copy and represents two years’ work. She tries to reassure him, telling him that it will probably turn up in a few days.
Pleyel comes over to see what is happening and, when Claudin tells him that he must find his manuscript, rudely says, “Did we ask you to bring your music to us, Claudin? I’ve seen samples of your compositions before. Perhaps some employee has thrown this one into the wastebasket, where it belongs!” He gestures toward the door and demandingly says, “Goodnight.” He goes back to his etchings as Claudin looks over the papers on the desk again, desperate to find his music.
Suddenly, we hear a piano playing Claudin’s concerto. He starts at the sound of it and turns toward the source of the sound. We then see Desjardins in the next room with none other than Franz Liszt, who is playing the concerto. He says that it is wonderful and asks Desjardins who wrote it. Desjardins tells him Claudin’s name and informs him that he’s been trying to convince Pleyel to publish his music for years. Liszt smilingly replies that Pleyel will publish this before playing some more of it. Back in the other room, Claudin exclaims, “That’s my music.” Pleyel, who had gone back to his etchings, walks over to him and says, “I thought I told you to get out.”
Claudin stares at him, then slowly, almost disbelievingly, says, “Thief… You’ve stolen my music.” Suddenly, he snaps and shouts, “Thief!” He grabs Pleyel by the neck and begins strangling him. Georgette tries to stop him, telling him he’s choking him, but Claudin continues to choke him, still shouting, “You’ve stolen my music” and “Thief!” Georgette rushes back to the table, trying to find something to save him. Her eyes fall on the pan of acid, but by the time she rushes back over to them with it, it’s too late. With a final cry of “you’ve stolen my music,” Claudin shoves Pleyel down on the floor, then stands there, out of breath and still unaware of just what he’s done. Georgette looks down at Pleyel in disbelief, then looks up at Claudin and splashes the pan of bright green acid right in his face. The crashing music coincides with Claudin’s scream of agony. He puts his hands over his face and moans, screams, and whimpers in pain as Georgette stands there, the pan of acid still in her hands, with a blankly triumphant expression.
Claudin stumbles to the other side of the room, still moaning and covering his face. He stumbles toward the door, and we then see the waiting area again. Everyone has heard the screaming and moaning issuing from the room, and all eyes are turned toward the door. Claudin stumbles out, still moaning and whimpering. As he stumbles out, he bumps into the wall and trips on the staircase in his hurry to get out. At the top of the staircase, a man stops him and asks, “What happened?” However, Claudin merely pulls away from him and hurries out the door. Georgette emerges from the office, calling for help, and says that Pleyel has been murdered by Claudin. She, strangely, tells them to get a doctor before hurrying back inside. Desjardins tells someone to call a doctor and the police.
We then see a group of people in the street, calling for the police, saying, “He went that way,” and generally clamoring. Next, we see Claudin stumbling along a desolate street, still whimpering softly and covering his face. He hears policemen talking nearby and hides under a wagon. He turns down the lantern hanging on the wagon, takes it off, and climbs into the man-hole under the wagon. We see him on the ladder leading down, looking up through the grate as policemen search next to and under the wagon. Once they’ve left, he climbs down the ladder, turns the flame back up in the lantern, and puts his hand on the right side of his face. He walks along the edge of the sewer, looking down at the rushing water. Then, with a last, almost inhuman scream, he throws himself into the water and begins splashing it onto his injured face as the picture fades out.
For approximately the next twenty minutes, all that we see of Claudin, now the Phantom of the Opera, is a shadow of a man in a hat and a cape on a wall. In the next scene, the managers find that a cape and two masks from the costume department, some food from the restaurant, and the opera master-key, which opens every door in the opera house, have been stolen. The nervous stage-manager, Vercheres, attributes the thefts to a malicious ghost he believes is prowling around the Opera, but the managers attribute them to a human thief.
In the next scene, Christine is seen in her flat with Anatole, playing the piano and singing “The Lullaby of the Bells.” She tells Anatole that it’s a lullaby she’s known all her life. She then sings the words for him, and he joins her in a sweet, romantic duet. Christine and Anatole’s one romantic moment is infuriatingly broken by the entrance of Raoul, who asks her if she knew Claudin. She replies that she only met him a few times in the foyer or outside the opera but that she never knew him very well. Raoul shows her a bust of herself which was found in Claudin’s room, and Anatole tells him that he carved the bust himself as a present for Christine, but it went missing from his dressing-room. (It is interesting to note that Nelson Eddy really carved this very good bust of Susanna Foster.) He concludes that Claudin stole it, but Raoul doesn’t understand this. Anatole suggests that, after seeing Christine night after night onstage, the violinist probably fell in love with her. When Raoul points out that Claudin never sought more than “a casual acquaintance” with Christine, Anatole replies, “No doubt he lacked… assurance.” The scene ends with Raoul and Anatole’s leaving together.
At the next opera performance, as Christine stands in her dressing-room, she hears the Phantom’s voice saying, “Christine, you’re going to be a great and famous singer. I’ll help you.” She attempts to find the source of the voice but is unable to. We then see the Phantom’s hand as he puts something in the goblet out of which Biancarolli is going to drink onstage. It proves to be some kind of sedative, since she faints in the wings after drinking it. According to the Phantom’s plan, Christine, who is her understudy, must go on in her place. We finally see him in the flesh, wearing a long black cape and a dramatic, gray-blue mask, as he stands in the cellar beneath the stage and listens to Christine’s singing.
Christine is a huge success and gets a private bow in front of the curtain as the whole audience applauds her wildly. However, Biancarolli later accuses Anatole and Christine of plotting to murder her. She claims she was poisoned to the point of death, even though she seems to be full of life. When the managers ask her to forget the affair, she agrees not to charge them with attempted murder if Christine goes back to the chorus and remains there for the two years her contract will last. She also demands that they pretend Christine did not sing and notify all the newspapers not to mention Christine’s performance. The managers have no choice but to agree.
In the next scene, as Biancarolli gloats to her admiring maid in her dressing-room, the Phantom emerges from the closet and tells the prima donna that she must leave town so that Christine will sing the following night, saying it is her “last warning.” She tells him to “take off that prop-room mask,” trying to snatch it off of his face. However, he grabs her arm, and the camera cuts to the hall outside as we hear two screams. The Phantom emerges from the room and runs down the hallway, holding his cape in front of his face. Anatole sees him running away and chases him down the hallway and up a winding staircase to the rigging above the opera. Raoul sees Anatole and chases him up the stairs into the rigging.
Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered in the hallway, drawn by the screams. Raoul’s assistant emerges from the room and informs the crowd that Madame Biancarolli and her maid were murdered. At the same time, a dramatic chase scene is ensuing high above the stage. Anatole chases the Phantom up swaying ladders and through forests of ropes, but we don’t see Raoul in the rigging again. Eventually, the Phantom manages to elude Anatole. However, he then sneaks up behind the baritone, throws a broken rope and pulley at him, and succeeds in knocking him off the platform. Anatole manages to grab onto a curtain hanging above the stage, but he soon begins to slip down, and it’s still a long drop to the stage. At the last moment, he jumps and grabs onto a rope, which he uses to swing down onto the stage. He soon learns that no one else saw the Phantom and that Raoul was chasing him.
The Paris Opera is closed by order of the police until further notice, but the managers receive an anonymous note from the Phantom, demanding that the Opera reopen with Christine as the lead singer. This gives Raoul an idea of how to capture Claudin, and he tells the managers that they must reopen the opera with another singer in the lead. He believes that, if they do not pacify the Phantom by obeying his commands, they will lure him out of his lair. He will post policemen all around the theater and even onstage as supernumeraries to protect the singer and hopefully capture the Phantom.
In the next scene, Raoul and Anatole arrive at Christine’s flat at the same time and engage in an entirely goofy and ridiculous conversation, during which they constantly speak at the same time and contradict each other. Anatole tells Christine that they are reopening the opera, so they will at last be able to sing together. Raoul interrupts to say that he’s had to order them not to let Christine sing. Anatole doesn’t agree with this plot and tells Raoul that he has a confidential plan of his own, but Raoul informs him that he is not interested in any plan of his.
In the next scene, Anatole and Monsieur Villeneuve are paying a visit to Franz Liszt. Anatole reveals that his plan is to have Monsieur Liszt play Claudin’s concerto with the orchestra after the opera in hopes that the Phantom will emerge from his lair to hear the music. Monsieur Liszt agrees to do it as the scene ends.
In the next scene, it is the night of the Opera’s reopening. The managers have received another note from the Phantom, warning them to have Christine sing, lest a terrible event occur. Backstage, Raoul is commandeering his officers, who are wearing cloaks and masks. In the opera, a fictional Russian piece entitled Le Prince Masque de Caucasus, all the characters wear masks, quite a few of which are exactly like the Phantom’s. Although this may seem like an inexcusably foolish opera to perform when there is a masked Phantom haunting the theater, I don’t believe any of the characters know that Claudin wears a mask.
While backstage, Raoul runs into Christine. He scolds her for coming to the theater, since he told her to stay home for her own safety. She replies that she couldn’t stay away, since they’re debuting a new opera. Raoul tells her that he’s afraid of what might happen throughout the course of the evening, but she thinks she’ll be alright.
Soon, the Phantom enters the scene. To disguise himself, he kills one of the officers and steals his cloak. However, Raoul soon discovers the body and realizes that the Phantom is onstage. He pulls off a couple of men’s masks in an attempt to find the Phantom. However, by this point, the Phantom seems to have abandoned whatever plan he had and has left the stage. He has climbed up a ladder, apparently going up into the rigging again. The rather stupid soprano playing the lead is not at all frightened of the Phantom and is merely enjoying her importance.
As the performance begins, the Phantom appears above the theater’s massive, elaborate chandelier, armed with a hacksaw. He contemplates the chandelier for a moment, then leans down and begins to saw one of the links of the thick, iron support chain. As the performance continues, the film alternates between shots of the performance, Raoul and his assistant walking through the rigging in search of their quarry, and the Phantom sawing the chain. As he makes the last few cuts, the chandelier begins to shake, and the leading lady lets out a bloodcurdling scream just as the chain gives way and the chandelier smashes into the middle of the startled audience.
As chaos erupts backstage, we see Christine standing bewilderedly amid the rushing people, asking what happened. Suddenly the Phantom appears and tells her to come with him. She asks him if he is one of the police, and he nods. He tells her that he’ll look after her, and she follows him willingly until he leads her to a forbidding iron door which leads to the cellars. She suddenly realizes that he is not one of the police and tries to pull away, but he tells her he’ll take care of her. She starts to scream as he pulls her through the door, but he puts his hand over her mouth to quiet her. Once they’ve gone through the doorway, he releases her mouth, and she makes no more attempts to scream. In the following dialogue. he brilliantly portrays that his character is now quite mad merely through his voice and his actions, since he cannot use much expression with his face or his eyes because of the mask
The Phantom (holding Christine quite firmly by her waist and her hand): You’ll stay here with me, my child, won’t you? It’s been so lonely without you, but you’ve come to me at last, haven’t you? (Christine tries to lean as far away from him as possible and shakes her head in terror.) Now you’ll sing for me, and I’ll play. And we’ll be together forever. (He leads her to the top of a long ramp that goes down to a rather dismal-looking place.) The Phantom: It’s beautiful down there. Beautiful. Come now, my little one. (He puts his arm around her again and ushers her toward the ramp.)
Raoul is then shown with his assistant, inspecting the broken chain of the chandelier. Meanwhile, the few people still in the audience are continuing to scream, clamor, and hurry from the theater. Although the chandelier is not shown falling on anyone, two men seem to be trying to lift it, implying that someone is probably under it.
The Phantom and Christine are shown again, now at the bottom of the ramp. There is then a close shot of some rats crawling around on something, as Christine and the Phantom appear at the top of a stone staircase at the back. He is now carrying a lantern.
Back above in the theater, Raoul bursts into Christine’s dressing-room, but the other chorus-member who shares the room with her tells him she hasn’t seen her.
The Phantom and Christine are now shown walking through an archway as she looks frightenedly back over her shoulder. The Phantom, who was merely leading her by the hand, suddenly turns, grabs her around the waist again, and holds the lamp up to shine some light on her face. She looks at him with frightened eyes, visibly shaking with terror.
The Phantom: There. You’re not frightened now, are you? (He begins to lead her along again by the arm) You know I’ll not harm you, don’t you? How could I harm you? I’ve always helped you. Haven’t I?
Christine (in a shaking voice): Yes.
The Phantom (pausing and leaning toward her): Yes, what?
Christine: Yes, you’ve always helped me.
The Phantom (beginning to walk again): Of course I have. Biancarolli knows. She wouldn’t let you sing. She didn’t know how much I love you. Now she knows. But it doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters except you and me, Christine. Now you’ll sing all you want, but only for me. You will, won’t you? My darling?!
Christine (trying to appear less frightened): Of course. There’s a piano in the Opera foyer. Let’s go there. You play, and I’ll sing for you! (She starts to step back, as though beginning to lead him back the way they came.)
The Phantom: But you don’t understand. We can’t go back there… ever. It was I who made the chandelier fall. I, for you, Christine. But I warned them. (He suddenly and impulsively puts his arm around her shoulder and presses her closer to him) I told them there’d be death and destruction if they didn’t let you sing. Come! (He begins to lead her along again.)
They walk through a small tunnel, suddenly emerging into another room. We can’t see the room yet, but the rippling reflections on the wall inform us that this room contains the famous, subterranean Phantom Lake. Christine looks around her in horror as the Phantom lifts his lantern to shine some more light on the room.
The Phantom: See? Didn’t I tell you it was beautiful? You didn’t know we had a lake all to ourselves, did you? (Christine suddenly puts her hands in front of her face and sobs. The Phantom pulls her hands away and looks at her intently.) They’ve poisoned your mind against me. That’s why you’re afraid. (He takes her by the arm again and begins to lead her along the edge of the lake, which is now visible.) Look at your lake, Christine. You’ll love it here, once you get used to the dark. And you’ll love the dark, too. It’s friendly and peaceful. It brings rest and relief from pain. It’s right under the Opera. The music comes down, and the darkness distills it… cleanses it of the suffering that made it. And it’s all beauty… And life here is like a resurrection.
Meanwhile, onstage, Anatole is preparing Liszt and the orchestra to play Claudin’s concerto. Raoul suddenly rushes on and asks him if he knows where Christine is, and he replies that she’s at home. Raoul informs him that she came to the theater, and they both seem to come to the same conclusion: the Phantom must have stolen her away. Anatole tells Liszt and the orchestra to start playing before hurrying off with Raoul to find Christine. Raoul, Anatole, and a few other officers go through the same door the Phantom used to bring Christine down with him, and they go off in different directions to find her. Raoul and Anatole stay together and hurry desperately through the catacombs, calling for Christine. The two men eventually come upon the afore-mentioned staircase, past the rats, in their search for Christine as, on the stage, the concerto begins to play.
Meanwhile, Christine and the Phantom have just entered his room, which contains a table holding a pitcher and a bowl of fruit, as well as a piano. The Phantom hears the music playing, and, after seating Christine at the table, sits down at the piano and begins to play along. Raoul and Anatole eventually realize that there is a piano playing ahead of them as well as above them. The two searchers soon reach the lake, but they go around it the wrong way, causing part of the wall to crumble and nearly crush Raoul.
Back in the Phantom’s room, Christine seems to have regained her composure somewhat and is now standing by the chair, watching the Phantom play. Suddenly, the Phantom utters the now famous line, “Sing, Christine! Sing!” Christine seems to grow frightened again as she sings along to the concerto with tremulous vibrato, slowly walking toward the Phantom. Raoul and Anatole are shown again, drawing closer and closer to the Phantom and Christine. As she sings, Christine suddenly seems overcome by a desire to see behind the mask and steps slightly behind Claudin. She hesitantly reaches toward him but swiftly withdraws her hand when he looks at her again. She sings a little longer, then, in one swift movement, reaches out and pulls the mask off.
The Phantom stops playing as his red, burnt face is exposed. He rises quickly to an extreme close-up on his face, (which, by the way, is only disfigured on the right side), then turns to look at Christine. Christine’s face shows a mixture of fright, horror, and disgust as she slowly backs away, shaking her head slightly, and then presses herself against the wall. Before the Phantom can act, Raoul and Anatole burst into the room. The Phantom turns toward them, and both their faces register a mixture of horror and disgust. Then, Raoul nervously raises his gun and says, “Don’t move.” However, the Phantom pulls a sword off the piano and seems as though he’s about to start toward them. Raoul begins to shoot, but Anatole, apparently not wanting Claudin to die, pushes his arm. The gun instead shoots the ceiling, and the room begins to cave in. The two men grab Christine and rush from the room just as the wall collapses completely, crushing the Phantom beneath it.
The frightened threesome rushes along the edge of the lake amidst falling rubble and debris and finally makes it to a safe, sturdy part of the cellars again. Raoul quickly takes off his cape, which he and Anatole put around the frightened Christine’s shoulders. As they slowly walk away from the entrance to the now caved-in lair, Christine tells them that he called the concerto his but that it was based around the melody of “her song.” When she asks who he was, Anatole tells her that he came from her district in Provence and that the lullaby was a folk song from that area.
Then, in a strangely sweet moment, Christine says, “He was almost a stranger to me, and yet… somehow I always felt drawn to him with… with a kind of pity. Understanding.” This monologue is very sweet and shows us the Christine we wanted to see in the rest of the film. Unfortunately, there is no scene to back up this pity and understanding she felt toward him, since she seemed rather unwilling to talk to him the one time we saw them speak with each other. However, perhaps on the “other times” she met him, which we did not see, she was kinder. Anatole replies that his “madness and suffering will be forgotten. His music, his concerto, will remain.” Christine says that she was glad he heard it one last time. Then, shaking her head, she sadly says, “Poor Claudin.” We then see the Phantom’s caved-in room again. Amidst the rubble, his violin and his mask are lying, forgotten.
I sincerely wish that the film had ended on this bittersweet note, but, unfortunately, there is a quite unnecessary epilogue. In this epilogue, Christine ultimately deserts both of her suitors in favor of her career. Although, on the surface, this makes Christine seem even more shallow, since she chooses her career over the life of a wife and mother, there is a more romantic way to think about it. I prefer to think that, really, she is choosing the Phantom, since he sacrificed everything for her career.
Although this film has many flaws, and many people consider it to be an overall mediocre film, I think that, at its core, it is a truly wonderful film. However, even if you don’t care for the film personally, you must appreciate that it changed the story of The Phantom of the Opera forever. Before Claude Rains’s Phantom, there was Gaston Leroux’s original “living corpse” and Lon Chaney’s silent monster. Both Phantoms were, in the words of the novel, le morte vivant, a man “built up with death from head to foot.” However, the 1943 film created a new kind of Phantom, a suave, attractive, quite dashing Phantom whose only defect is a disfigured or deformed face. For instance, I sincerely believe that, without Erique Claudin (Claude Rains), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous Phantom would not be the way we know him, if he would have been created at all. Let me point out just a few elements in Mr. Webber’s musical which were clearly inspired by this film: 1. Only one side of Claudin’s face is effected by the acid, clearly inspiring the idea that only one side of the Webber Phantom’s face is deformed, thus creating the famous half-mask. 2. Claude Rains’s monologue about the darkness is quite clearly the inspiration for the lyrics to “Music of the Night.” 3. Anatole uses Claudin’s concerto in an attempt to lure him out, just as Mr. Webber’s Raoul uses “Don Juan Triumphant” to capture the Phantom in his story.
These are only a few examples of how later Phantoms were different because of this film. The original novel, The Phantom of the Opera, would probably still be out of print, most of the other film versions would probably not have been made, and the story itself, which is now so immortal, would probably have gone the way of all the rest of Gaston Leroux’s works. In short, good, bad, or indifferent, this film and its Phantom made The Phantom of the Opera what it is today.
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