Release Date(s)1962 (August 11, 2020)
Studio(s)Hammer Film Productions/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Considered one of the last films of Hammer Studios’ golden age (though there were many more productions to come), 1962’s The Phantom of the Opera saw disappointing box office returns in the UK for J. Arthur Rank Distributors, but a healthy take for Universal in the US. The film was also mostly panned by critics, who by this time were ready tear apart any and all of Hammer’s output, regardless of content. It also wound up being a personal project of sorts for its director Terence Fisher, who by that point was a Hammer veteran and saw the film as one of his favorites.
Lord D’Arcy (Michael Gough), a slimy, petulant, and womanizing playwright, is about to see his latest opera open to the public for the first time. After a series of accidents and strange occurrences convince the employees that the theater is haunted, D’Arcy’s producer Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) is tasked with finding a replacement lead after the initial lady quits. He soon discovers the young and naive Christine (Heather Sears), and after fighting off D’Arcy’s advances, she soon falls in love with Harry who supports her fully. Meanwhile, Christine is being spoken to privately by a seemingly disembodied voice, telling her that she will only sing for him. It turns out to be a man named Petrie (Herbert Lom), a shadowy figure living beneath the streets of London who meddles with D’Arcy’s opera due to an unknown conflict between them.
Compared to other versions of The Phantom of the Opera, or even the original novel, its clear that Hammer was attempting to forge its own path, forgoing most of the shock and horror and attempting a gothic love story with a tragic character at the center instead. This incarnation of the phantom is a fallen figure, making D’Arcy the chief adversary. The more we learn about their history, the more realize that Petrie’s phantom has been wronged and deserves his revenge. However, the film is more about redemption than retribution. Once Christine finally sings the opera in the film’s final minutes, a single tear drips from the phantom’s eye, bring him full circle.
The cast is excellent, particularly Herbert Lom as the phantom, giving a manic and menacing, yet sympathetic, performance. The cinematography of Arthur Grant gives the film far more scope than many other Hammer films, even employing the use of Dutch angles for flashbacks, which is highly effective. Edwin Astley’s musical contributions are also noteworthy, particularly the phantom’s theme and the love theme, both memorable and hard-hitting.
Unfortunately, the film was doomed to fail. It was released at a time when Hammer’s output consisted almost solely of gothic horror, and to a very successful degree, on both sides of the Atlantic. The Phantom of the Opera dared to be something different, which didn’t altogether work out, especially in the UK where the film was trimmed for an “A” certificate in the hopes of reaching the widest audience possible. US audiences, who saw the complete version, were far more receptive. Today it’s looked at as one of Hammer’s most misunderstood productions, and has since been touted as one of the best versions of the story, even introducing elements from the original novel that were never utilized elsewhere.
The Phantom of the Opera comes to Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition package from Scream Factory, sporting a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element. The film is also presented in two aspect ratios: 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 (the latter can be found within the extras menu). The presentation looks remarkably film-like, featuring tight grain and high levels of fine detail on costumes, surfaces, and make-up appliances. Shadow detail is also boosted, while brightness and contrast levels allow blacks to appear natural and deep. The color palette is awash with a variety of bold swatches of red, blue, purple, and green, among many others. The image is also stable with no visible leftover damage. Only scene transitions appear weak.
The audio is presented in English mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Though emanating from a single source, the mono soundtrack supports the various elements with ease, never feeling overcrowded. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise, while sound effects have plenty of boost, dated though they may be. The score is robust, swelling and highlighting various scenes with real impact. It’s also a clean track, free of hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson on the 1.85:1 Version
- Audio Commentary by Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr on the 1.66:1 Version
- The Men Who Made Hammer: Anthony Hinds (HD – 27:44)
- Phantom Triumphant: Edwin Astley and Hammer’s Horror Opera (HD – 15:47)
- Herbert Lom: The Soul Behind the Mask (HD – 15:28)
- Making of The Phantom of the Opera (HD – 31:01)
- The Phantom of the Opera: Behind the Scenes (HD – 3:08)
- The Phantom of the Opera – 1.66:1 Version (HD – 1:24:13)
- The Phantom of the Opera – TV Version (SD – 1:37:59)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:16)
- Image Gallery (HD – 56 in all – 4:12)
The audio commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr recontextualizes the film as what it was intended to be versus what the public thought it was going to be when it was released. The pair swap their opinions while watching it, but also talk about the careers of the cast and crew. The audio commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson covers a lot of the same content as the previous commentary plus the following documentaries and featurettes, but it also provides added context for the film and its cast and crew. In The Men Who Made Hammer, author and Hammer fan Richard Klemensen discusses the career and personal life of writer and producer Anthony Hinds. In Phantom Triumphant, author and film music historian David Huckvale discusses composer Edwin Astley and his work for the film. Herbert Lom: The Soul Behind the Mask features novelist C. Courtney Joyner speaking about his relationship with the actor and his views on his career while working on his autobiography. Making of The Phantom of the Opera features Edward de Souza both narrating and appearing to take us through the background, production, and release of the film. Film historian Richard Golen and sound recordist Alan Lavender also appear. In the brief Behind the Scenes segment, special effects technician Brian Johnson talks about his contributions to the film. The TV version of the film edits out most of the violent content and adds in additional material that was shot specifically for its network TV debut. It’s from a low quality source, but its inclusion is more than welcome. The image gallery consists of 56 images of promotional photos, posters, and lobby cards.
One of the underappreciated films in the Hammer catalog, The Phantom of the Opera deserves all the modern re-evaluation it can get its hands on. It’s a wonderful adaptation that does its own thing. While it’s not perfect on all sides, it offers plenty of story and performance value. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray certainly bests all previous releases with a beautiful presentation and a mountain of entertaining extras. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons