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Garp's Franchise Film reviews

Garp

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'Poodle Springs' [1998]

James Caan takes on Marlowe in this TV movie version of an unfinished Raymond Chandler novel, completed by Robert B Parker and adapted to the screen by Tom Stoppard.

Marlowe is old, his normal world-weariness reaching epic proportions. The only thing that appears to have put a spring in his step is his recent marriage to a younger, richer woman (the beautiful Dina Meyer). As a wedding gift, her wealthy father provides them with a new home in the desert resort of Poodle Springs. Can Marlowe settle down in unaccustomed comfort or will he be drawn back to the familiar grit of LA?

Considering the different fingers in this pie, the film is remarkably enjoyable. Caan plays a great Marlowe, completely appropriate to where his life has led him thus far. This Marlowe, set in late 1963 on the cusp of Kennedy's assassination, is a fish out of water. He dresses as if it's still the 40s and realises that he's an old man in a young man's game where the rules have changed. He is both fascinated and repulsed by this new life, marveling over an electric toothbrush whilst bristling at the sleazy politics he's now a part of.

The plot is the usual convoluted affair - Marlowe is the first on the scene of many murders, and there's a pornography angle not dissimilar to 'The Big Sleep'. The sub-plot involving Poodle Springs itself seems tacked on and is an unnecessary coda to the film. Still, there are some nice touches here - is Caan's constant inability to light his cigarette a playful nod at Gould's ease to do the same in 'The Long Goodbye', perhaps? - and it evokes an early 60s vibe albeit in a stylized TV-movie way. Overall, though, as an ending to my Philip Marlowe saga, it's an appropriate one, and a good one at that.
 

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Next up: I'll be watching 11 versions of 'The Phantom of the Opera', plus 4 bonus films loosely connected to it, starting with the 1925 adaptation starring Lon Chaney. I've never even seen one version of this, nor read the novel, so I'm not entirely sure what I'm letting myself in for.

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TM2YC

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Garp said:
Next up: I'll be watching 11 versions of 'The Phantom of the Opera', plus 4 bonus films loosely connected to it, starting with the 1925 adaptation starring Lon Chaney. I've never even seen one version of this, nor read the novel, so I'm not entirely sure what I'm letting myself in for.

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Nice.

I keep meaning to rewatch it with Rick Wakeman's score for the Chaney film.


and I need to finally unwrap and watch my blu-ray of The Phantom of the Paradise.

From the look of the villain, you might be able to include the new Bond film in your watch list :D :

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TM2YC said:
Nice.

I keep meaning to rewatch it with Rick Wakeman's score for the Chaney film.


and I need to finally unwrap and watch my blu-ray of The Phantom of the Paradise

Sweet! Neither of these were on my list - you've made my day. :)
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1925/1929]

I'm starting my attempt to watch as many adaptations of Gaston Leroux's 'The Phantom of the Opera' with two versions of the silent film starring Lon Chaney. With the advent of sound, the film was recut in 1929 with new scenes and dialogue added. Most of the new dialogue is now lost, although a silent version still remains and is the version most people have seen, entering the public domain in the early 50s.

Kino Lorber's blu-ray features both versions, and the 1929 film looks superb. An early technicolor technique is utilized for the grand ball scene and it looks amazing; I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it in a silent film before. Later, the Phantom perches on top of the Paris Opera House, his bright red cloak billowing in the wind, and it's wonderful.

The film itself is no bad shakes either. Chaney's reveal as the Phantom loses some of its shock factor as it is a clip that you have probably seen dozens of times before. However, in context, it still gives you chills and is even more impressive when you realise Chaney did his own make-up. The sets are magnificent - a replica of the Paris Opera House is particularly impressive, although the details in the backstage areas are even better for my money. The acting is very much of its time - adequate and appropriate, although nothing outstanding - and I was impressed with the number of different shots for each scene. Not much in the way of moving camerawork, of course, but definitely more interesting than the simple static shots you can usually find in silent cinema, as if filming a stage play.

The two versions differ in a number of ways. The 1929 version reshot the scenes onstage, replacing the Prima Donna with a younger actress. The original actress is instead recast as her mother in other scenes, changing the intertitles but retaining the original shots. Ledoux's role in the 1925 version is larger and his background is explained earlier; the 1929 wins out here, prolonging the mystery. Otherwise, I enjoyed the 1925 version more. The characters are given greater backstory, especially Mary Philbin as Christine who comes across as a little too naïve in the 1929 version, not realizing sooner who the voice behind her wall is. However, there's probably an even better movie to be made here, taking the best parts from the 1925 version and intercutting them with the superior print of the 1929 one.

I watched these films several times over the course of a few days, with audio commentaries and different soundtracks, including the one with a Rick Wakeman score (which I had to turn off, sounding too modern for my ears) yet was still immersed in the story each time. However you see it, I can't believe you'd be disappointed.
 

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I recently bought the Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray collection, which for some reason doesn't include the 1925/1929 version, so I had to get it separately. I haven't watched it yet because I'm waiting to marathon all 31 monster movies from those sets this October. You've really sparked my interest in the original. I knew there were two versions of the original (both included in my set), but I didn't really know what the differences were. I'm looking forward to your review of the 1943 version too.
 

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Thanks. I'm planning on watching the 1943 version tonight.

I'm hoping that someone here will pick up the Kino Lorber blu-ray and make a definitive version of the Lon Chaney film. The 1929 version is more streamlined but it's chopped around a lot and there's some good stuff that was left out.
 

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'Phantom of the Opera' [1943]

Claude Rains dons the mask as Universal update Leroux's novel in gloriously garish Technicolor and sound.

On paper, there was good reason to believe that 'Phantom of the Opera' could do with a facelift. Much of the film is set in the lavish confines of an opera house, with fancy costumes and the like, plus who wouldn't want to hear those vibrato tones from some beautiful people? Throw in the always excellent Claude Rains and you're sure to have a winner.

And, to an extent, it succeeds. The production is indeed high; the sets and costumes are as exquisite in their eye-popping glory. If you like opera, you'll probably like the many scenes of songs being belted out at full volume too. Unfortunately, the style overpowers the substance here. Rains is wonderful as the timid, lovesick violinist at the beginning, but he is sidelined for much of the film once his hideous transformation occurs. The backstory - shown here, rather than told as in the 1925/29 original - is well done, but kills any mystery and suspense that the Chaney version had. There is talk of a 'ghost' in the opera house here, but it's more of a throwaway line - everyone knows pretty much from the start that it's Rains stalking backstage, intent on revenge.

The film is also bogged down with a plodding love triangle, used in part as comic relief, although it becomes annoying very quickly. The dramatic collapse of the chandelier actually looked better in 1925 than 1943, although there are some nice touches sprinkled throughout. Luring the phantom with a concerto he had composed himself worked well, I thought, and it's always nice to have a surprise cameo by Franz Liszt!

The film ends in a typically semi-ambiguous way, a la many Universal Monster movies (there was a sequel planned, which later became the film 'The Climax' in 1944 - I have it on order). Overall, though, I was disappointed.
 

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BONUS: 'The Climax' [1944]

This film was conceived as a sequel to 1943's 'Phantom of the Opera' and features the same sets as well as one leading cast member.

Dr. Hohner (Boris Karloff) is so jealous that other people are allowed to hear his lover's beautiful singing voice that he kills her, then hides her strangely well-preserved body in a secret room in his house. Ten years pass, and another beautiful young woman (Susanna Foster, also of 'Phantom') catches his eye - or rather his ear, as she sounds remarkably like his dead lover. His obsession returns...

'The Climax' is certainly a spiritual successor to 'Phantom' if not an actual one. Like it's predecessor, it tries to mix horror, romance and music, but fails even more dismally than the original. Karloff is creepy and over-bearing as the psychotic doctor, but unfortunately there's just not enough of him here. More emphasis is made of the music and sets - both of which are lavish - and the blossoming romance between Foster and her beau Turhan Bey. Some suspense is had in the finale (climax?), wondering whether the young star will succumb to the doctor's mesmerizing ways, but that feeling passes quickly. There is the usual Universal dramatic demise of the villain, which is spoiled in the trailer if you happen to see it first.

As a standalone film, I wouldn't recommend it unless you like operetta and the glass-shattering high notes the heroine frequently reaches. It works better as an accompaniment to 1943's 'Phantom of the Opera', as there some entertainment to be had from the similarities, so long as your expectations are low.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1962]

Hammer Studio tackles the phantom, with Herbert Lom in the title role. I still haven't got round to reading the book, but this version certainly plays with the plot of the 1925 adaptation.

First off, this film is less horror, more mystery. The phantom is described more frequently as a ghost, although from the outset the audience can see he is real enough. Confusingly, the phantom has a mute Igor-like sidekick - necessary to ensure the real phantom is a more heroic figure, as Lom here doesn't embark on anything grotesque beyond kidnapping Christine (Heather Sears). Even then, it's suggested it's more to have some solitude to get some singing lessons in.

The mystery behind the phantom is told about halfway through and then, unnecessarily, we are shown the same tale in flashback towards the end of the film. The reveal of Lom's face when he removes his mask is wasted and anti-climatic (the make-up isn't very good, which is probably why we don't get a close-up), which is a shame as Lom is generally good here. It's not easy to portray a character who has a full mask throughout most of the film, but Lom emotes enough to make for a believable hermit.

There are some similarities to the 1925 version - the pipe used to breath through underwater in the sewers, and the chandelier falling, albeit both with a twist. Also, Christine first encounters the phantom as a disembodied voice. The production looks good too, especially the outdoor scenes, and the musical numbers are pared down. With Lom's role being a sort of hero, Edward de Souza is the leading man and Michael Gough the real villain here. There are also a ton of well-known character actors, making this an entertaining if not a spooky experience.
 

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BONUS: 'The Phantom of Hollywood' [1974]

Watching this TV movie, I couldn't help feeling the filmmakers were killing two birds with one stone. They take the basic 'Opera' story and transplant it to MGM's (or 'Worldwide Studios' in this film) backlot. The premise is that the backlots are being demolished, and the dreaded phantom is none too happy about it. And yet, in actuality, MGM were demolishing their backlots at the time, so why not make a movie about it anyway?

Here, then, we have an interesting look behind the scenes of Hollywood movie-making, if not an interesting film per se. The beginning of the film shows eerie shots of the abandoned sets, interspersed with actual footage from the films they were used in. It's very well done, and if you get a chance to watch just these scenes, check it out. But perhaps go no further.

The burlap-masked Phantom is introduced early on, and there is a definite Scooby-Doo vibe whenever he first appears, standing atop dilapidated buildings, watching some meddling kids below. Being a TV movie, his inevitable murders are bloodless, so there is no real horror to speak of. Is this a mystery instead? I suppose, although it's not a very good one. Who is the Phantom? And why would you care?

I admit to nodding off in parts of this one, but I was awake to see the reveal. The make-up isn't frightening and his demise is weirdly edited. Come for the old MGM backlots, then leave.
 

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BONUS: 'Phantom of the Paradise' [1974]

What do we have here? A rock musical blending of 'The Phantom of the Opera' with 'Faust' and a dash of 'Picture of Dorian Gray'. It starts with a modern rendering of the 1943 version of 'Phantom' with Claude Rains, as Winslow Leach (William Finley) is cheated out of his music by the Svengali figure of Swan (Paul Williams). How Winslow becomes disfigured is a nice touch for this rock opera, directed by Brian de Palma, no less.

There is a lot going on here. There are parodies of everything from the 1950s music revivals to the Beach Boys to the most famous scene from 'Psycho'. The whole film is saturated in that early 1970s period between hippy innocence and glam rock. There are split screens and some fairly hummable tunes, but there's no cohesion. It comes across as an excuse to poke fun at the superficiality of the music industry and have a good time doing it. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, although by the third act, I felt the joke was wearing thin.

It's an odd one to review. I don't think it's a very good film, but it entertained me nonetheless and I'm glad I've seen it. If, in the future, someone inexplicably asks whether I've ever seen 'Phantom of the Paradise', I can say, "Yep', and we'll both nod knowingly and move onto something else.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1983]

This TV movie features Maximilian Schell as a frustrated conductor whose wife (Jane Seymour) is savagely attacked by the critics at her debut performance as an opera singer, after rebuffing the advances of the theater's owner. With dramatic largesse, she kills herself, sending Schell into a murderous rage. No guesses what his consequences are...

This is a flat and lifeless retelling. I still haven't read the novel, but there are parts common to previous film adaptations I noticed. Like Herbert Lom's portrayal, the Phantom here has a mute sidekick for no apparent reason, as he doesn't do anything, silently or otherwise. The Phantom woos the new young singer (a dead ringer for his dead wife - what are the chances?!) in her dressing room, but reveals himself early on, and takes her to what looks to be a rather nice flat, as opposed to his dungeon. Meanwhile, she gets involved with the new opera director (Michael York), which necessitates the eventual kidnapping.

Man, this film was dull. There is very little of merit here, though I'll try. Philip Stone (caretaker/waiter Grady in 'The Shining') was a blessing to see, and the mask the Phantom wears for the latter half of the film is unusual inasmuch as it's a replica of an actual face. It has an uncanny valley look to it, like the CGI version of the Lawnmower Man. It's very odd. Then there is the masked ball, which looks like it was filmed in someone's living room. How is it possible that this scene looked so much better in 1925? The chandelier still falls, but I can't imagine anyone cared by then.

Yes, Jane Seymour looked lovely throughout and if you have always wanted to see her naked back, you're obviously in for a treat. Otherwise, steer clear.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1988]

So this is an animated version of the novel, told in under an hour. Let's start with the animation style first: it's akin to a Saturday morning Filmation cartoon. These characters could turn up in 'He-Man' and blend right in. Depending on your view of Saturday morning cartoons, you may either get a warm flood of nostalgia or turn your nose up at the simplistic design. Me, I went from one extreme to the other. Even at such a short run time, I was getting tired of the jerky animation and the numerous ways the animators tried to avoid having to make the characters' mouths move.

As for the story, it is supposed to be one of the most faithful adaptations of the book. For me, I noticed how closely it matched the 1925 version, which is a very good thing in my book. We have the 'haunted' box in the opera, the mysterious foreigner (here a Persian) on the Phantom's trail, and the heat-inducing torture room. There's even the weird insect keys that Christine is forced to choose between.

Which for me begged the question - who is this for? The plot isn't the most complicated to follow, but neither is it light fare for the kids. Yet the animation style isn't visually enticing for most adults. I enjoyed it as it was interesting to me how they translated certain parts from the 1925 film into a cartoon (the masked ball and the Phantom eavesdropping on the two lovers on the roof of the opera house are the most visually similar). But without that context, I'm not sure what I might have got from this. Perhaps it's a useful Cliff Notes version for students with short attention spans. If you have a hankering to check it out, it's available free on YouTube at the moment.
 

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BONUS: 'Phantom of the Ritz' [1988]

In the late 50s, a young man is killed in a car race, and his brother is disfigured trying to save him. For reasons unknown, he hides out in a nearby movie theater, terrorizing the customers. Fade out, fade in, and thirty years later, the abandoned theater is bought by a local entrepreneur, looking to transform it into a concert hall for 50s nostalgia. The Phantom, however, has other ideas...

This is not a good film. The acting, by and large, is bad, the dialogue is appalling and the plot paper-thin. I suspect it's supposed to be a comedy-horror- musical, but it just means it fails three times instead of once. You would have to be on seriously strong drugs to be amused by this, and as all the kills occur offscreen, there is zero horror. There is, at least, music (I assume those are the real Coasters on stage, though they are lip-syncing), but 'Grease' this is not.

The filmmakers appear to have been more heavily influenced by 'The Phantom of the Paradise' than '...the Opera' here, but don't even reach those admittedly weird heights. The Phantom - who has an unnecessary voice-over throughout - does not show himself completely until the 70 minute mark. I was beginning to wonder whether they were setting us up for an interesting twist - you thought the Phantom was that guy? Well, actually it's... - but no. He is that guy, and it is that dull.

One bright spark is Deborah van Valkenburgh, who is too talented for this. She alone shows some acting chops and has a good singing voice (which isn't used in any part of the plot, incredibly), although there's no way she would be shacked up with that idiot the filmmakers paired her with.

I don't enjoy bashing low budget films, because no doubt a lot of heart and joy went into the making of it (I think the actors display that they are having a great time, even if the audience is not). But, honestly, it was just a waste of an evening for me.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1989]

With Robert Englund playing the Phantom, it's easy to see this version as a Nightmare on Elm Street-style adaptation - a connection the filmmakers play up with Englund's make-up. The film features a contemporary framing story but soon gets to the main flashback that is the bulk of the movie. Here we are in 1880s London - and, oh, wasn't there another mysterious figure lurking around those parts at that time too..?

While 'The Phantom of the Paradise' meshed Faust, Phantom and the Picture of Dorian Gray, this Phantom tackles Faust and adds on a splash of Jack the Ripper. This then is the bloodiest of the Phantoms so far, jettisoning any nuance that he might be a sympathetic figure. He's not, they've decided - he's a psychotic killer and that's that.

The make-up is good, albeit very much Krueger-esque, and the kills are gory enough in places. Englund hams it up wildly, and our Christine here (Jill Schoelen) is fine until she tries to lip-sync the operatic moments. Bill Nighy has an extended cameo, but Terence Harvey as the world-weary inspector is the most fun to watch.

There are some callbacks to the novel/previous versions - the ratcatcher, the masked ball, the supposedly haunted box - and the production values are high. (They look like sound sets, but good sound sets, you know?)

The framing story is frankly ridiculous, but allows an opportunity to have a second climax, I suppose, with the ambiguous ending much beloved by horror directors. Serious slasher freaks would probably turn their noses up at this, but I was entertained just enough.
 

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'Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge' [1989]

Poor Eric. He's having some intimate time with his beautiful girlfriend, when someone decides to burn down his house. A year later, and a mall has popped up on that charred earth, just in time for Eric to take his... Revenge!

Is it possible to despise a film that features both Paulie Shore and Morgan Fairchild? The answer to that is, of course, yes it is, although surprisingly enough 'POTM:ER' doesn't rise to that level of contempt. Don't get me wrong - this is not a good film, but it manages to wring some enjoyment from its predictable format.

This is a pretty standard late 80s slasher, with enough toplessness and gore to satisfy teenage boys who were able to sneak a VHS copy home from Blockbuster. There are no two-dimensional characters here, let alone three, but it doesn't matter. Instead there are good-looking people in 80s fashion hanging out in a mall, while secondary characters die horrible deaths. Eric has actually a cool looking mask, fashioned from a mannequin's head (thumbs up!) and has equipped his underground lair with items purloined from the upstairs stores. His Phantom Man-cave has a VCR, stereo and even a home gym! Nice!

Morgan Fairchild plays Morgan Fairchild to a T, even wearing a bright blue sequinned dress for the inevitable showdown. Paulie Shore is strangely subdued on the whole, starring as the well-meaning sidekick who would have been played by Jon Cryer if this were a John Hughes movie.

The effects work OK, perfectly fitting for a relatively low-budget horror. Overall, just good enough, and free to view on YouTube right now if this piques your interest.
 

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BONUS: 'Dance Macabre' [1992]

This film started life as a sequel to the 1989 adaptation of 'Phantom of the Opera', both of which star Robert Englund. Here, he plays a scarred dance instructor, who is grieving the death of his Prima Ballerina lover from years past. Wouldn't you know it, a young American girl (Michelle Zietlin) turns up at his ballet school, who is the spitting image of... OK, you get the gist. Anyway, ballet dancers are also turning up, but this time dead. A tired We-Know-Whodunnit ensues.

There isn't very much about this film to recommend it, quite frankly. The locations look nice (St. Petersberg, I believe) and the girls are pretty. And, um...

I suspect the filmmakers were going for a horror-mystery type deal here. But neither work, if so. The kills are bloodless, overall, and unless you've never seen a film before in your life, I can't believe the ending will be a surprise. The suspense is not so much around finding out who the killer is, but more when will they reveal what we already figured out in the first 10 minutes? The direction and editing are so ham-fisted that perhaps that was the intent. There are no clever diversions that will make you want to rewatch the film to see how you were fooled (because you won't be) nor red herrings that might raise questions, nor a twist on the twist they've been telegraphing the entire runtime.

If there were something else to grasp onto here - good effects, engaging acting - then perhaps I wouldn't have felt my evening had been wasted. Englund is fine, I suppose, and Zietlin probably wasn't given great direction, which is perhaps why her character is all over the place in terms of her motivation. This is a film in which one character can impale themselves on their own knife, and another can wake up alone and say out loud to themselves, "It must have been a dream!" Honestly, I wish I had slept through it too.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1990]

This two-part mini-series runs a little over 3 hours; I watched it over two consecutive evenings.

So, my usual disclaimer: I have still not read the novel these adaptations are based upon. Is this a faithful rendition? I don't know, but it does take the story down a different and sometimes interesting path.

At the outset, the Phantom is already established as the 'ghost' of the opera - one who requires his own box and who dwells in the dank underworld of the Opera House. None shall go down there, lest they succumb to instant death. So far, so familiar. Charles Dance plays the lead and is excellent. His Phantom is philosophical about his lot in life - disfigured and in hiding - content, it seems, to listen to the beautiful music and, occasionally, kill people in murderous rages. It is actually a more nuanced performance than this; he is self-deprecating at times and even, shall we say, a little dull. The filmmakers aren't interested in the horror of his situation, playing this strange life as the most normal thing you can imagine.

This is a two-part story and it is almost as if each is its own distinct film. The first half spends far too long setting the premise and focusing on characters that are largely absent in part two. Ian Richardson and Andrea Ferreol are the comic relief of the film as the new Opera House manager and his singing star wife. They ham it up, mostly to pad out the runtime of part one, it appears, while we get to know Christine, an excellent Teri Polo. She plays her character a little too much like an early Disney Princess - she is innocent, happy with the merest of favours and eager to please. Still, what she does, she does very well.

Burt Lancaster gets top billing, but his role isn't really essential until part two, when we get a long and slightly strange flashback, laying out the Phantom's backstory. It's strange as it seems to come far too late into the story, but also because one of the main characters in this flashback was obviously told not to speak, for unknown reasons. Did he have an unmanageable accent? Did they not want to pay him more? I don't know, but it makes these scenes stilted and jarring.

The second part is where the action is, making it even more obvious that this did not need to be mini-series. (There is a good 2 hour film in here, if anyone is looking for a fan-editing challenge.) And it is here that the crux of the film is finally laid bare. This was never intended to be a horror film. This is a tragic love story. It is not a completely unreasonable interpretation, especially with good actors taking the helm, but again it feels jarring when it takes that path.

The film makes one last mistake, which to my mind is unforgiveable for any Phantom film: we do not see his disfigured face. For three hours we have been teased with the knowledge that Erik is so monstrous under his mask that he can make a woman pass out with one glance. He rips off one mask, only to reveal another mask underneath (this Phantom has a dizzying array of masks to hand). But we're not allowed to gawp at him too, alas. Again, this is obviously intentional by the filmmakers, who want to emphasize that anyone can find true love, and that his disfigurement is irrelevant. However, it comes across as a cop-out, like making 'Beauty and the Beast' without showing the beast.

Visually, this film is stunning, on the whole. The sets, location work and costumes all evoke the time, although the underworld seems like a DisneyWorld ride. There are many operatic vignettes which sound incredible (some obvious dubbing, but still), although I missed the masked ball. Now I know what the filmmakers intentions were, I think I would enjoy a rewatch later down the line. It's not my favourite version so far, but there is well enough to like.
 

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'The Phantom of the Opera' [1991]

This musical version of the Phantom is not *the* musical version of the Phantom. It is, however, a filmed version of a stage adaptation and is available to view free on YouTube. There are no Andrew Lloyd-Webber tunes within earshot, which may be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view. There are plenty of songs, none of them memorable, and some good operatic voices on display.

The story is largely the same - perhaps completely, for all I know, as I did nod off halfway through. This is one of those films that I battled through for completism, debating whether to turn it off. It isn't bad as such, just not very interesting. The play is low budget, so there is little of interest visually, and the acting tends towards the hammy. The direction is very much 'point the camera at the actors and follow them', but there's not a lot you can do when filming a play, I suppose.

There's a brief and confusing epilogue, sort of like a horror film twist, but even that isn't enough to recommend this one.
 
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