There have been many film adaptations of Gaston Leroux's novel, and the one that remains most revered is the original silent version, dominated by the great Lon Chaney's performance. This 1943 adaptation, starring Claude Rains, is sadly overlooked, more often than not. Filmed in lavish Technicolor, the film's wonderful cast, excellent music score, and lush cinematography make it a worthwhile viewing experience.
Enrique Claudin(Rains), a twenty year veteran violinist at the Paris Opera House, is hideously scarred in an accident over the supposed theft of the music he has composed. Retreating to the bowels of the Opera House, he makes a new existence in the catacombs where no one dares wander. As the Phantom, he continues to train and guide young Christine Dubois(Susanna Foster), whose training he had paid for prior to his scarring. Claudin is devoted to Christine, and extremely jealous of her two suitors Inspector Raoul D'Aubert (Edgar Barrier) and Anatole Garron(Nelson Eddy). The Phantom's devotion to and obsession with Christine drives him to ever more horrific acts, until he finally takes her as his own, descending into the catacombs with her. Raoul and Anatole must put aside their differences to pursue the Phantom, and save Christine.
Many people seem to dislike this adaptation because it changes the story of the Phantom significantly. That is actually one of the reasons I enjoy the film; with so many adaptations to choose from, this film's attempt to put a different spin on things appeals to me. If it had been poorly made, the new approach wouldn't matter, but thankfully, this film is not poorly-made at all. Most of the cast is excellent, with Rains predictably standing above all the others with a performance that is alternately chilling and heartbreaking.
The film reused the auditorium set, which had been constructed for the 1925 Lon Chaney adaptation(and the set is still standing!). Much of the sets were used for the Boris Karloff film The Climax, which was shot soon after. It was originally planned as a sequel to Phantom, but unfortunately, those plans fell through, and the film is unrelated.
With so many horror films available for viewing, it is inevitable that some gems will slip through the cracks. This version of The Phantom of the Opera isn't forgotten, but it is certainly ignored, for the most part. It's high time for that to change. Even if you don't like the idea of a film tampering with the character of the Phantom and his origins, give this one a shot anyway. Its quality just might win you over.