Cinema Sunday: The Phantom of The Opera (1962)

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Title: The Phantom of the Opera

Distributor: Hammer/Universal

Writer: John Elder (novel by Gaston Leroux)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Thorley Walters, Michael Gough

Released: June 25, 1962

MPAA: UR

 

I own this version and the Universal film as well, but as with other previous reviews, you’ll find out why I think the Hammer Studios version is superior. Heck, just watch them both, and you’ll probably agree. Lon Chaney did a fantastic job as the Phantom, but Herbert Lom brings it to another level. This film did have the advantage of being shot many years after the Universal version, but it wasn’t some big budget film full of incredible special effects. No, it was the acting of Lom, De Souza, and Gough, that makes this film a winner. Now let’s get down to the story!

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The film begins with some organ music playing in the bowels of an empty opera house. We then see the Phantom (Herbert Lom) and his minion (roll opening credits). We next see the opera house, as it’s filling up for the first night of a new show, allegedly written by Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough). Ambrose and the theater manager, Mr. Lattimer (Thorley Walters), are quite excited about the good showing of people. In a dressing room backstage, a woman is readying her voice for the show. She’s the lead in this version of ‘Joan of Arc’, and seems a bit nervous because of some shenanigans that have plagued the theater as of late. As she continues warming up, the light in her room is put out by a creepy looking hand. Another man then enters the backstage area of the theater, the producer, Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza). He speaks with the stage manager, and the conductor about more mischief around the theater, but then he’s summoned to the dressing room of Maria, the star of the show. She’s terrified and explains to him that a man, dressed all in black, and with only one eye, entered her room and scared the life out of her. She claims she can’t go on, but Harry convinces her otherwise.

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The play begins, and we see Lattimer and Hunter discussing the riddle of how a man like Ambrose wrote such good music. Ambrose then walks in, and sarcastically thanks Harry for his “compliment’, and Harry gives him a snarky comment right back. Harry then leaves the box, and Lattimer and Ambrose talk briefly. Ambrose notices an empty box, and questions Lattimer about it. Lattimer tells him that people do not like to sit there, because they believe it’s haunted. Ambrose gets angry, and tells Lattimer that he’ll speak to his superiors in the morning about this matter. Things are going fine, but then suddenly, we see something ripping through a piece of the set, and it reveals a man, hanging by his neck. People scream in terror, and the theater empties out. Ambrose instructs Lattimer to let no bad press attach itself to the opera, and the two part ways for the day.

Meanwhile, Harry is holding auditions for the lead role of St. Joan. One girl in particular, Christine Charles (Heather Sears), is singing her heart out, and impresses Harry. Ambrose and Lattimer walk in, and get angry at first, but when they hear the voice, they settle down. Ambrose is especially taken with Miss Charles (basically, he’s a horny dude that uses his money and power to get girls). He tells Lattimer to give her a note to meet him later for dinner. As the evening gets older, we watch, as Ambrose and Miss Charles have dinner, and at first, it seems very cordial. But, as Ambrose gets more and more drunk, he begins to show his true colors. He tells her that essentially, she has to sleep with him if she wants the lead role in his opera. She’s completely embarrassed, but gives in to his request in the end. Just as the two are leaving, Harry comes into the restaurant, and Miss Charles asks him to help her out of this jam. He gladly accepts, because he can’t stand Ambrose. When he realizes the scam is up, Ambrose leaves in a huff.

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In the next scene, the two (Harry and Christine), are taking a carriage ride through the park (driven by Michael Ripper). She tells Harry that she recently had an experience just like the previous lead role, and that the same man spoke to her in the dressing room, telling her to get away from this place, and Ambrose D’Arcy. Harry then instructs the driver to take them to the opera house, to look for clues (Scooby-Doo style). The cleaning ladies are still there and don’t believe him when he tells them that he’s the producer of the show. He then asks if ay of them have found a diamond broach, and they scatter to search for it (a ruse to get them out-of-the-way). As the two get to the dressing room, the lights go out, and that sinister voice orders them to get away from this place or else! Just as they’re trying to figure out who this is, the cleaning ladies shriek, and run off. Christine and Harry are then greeted by the rat catcher (Patrick Troughton- image below), and he offers a few of this evenings catches for a nice “pie”. They tell him that they’re vegetarians, and then give him a few pounds to get lost. As he leaves the room, he gets stabbed in the eyeball by the Phantoms diminutive sidekick. The rats then scurry away, and Harry and Christine wonder what’s happened to the rat catcher. As Harry investigates, Christine is approached by the Phantom, she screams in fear, then faints. This draws Harry back to the room, but by that time, the Phantom is gone.

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The next day, Ambrose is holding auditions for the lead role. When Harry finds out, he’s furious, and confronts him about it. Ambrose tells Harry that it’s his opera, and he’ll make the decisions. Harry accuses him of mistreating Christine, and basically firing her for not sleeping with him. Ambrose then fires Harry. Harry goes to see Christine, and tells her that he’s been fired as well, so they’ll go celebrate because they both ‘got the sack’ today. Harry notices some sheet music in the room, and asks the landlord where she got it from. She tells him that a musical genius named Professor Petrie used to live there, and wrote some incredible music while living at the apartment. Harry asks what became of him, and she tells him that he was killed in a fire at a printing shop years earlier. They (Harry and Christine)  then spend a beautiful day together, and are falling in love with each other.

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They later investigate the printing shop, and the man tells them that the man who broke in didn’t die, but ran off after being burned by a fire and some acid that he thought was water, trying to douse the flames. They go to the river (Thames), and then decide it’s time to call it a night. The two take another carriage ride (this time driven by Miles Malleson), and kiss in the carriage. Harry then takes her home, but not long after getting in the door, Christine is assaulted by the Phantom’s sidekick, and taken to his lair. Christine awakens to find herself as a captive of the two men, and then is told by the Phantom, that when she sings, it will only be for him. He will instruct her on how to become a great singer, or suffer the consequences!

Will Harry be able to save Christine, and figure out the secret identity of the Phantom? Will someone put Ambrose out of his misery?

OK, here we go with my thoughts:

As i said earlier, if you’ve seen both films, you’ll probably agree that this one is better than the Universal film overall. Herbert Lom is a great Phantom, but he really sells his role as Professor Petrie. Those scenes are extremely emotional, and he really shows his acting chops in them. As the phantom, he’s creepy, but the film has a different angle than the Universal film, and you’ll either love it or hate it, in the end. I won’t give it away, but the person who you really want to see get theirs at the end of the flick might not be the Phantom.

The supporting cast is very strong too, and Edward de Souza deserves the lion-share of the credit. He really has you believing he’s a big time music producer, and an all around butt kicking dude! He has a fight scene with the sidekick/minion guy, and tells off Ambrose every ten minutes. He’s a ‘man of action’ type in this film, and really reminds me of a James Bond sort of character. Michael Gough is also sensational, in his portrayal of the dastardly Ambrose D’Arcy. You really want to see this guy get throttled about ten minutes into the film. Thorley Walters adds his usual oddity to this one, and you get the quick cameos by Michael Ripper and Miles Malleson, too!

Listen, before you start throwing rocks at me for saying this one is better than the Universal flick, get out there and grab this movie, and give it a try. It’s extremely underrated, but has a great cast, solid plot, a top-notch music score, and incredible sets as you’ve come to expect from Hammer Studios!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Sunday: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Title: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Distributor: British International Pictures (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Anthony Hinds (Jimmy Sangster -screenplay)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Thorley Walters

Released: January 6th, 1966

MPAA: UR

 

I’ve decided after last week’s review, to continue with Hammer’s Dracula franchise, and give Dracula: Prince of Darkness a look! Now, this film is actually a continuation from the first film (Horror of Dracula in the U.S.), and keeps the ball rolling with the greatest Count Dracula- Christopher Lee! He reprises his role as the venomous vampire, and really cranked up the crazy in this film! It’s definitely one of my favorites in the sub-genre of vampire films! Well, without further delay, here we go!

The film begins showing stock footage of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) killing off Dracula from the first film (to get you back on track after The Brides of Dracula). Next, a funeral procession is moving through the forest, and seems to be ready to do something terrible to a girl that has just died. As they are about to put a stake through her heart, a monk, Father Sandor, (Andrew Keir) is passing by, and whips out a hunting rifle, and puts a shot near them, stopping them from staking the corpse. He tells them that they’re fools, and they explain that they cannot take any chances with suspicious deaths. He again calls them idiots, and orders them to bury her in the church yard.

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In the following scene, the local tavern is bustling with patrons, and four of them specifically are spotlighted. These four travelers are having a good time, all except Helen (Barbara Shelley). She thinks that her brother in-law, Charles Kent (Francis Matthews), is being foolish with his money by buying drinks for everyone at the bar. They disagree about the subject, but as they are about to leave, the door swings open, and Father Sandor (image below of Andrew Keir & Francis Matthews) steps inside. He greets the travelers, but scoffs at the locals for having garlic to “keep out the boogeyman”. The locals seem like they couldn’t care less, and keep pounding down the ale. Father Sandor asks them to come visit the monastery when they travel his way, but warns them about their next destination. He tells them that evil abounds there and that they should avoid it altogether.

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The next morning, the foursome is taking a carriage ride to their next stop, in Carlsbad. Once it nears sunset though, the driver stops, and orders them to get off of the carriage. They do, but can;t understand why he has asks this of them. He drives off after telling them he’ll be back in the morning. As they quibble about what to do, another carriage, all black, pulls up to them. It has no driver, and this scares Helen, but Diana (Susan Farmer), Alan (Charles Tingwell), and Charles all agree they should use the carriage to get to Carlsbad. Once in the carriage though, it takes off and wont follow the instructions of the driver. It arrives moments later at a less than auspicious castle in the hills.

Once they decide to go inside, which is against the warning s of Helen, they are not greeted by anyone, and can find not a single soul at home. The dinner table is set for a meal though, and all the candles are burning. The men go upstairs to search for someone, and as they do the ladies are shocked to see the shadow of an odd man coming towards them. They shriek in terror, but when the men come back downstairs, they all realize that it’s just a servant. The man identifies himself as “Klove” (Philip Latham), and tells them that his master always has a table and rooms waiting should any passersby need help. Helen is irked by Klove and the house, but the others think she’s being a wuss. Klove tells them about his former master, Count Dracula, and how great of a guy he was back in the day. After a nice meal, they retire upstairs for the night.

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As the two couples are bedding down for the night, Helen still has an uneasy feeling about the situation. Everyone goes to sleep, and Helen cries out, thinking someone has called her. Alan tells her she’s been dreaming, but then he hears something in the hallway. As he peeks out, he sees Klove, dragging a trunk through the hall to a room. As he leaves to investigate, he follows Klove into a lower level. As he sees a coffin placed in the middle of a room, Klove pops out from behind him, and stabs him to death. Klove then hoists the corpse over the coffin, which we can now see is full of ashes, and slits Alan’s throat, spilling the blood all over the ashes. As the ashes turn to smoke, then to an eerie fog, we get a feeling of dread. As the fog clears, we see Count Dracula, reborn! Before he can even get his bearings, Helen, who has gone looking for her husband, reaches the lower chamber. Before she knows what’s going on, she’s hypnotized by the gaze of the Count! He then moves in for the kill.

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After this wild night, Diana and Charles are befuddled by their missing family members. Charles searches for them diligently, but cannot find any trace of them. Charles takes Diana to a nearby woodcutter’s shack, and returns to the castle to look for them again, and more in-depth. A while after he’s left, Klove pulls in with the carriage and tells Diana that Charles asked for him to come and get her. Meanwhile, Charles has discovered his brother Alan’s dead body. Klove then returns to the house with Diana, and Helen, who’s now a vampire, attempts to bite Diana, but is interrupted by Dracula! He hisses at Helen and grabs Diana, but Charles shows up, and fights them. Diana then uses the cross to send them packing for now.

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Charles and Diana then make for the monastery where Father Sandor lives, and tell him the horrible story. He agrees to help them fight Dracula and his minions, but first they must fight off an attack on the monastery itself! Can they defeat the Prince of Darkness? Or will they become part of his undead army?!?

OK, here are my thoughts:

If you love vampire/Dracula films from back in the day, you’ll love this flick. Lee gives a chilling performance in this one, and his lack of dialogue doesn’t hinder the creepiness of his character. After the second film not having Lee in it, this was a great return for him, as the previous vampire (David Peel) was also pretty good. Barbara Shelley was also quite good in this film, adding the “nagging wife”, but also giving the movie some of that eeriness by being so frightened. Her performance was very  believable.

Another fine role was that of Klove. He was supremely weird and creepy, giving us all something to shudder about! I think the best acting role was by Andrew Keir (Father Sandor). He was hilarious when the need was there, but also very serious and tough as nails as well! A scene where he had to clear up a vampire bite on Diana’s wrist. He holds a scolding hot lamp on it, and then stakes a vampire through the heart later in the movie!

Overall, I’d give this one high marks for the roles, and for the music score too. James Bernard is probably the best Hammer composer of all time, and rightly so should he be labeled. Always thunderous, and oft his music sets an ominous tone for the entirety of the films he composes! Kudos to the regular gang of people as well that also were involved -Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys, Terence Fisher, etc. Get out there and grab this flick, it doesn’t disappoint!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

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Title: Frankenstein Created Woman

Distributor: British International Pictures/20th Century Fox

Writer: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Released: March 15th, 1967 (USA)

MPAA: UR

OK, listen, don’t let this title or some reviews fool you. This film is pretty good! It isn’t your typical Frankenstein franchise film, but it does have three things going for it. Susan Denberg, Susan Denberg, and Susan Denberg. Alright, that was my attempt at humor. The lovely, blond bombshell is one of the reasons, but the horror icon himself, Peter Cushing, is certainly one of the others! The last reason is simple. Any time you have multiple decapitations in a movie, you’re on the right track! This was one of the last films produced at the famous Bray Studios, a legendary site for Hammer Studios.

The film begins with a rough-looking fellow, as he’s being led to the guillotine. Just about the time when he’s to be killed, a boy, his son actually, is spotted in the nearby forest. It’s the son of the gentleman that’s about to be executed. The priest chases Hans away for the moment, and the convict tells the men to do the deed. Just as the blade is about to fall, the boy appears out of the trees, and watches his father die.

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Fast forward to a few years later, and Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters) is being assisted by a now grown up Hans. They quickly retrieve a body from a freezer, and we now see that the body is that of Baron Frankenstein! He’s been on ice for one hour, and the two men use the arcane machinery to revive the Baron. After a scuffle at a local cafe’, Hans is arrested for his part in the melee. He’s released, and goes back to the cafe’ owners home, where the owners daughter, Christina is readying for bed. She’s disfigured, and has a bad limp, but Hans loves her, and she loves him, too. They make love, and then Hans goes home for the night. Back at the cafe’, the gentlemen that were involved in the brawl with Hans earlier, have returned to the establishment after closing, to pillage the liquor. The owner returns to the cafe’ after realizing he forgot his keys there, and is summarily assaulted by the youths.

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The next day, Hans is walking by the cafe’, and is arrested by the police under suspicion of murder. A trial is quickly thrown together, and Hans is sentenced to the guillotine at dawn. Baron Frankenstein knows this is his opportunity for a fresh corpse, so he makes the arrangements with Dr. Hertz to “obtain” the body. The Baron then tells Dr. Hertz that they’ll use the machinery to capture the soul of Hans, then put it into another body. Preferably one with a head. The next morning, Hans is beheaded, and this time, Christina is passing by, and witnesses it! The event drives her mad, and she runs into the forest, and throws herself into a nearby river. Dr. Hertz and the Baron get both bodies, and pull the switcheroo. Now, Hans’ soul resides inside Christina’s body, and her deformities have now been fixed by the two good doctors.

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At first, Christina seems fine, but when the Baron shows her the guillotine where Hans was killed, it ignites memories from him, of that fateful day when his father was killed, years before. She begins to have nightmares as well, and after waking up from one, she decides it’s time for a little revenge against the hooligans that wronged Hans from the wrongful murder charges. The first to feel her wrath, is Anton. She dresses up quite nicely, and hangs out on the corner by the cafe’ where Anton and his cronies hang out. As he leaves the establishment, she picks him up, and then they go to the abandoned house where Christina used to live. She goes into the backroom to change, and then calls out to Anton, but with the voice of Hans. The next thing we see, is the guillotine coming down, signifying Anton’s demise.

The next night, Karl and Johann are drinking away their troubles at the cafe’, and discussing Anton’s death. Johann then leaves, and Christina comes into the cafe’. She charms Karl into having a little “action”, but then Karl spills wine on her dress. She excuses herself into the washroom to clean it, and moments later, Karl hears the voice of Hans calling to him. Christina emerges with a meat cleaver, and we next see a shot of her chopping wood the following morning (obviously, Karl is dead). Some villagers then accost the home of the Baron and Dr. Hertz, and demand to see them about the recent murders. The Baron tells them to dig up the body of Hans, and they do just that next. The grave is opened, and the body is still there, but the head is missing!

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The next scene is Christina, in her bedroom, having a conversation with the head of Hans (she’s planted it on her mirror). We hear the voice of Hans, instructing her to kill Johann. As Johann is trying to make a speedy escape out-of-town, and as he just reaches the coach heading out of the village. He notices a pretty girl in the corner, and she offers him a drink. The coach breaks down, and the two decide to have a picnic in the forest. As Johann is laying in her lap, she pulls a knife out of the basket, and stabs him violently. We notice the head of Hans is in her hat box!

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I wont spoil the end of the film, as it’s not my style, but rest assured, you get your monies worth from this movie. It was a change of pace for the Frankenstein series, as this one dealt more with the spirit, than the body. Also, the aspect of a woman committing the murders, and not a man was a switch from the normal routine. Cushing is his normal, brilliant self in the film, and that is to be expected. Susan Denberg did do a fine job on top of being fantastic eye candy. Her performance, especially once she was resurrected, was very good in my humble opinion. Thorley Walters  character (Dr. Hertz) did a fine job of complimenting Cushing, and his child-like affection for Christina was definitely a great addition to the script.

Definitely look this one up (currently free on YouTube) if you’re a fan of Hammer or old school horror movies in general. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t get a lot of play, or great reviews, but trust me, you’ll enjoy it! See you next week!