Phantom of the Opera, The (Hammer 1962)
Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera was released on the 7th of June, 1962, with Captain Clegg as its supporting feature.
The company had been considering a remake of Gaston Leroux’s novel in early 1961, mooting a budget of around £150,000, and James Carreras and Anthony Hinds became particularly excited about the project when Cary Grant dropped into Hammer House one day out of the blue. Grant announced he had for some time wanted to star in a Hammer horror film, and so excited plans were set in motion in the belief that true greatness could be achieved with The Phantom of the Opera.
Hinds thus tailored his script to Grant’s persona, changing Leroux’s central character from a murderous wretch into a gentle, lovelorn masked tragi-hero, with an ugly dwarf sidekick carrying out all the unpleasantness. Breaths were bated, but Grant never contacted the company again, and so 44 year old Herbert Lom was offered the part. Initially unsure, he was persuaded by the quality of the script: “I saw this Phantom as a human, pathetic, broken creature, as a hideous outcast and a figure of tragedy in the highest sense. The man’s horror was incidental.”
Terence Fisher was brought in to direct, and he took the approach of emphasising the love story rather than the horror, which splits audiences down the middle. The budget was upped to £180,000, in the hope of creating a high quality film, and Room at the Top star Heather Sears was cast as Christine, with her opera voice dubbed with that of Pat Clark. Opposite her as Harry was young Portugese/Goanese actor Edward de Souza, a role which was the 29 year old’s first major film part.
The Phantom’s mask was considered a crucial part of the mix, and the task of creating it was given to an outside contractor. None of their designs proved remotely satisfactory, and filming began with no mask in existence. Eventually, in desperation, Roy Ashton was asked to knock something together on the day it was required for filming, from anything he could find lying around: “I got a piece of rag, some tape, bits of string and rubber and in about five minutes I had a mask…”
With the shoot complete, the film was in its editing phase when British distributor Rank upset the applecart, insisting that it needed to attain an A certificate for general release; it had been conceived as a fully fledged, X-rated Hammer Horror. Brutal cuts were made, and the film lost much of its bite, with even Lom’s acid-scarred face make-up getting the briefest of airings. The savagery was too much for a Hammer hungry public, and its UK take was disappointing. No such treachery was practiced Stateside though, and in America, where the Phantom is seen in all his gory glory, the film was a huge success.
The double bill went on general release on the 25th of June, 1962.