PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Universal Picures, 1943. Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carillo, J. Edward Bromberg. Jane Farrar, Frank Puglia, Stefan Geray, Fritz Feld, Miles Mander, Fritz Leiber, Barbara Everest, Hume Cronin. Screenplay by Eric Taylor & Samuel Hoffenstein. Adapted by Hans Jacoby as John Jacoby, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. Directed by Arthur Lubin,

   When Universal sought to capitalize on the film that first made them a great studio in the silent era thanks to Lon Chaney Sr., they spared no expense. Like the original silent film, this version of the oft-told tale features lavish sets and costumes, a cast of some of the finest faces in Hollywood, including the ever popular Nelson Eddy, and one of the finest actors in Hollywood in the lead as the Phantom, Claude Rains.

   To this, add an original operatic score, cinematography by W. Howard Greene and Hal Mohr, and stunning Technicolor.

   It is too bad that somewhere along the way they forgot the mystery, the horror, terror, and for the most part Eric, the Opera Phantom.

   They remembered the opera though.

   Here we have Erique Claudin (Claude Rains), a violinist in the orchestra of the Paris Opera who secretly loves Christine (Susanna Foster), stand-in to vainglorious diva Biacarolli (Jane Farrar), so much so, he has secretly been paying singing master Leo Carillo to train her, But when Claudin loses his job, he needs money, so he takes the music he has written to publisher Miles Mander who dismisses him.

   In his despair and desperation Claudin kills Mander accidentally and scars his own face with acid, fleeing to the sewers which lead beneath the Opera house, there beginning his reign of terror against Biancarolli so that Christine may take her place.

   And all that is well enough if Rains and his Phantom did much more than run around in a costume borrowed from Lamont Cranston, casting a few half-hearted shadows and mostly lurking offscreen unseen and unheard, while we get a parade of some of the finest character actors in Hollywood in what mostly plays as a light opera with way to much comic business between baritone Nelson Eddy and policeman Edgar Barrier fighting over Christine, and far too many operatic numbers.

   The famous chandelier scene is well-handled, and there is a well done chase between Eddy and Rains in the rigging above the stage, but mostly this generates virtually no mystery, no terror, and no horror, no Masque of the Red Death. Even the famous scene of Christine unmasking the Phantom is tossed off with no suspense or style.

   Oh, yeah, he’s disfigured. Ho, hum.

   Rains is largely wasted. The fine cast has to hold a thriller with no thrills and a mystery with no mystery there between too many musical numbers there only to justify Nelson Eddy being cast in the film.

   Just about everything you expect of the Phantom is missing. There is no Gothic atmosphere, no labyrinth sewers beneath the Opera, no menacing shadows, and the violence, when it comes is all done off camera ending anti climatically with Claudin fleeing through the large well lighted halls of the opera dressed like an escapee from Mad Magazine’s Spy vs Spy.

   Seldom in film history has more money been spent to less effect.

   That’s a pity, because the makings were there for a fine film of the classic, if everyone hadn’t been so overcome by the class of the project they forgot it was also a tale of murder, madness, terror, horror, and obsession.