Apparently in the mid 1950’s, Alfred Hitchcock lured Cary Grant back to the screen to star in To Catch a Thief, and his contract with Universal involve profit sharing, which was then a very new concept. I believe the Jimmy Stewart had the first profit-sharing contract on the film Winchester ’73, but don't quote me. Cary Grant made a lot of money from To Catch a Thief, and apparently, when he was later vacationing in England, he paid a visit to Hammer Studios. Not at all jokingly, he told them he would like to make a horror film at Hammer. (Hammer at that time was distributed in United States by Universal, the studio that made To Catch a Thief.) Critics have theorized that he was looking for profit participation in a horror film that he he thought would go right to the bank. Anthony Hinds, the main producer at Hammer, started thinking about this; he also wrote scripts under the nom de plume of John Elder. He thought Cary Grant would be perfect for a new remake of Phantom of the Opera, which Universal had made twice before: once in 1925 with Lon Chaney, famously, and once in 1943 with Claude Rains, less famously.
No one is sure if Cary Grant was serious about making a film for Hammer. No one was really sure what part he would play; some people say of course he would be the Phantom, and other people say No No No No No No No: he would play Harry Hunter, the detective figure that Anthony Hinds wrote into the script. In any case, it's a mystery that will never be solved because almost everyone associated with the film is dead… and Cary Grant never made the Phantom of the Opera for Hammer.
And therein lies a tale because Anthony Hinds thought he was writing a script for Cary Grant. Hinds wanted to make the Phantom sympathetic, and that's hard to do with the number of murders that the Phantom commits in the original story. Hinds creates a new backstory for the Phantom that makes him very sympathetic. In this version, he's Prof. Petrie (Herbert Lom), a musicologist who sells the rights to all of his music to an awful rich man, Lord Ambrose Darcy (Michael Gough), who proceeds to steal it from him by claiming that he is the author. In trying to destroy the music from being published and printed, Petrie hideously scars himself with acid and fire and winds up in the Paris catacombs. Hinds also added the new character of a murderous dwarf. Said dwarf (Ian Wilson) commits all the mayhem in the film, leaving the Phantom to be relatively innocent. We are not quite sure who this dwarf is. We are not quite sure what his motivation is. We are not quite sure what his relationship with the Phantom is, and this is one of the reasons why a lot of people shit on the film; it takes liberties with the source novel.
Why do people shit on this version of Phantom of the Opera? This is a really solid adaptation; it looks beautiful, the lighting and the cinematography are excellent, the sets are really cool and complex, the makeup is suitably horrific, the performances are great Michael Gough plays the villain; he’s wonderfully slimy as Darcy and lacks only a mustache to twirl. Edwin Astley, the composer of the film’s score, actually wrote passages of a new opera just for the movie. It's an opera that didn't exist before, based on St. Joan of Arc. This film has a lot to recommend it. I have a feeling I know one of the other reasons that some people shit on this version of the film
Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is a sight to behold. The terrific job that Scream Factory has been doing for the last couple years on these Hammer Films means that we horror fans can never properly thank them. These are beautiful discs; they all have boatloads of special features. This new Phantom of the Opera disc has two excellent audio commentaries (not just one, but two!) and lots of little featurettes, including one on the making of the film that's actually narrated by Edward De Souza, who played Harry Hunter in the original film. It’s so very nice that he still alive, and it's very nice that he appears in the special features. I've never seen this film look this beautiful, and this is a Hammer film that I'm very, very familiar with. This this this this this!
Clearly, I'm high as a kite on this disc, and I'm suggesting that all of you buy it. In fact, I will go so far as the suggest that all of you should buy two of them: 1) if you buy it now from Scream Factory, you get a nifty poster, and 2) if you buy two of these discs, you can keep one and give one to a friend who has never seen it. Trust me, your friend will thank you…
Or drop a chandelier on you when you least expect it. Ouch.