The Phantom of the Opera
In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his seventh weekly review he's wondering why no one gets their bloody comeuppance in The Phantom of the Opera from 1962. Enjoy!
Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Sometimes I get a bit upset when people don’t get what they deserve in movies. I know real life doesn’t work like that, that bad people have wonderful lives of joy and sunshine and good people spend their whole lives completely submerged in a swimming pool of shit except for one ear poking out and pointing at the sky, just so they know what the good life sounds like. But in movies it’s supposed to be different, at least it bloody should be.
Don’t get me wrong, good people suffer in Hammer films that’s for sure. But they’re usually less good, necessarily, and more… innocent. They’re too dumb to know any better, or too inconsequential to matter, or perhaps with one minor flaw (which can range from enjoying a drink to being a bit silly) which allows them to be served up to the monster for your viewing pleasure - you who enjoy a drink and occasionally are a bit silly. But at some point in the film it becomes pretty damn clear who should be getting what, so you can sit back and watch everyone get what’s coming to them.
But then there’s Michael Gough in The Phantom of the Opera, possibly one of the biggest cads Hammer ever invented. He doesn’t do anything terrible enough exactly to warrant being eaten or set on fire or pushed down a mountainside or any of the wonderful things that can happen to a bad man in a Hammer film. But he is an absolute unmitigated bastard. Such an unmitigated bastard that you can’t wait for Herbert Lom as The Phantom with his surprisingly effective mask that only shows one eye - you can almost see the director selling the part to Lom: “You have to act murderous, doomed, tragic, and insane but you only get to use one eye”, and boy does Lom use that eye - to do something unspeakably horrible to Gough. But I mean like an American cinema full of people cheering at a deserved fate horrible. There’s just absolutely nothing good about him at all, he ruins other people’s lives to feed his bored but bottomless appetites; he exists purely to be dispatched in the most imaginative way possible.
So there you are, watching a good old Hammer film. The lead bloke is actually pretty likeable, Lom is going to town with his eye, the whole thing is taking place in a warren of an old theatre (I’ve always had a soft spot for theatres in movies - something about how the theatre acts as a whole other world, a quieter and better ordered world where everyone is working to achieve a single thing together and still managing to make a pig’s ear of it, but at least they know, at least they’re given the luxury of trying. Course it could be because I used to do a bit of acting back in the day, doncha know, treading the board and sneaking out the fire escapes for cigarettes) but the point is you’re ready.
You’re ready for Gough to get handed his comeuppance at the hands of a masked and barmy Herbert Lom, you’re ready for the phantom to finally get the credit he has craved, but probably at the expense of his life but what the hell? and you’re ready for Lom’s murderous hunchback servant to redeem himself in some way saving the show, the phantom, the leading lady or all three. But the film has done a cracking job of telling its story and now you are ready.
But all of a sudden you find yourself watching an opera. Joan of Arc - the bloody opera. Now I understand this is The Phantom of the Opera, but you’re expecting the opera to be kept to a bleeding minimum aren’t you? Not that I have anything against opera mind you, I actually enjoy a good opera every now and then, But this is not a good opera my friend. This is an opera written by a horror film composer, and boy does it show. Not because it’s bad or anything, but because it sounds like people trying to sing over your pretty standard ‘dum dum DUM’ atmospheric horror film music, which let’s face it does not make for a great opera. It makes a great ten or twenty seconds of opera that you should see in the background while, I don’t know, the Phantom and Gough have a sword fight while swinging on ropes above the stage or something. But not for an entire scene of bad opera at the climax of the movie!
So you think, alright, fair enough, I suppose they’ll get to the rest in a minute. But they don’t! And you don’t get anything you’ve been waiting for! Lom does rip his mask off right at the end, but it’s for no reason, and with no effect and not even long enough for you to see what all the bleeding mask-related fuss is all about. And the hunchback just… lives, even though he’s murdered quite a few people (at no point in the developing-sympathy-for-the-phantom scene do either the male or female lead ask Lom ‘so what about that dead stagehand then? Because I’m assuming that was you right?’), Gough just runs away from the Phantom’s not particularly terrible face into the night to continue being a bastard presumably, and the whole thing just sort of ends with no-one, literally no-one getting what they should!
I don’t know. I think someone wanted to make that bloody Joan of Arc opera scene, that’s what I think. Someone decided halfway through the movie that that was the bit that interested him and sod the rest. I mean, the choice of female lead only makes sense when you see her as Joan of Arc which is a bit of a dead giveaway if you ask me. It’s all a bit of a shame really, cos up til then it had been rather good.
Just promise me one thing though. If you ever come across a top-hatted bastard being mean to poor people who looks a lot like a young Michael Gough - kick him in the bollocks for me would you? That might make me feel a bit better.
Until then, another pint?