Tuesday, December 17, 2002


It seems that the sole reason for the making of this movie was for Universal to get some more use out of the sets that had been built for the Technicolor remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA the year before. This, also in color, is a lovely looking film, but it certainly is a huge disappointment as a horror film (as which it is falsely marketed); it doesn't even really amount to much as melodrama. Boris Karloff plays the house physician to a Viennese opera company; he is hopelessly in love with a much younger singer (June Vincent). When he demands that she give up her singing career for him, she breaks off their relationship and he kills her, though to the world, it seems that she mysteriously vanishes just before she was to give an important royal command performance. Karloff keeps her body preserved in a chamber beneath his quarters at the opera house (a device that is echoed years later in the Dr. Phibes movies). Ten years later, a promising singer (Susanna Foster) is on a fast track to divahood; Karloff hears her and is convinced that Vincent's voice has returned through Foster, so he uses hypnosis to make her think she's lost her voice so she too will give up her career. Foster's boyfriend (Turhan Bey) and Vincent's loyal maid (Gale Sondergaard) try to find out what's wrong so that Foster will be able to give her own royal command performance.

The lush and colorful sets cannot stand in for all that's missing here. Except for the murder of Vincent at the beginning, the movie just isn't very scary. The plotline following Vincent's death is a bit convoluted; Karloff doesn't really ever stand a chance romantically with Foster, so his motivation for trying to silence her is a bit shaky, except for the vague and even silly idea of voice reincarnation. Karloff is fine, as usual, even with such mediocre material, but Foster and Bey are lifeless. The best performance is by Sondergaard, nicely underplaying a role that feels like it was inspired by Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA. An actress named Jane Farrar (who was also in the '43 PHANTOM) has a couple of nice moments as a bitchy diva who feels threatened by the up-and-coming Foster. There are way too many operetta excerpts, though the climax, involving an onstage performance and a deadly fire, is pulled off well.

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