Tonight on MeTV, we again present a character we last showed you in his 1960s hammer incarnation- who joined the Universal roster of horror even before the advent of talkies- and appears this time in the form of a distinguished actor who can perfectly embody the heartbreak, fury and insanity of- “The Phantom of the Opera”!
This time out, we bring you the 1943 Technicolor spectacle based on the oft-remade story written by Gaston Leroux about musician/composer Erique Claudin, whose compositions have sadly been unpublished. His string playing with the Paris Grand Opera has started to become noticeably less precise, and, since he cannot match the perfection expected by the orchestra, they opt to let him go. Already barely surviving from day to day, he is not only without a way to pay his own bills -but also about to fail in his anonymous sponsorship of Christine,a talented and beautiful young opera star. Claudin is obsessed with the sweet talented woman, and has secretly been acting as her benefactor, paying for expensive vocal lessons to help her become the great star she has the potential to become! The lovely vocalist has also attracted two suitors- the opera’s male star, baritone Anatole, and the local police inspector, Raoul. None of the three even suspect Claudin’s hidden passion for Christine!
Claudin feels he must find a way to continue his quest to help Christine train to become a top diva- and frustrated by a music publisher’s indifference to his proudest composition, based on an old folk song from his youth, goes to plead with him to return his work if he will not publish it. The publisher remains obstinate, and very dismissive of the poor composer- but, as fate would have it-a famous composer has his manuscript in an adjoining room, and has decided to help bring Claudin’s masterwork to the world. He plays it on the piano, and, when Claudin hears it, unaware of what the situation is, flies into a rage- thinking that the publisher has stolen it! He leaps to attack the heartless publisher- only to have the man’s assistant try to end his assault with the only weapon available- a pan of caustic acid used to etch the printing plates for musical scores. She throws it in Claudin’s face- and he screams and flees in pain- with his only means of escape from the gendarmes – and the burning pain- being the waters of the sewers beneath the streets!
As time passes, we see that the opera house is having unusual problems- costumes, including a mask, are missing- food stored there has disappeared -and a set of keys that opens every door in the opera house is gone as well! One of the opera’s managers brings up an old superstition, that a legendary ghost roams the opera house and might be responsible! Around the same time,Christine hears a mysterious voice in the dressing room- telling her that she is destined to become the opera’s greatest star- with “his” assistance.
The odd occurrences become more serious when it appears the opera’s top diva has been- to use the popular phrase- slipped a “mickey, and Christine steps in to fill her role. The suspicious diva jumps to the conclusion that she is the victim of a plot to phase her out and replace her with Christine! The situation becomes more sinister when a mysterious masked figure- the “Phantom” himself- appears, and threatens anyone who stands in the way of Christine’s career with death-and soon, every gendarme available joins Christine’s baritone beau and the amorous police inspector in an attempt to protect the opera and capture the Phantom- who makes good on this threats, driven by his crazed love for Christine-while endangering the young singer herself!
This version of the Phantom tale certainly has differences from the silent Lon Chaney film, though it shares the exact same elaborate Paris opera house set built for the first film- presenting it for the first time in dazzling Technicolor! The Phantom , portrayed by the great Claude Rains, is a more sympathetic figure than Chaney’s Phantom (a story element still present in the famed modern musical)- and he brings the same sort of mix of pathos and madness to this role as he did to “The Invisible Man”. Nelson Eddy, at the time one of the prominent musical film stars in the business, best remembered today for his film duets with Jeanette McDonald, is the starring baritone who adores Christine. We’ll fill you in on him and other familiar faces in the cast- plus- tell you about an original casting plan that didn’t happen- which would have changed the film dramatically (and comedically…)! You’ll also get a reprise of Sven performing a classical composition that many viewers really feel is one of the top performances in the Goolie repertoire!
The curtain goes up on the “Phantom of the Opera” tonight at 10pm eastern/pacific, 9 central, or check for exact time and channel for the show in your local listings, or at www.metv.com . In some markets, we are delayed by the local station’s newscast- and usually run one hour later than our set airtime. In Chicago, viewers of our sister station, WCIU,the U, can get a second helping of the classic “Werewolf of London” at 11 am- a day and several hours before the next full moon!
We remind you to tune in to the “Jeopardy” game show, if it runs on a station in your area, next Thursday, March 16th- for a special laugh for Sven fans that will appear during the”Double Jeopardy” round under the category of “Characters in Books”. Pay attention or you’ll miss it!
…and don’t miss tonight’s opera house performance on MeTV! It will bring the house down…or,at least, the chandelier… and don’t forget to turn your clocks forward!