The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom Of The Opera is a tale that has been told many times, but in recent years, the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version, both on stage and on screen, has overshadowed some of the earlier telling of the tale. This version is the Hammer Studios version, and like many of their films, it deviates from the source material, but still provides a great little story.

The film begins on the opening night of Lord Ambrose d’Arcy’s (Michael Gough) new opera ‘Joan Of Arc’. For weeks the Opera House, in the lead-up to the production, has been plagued by small accidents. Some people even believe that the theatre is haunted. The bad luck continues during the performance when one of the stage hands, hanging from a rope around his neck, tears one of the backdrops and swings out into the middle of the stage, dead.

The leading lady in the production quits and the season of ‘Joan Of Arc’ is postponed until a replacement can be found. The production Manager, Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) finds a girl named Christine Charles (Heather Sears) who has the voice to fit the bill. But Lord d’Arcy is a lecherous swine and tries to take advantage of the rising starlets desire to perform. She rebuffs his advances and d’Arcy fires her from the production and seeks a new starlet to sing the lead.

Hunter tries to reason with d’Arcy, but for his trouble he gets fired too. Afterwards he goes to Christine’s lodgings to tell her the bad news. At the lodgings, however, the landlady tells him of one of her previous tenants, Professor Petrie who was a composer who died in a fire many years previously.

Hunter does some investigating into the death of Professor Petrie. It seems that Petrie wrote a great deal of music, but broke, went to Lord d’Arcy to see if he could get his work published. Lord d’Arcy agreed to buy and publish the work, but instead stole it, and put his name to the music. In a fit of rage, Petrie went to the printers that were running off ‘d’Arcy’s ill gotten sheet music and threw all the printed sheets into the furnace. One sheet fell out of the furnace and onto the floor starting a small fire. Petrie picked up a bucket filled with acid, thinking that it is water. He then threw the acid on the fire, and it splashed back in his face. Blinded in one eye and in tremendous pain, Petrie ran from the printers, out into the street, and then threw him self into the river – never to be seen again.

The Phantom Of The Opera is not a true horror film. Their are a couple of violent scenes, but they aren’t too shocking. Like the best of Hammer, what this film has got going for it, is a sense of atmosphere, and a great ensemble of character actors. Lom is good, but considering he spends most of the movie hidden behind a mask it is his voice that carries his performance. Michael Gough though is brilliantly evil as Lord Ambrose d’Arcy, and he dominates every scene he is in. All in all, The Phantom Of The Opera is an entertaining tale in true Hammer style, of good versus evil, corruption and revenge.

The Phantom of the Opera

King Solomon’s Mines (1985)

Country: United States
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, Herbert Lom, John Rhys-Davies,
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard

As a young man at college, there were a few things that I did that were not really beneficial to the course I was studying. These weren’t bad things by any stretch of the imagination, but show that I was not as diligent in my studies as some of my class mates. One of these areas in which I strayed was in my library habits. While my class mates were borrowing books on design and typography, I was engrossed in the classic section. By classics I don’t mean William Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy – I mean Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. In particular, I remember the three leather bound editions they had of She, King Solomon’s Mines, and Alan Quatermain. Naturally I devoured them all.

Also at this time, Cannon Films released King Solomon’s Mines starring Richard Chamberlain as Alan Quatermain. The film also featured a virtually unknown actress named Sharon Stone (remember this is 7 years before Basic Instinct and she hadn’t acquired her sexual predator image). This is possibly her first big role.

Naturally, having recently read the book, I went and saw King Solomon’s Mines at the cinema. The cinema was all but empty and I walked out pretty disappointed. Later, when the film was released on video, I caught the film at a student video night, and watching the film with a very relaxed and light hearted audience, I came away with a very different viewing experience. The movie was still crap, but in an enjoyable way. Everything in it is so over the top. It was never meant to be an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, but rather a non-stop roller coaster ride. Once viewed in that light the film is very entertaining.

The action adventure begins with Professor Jebidiah Huston examining a small statue of a women. It looks Egyptian and is inscribed with markings and symbols all over the body. The Professor has spent all his life searching for King Solomon’s Mines and believes this may be a map to their actual location. Before the Professor can decipher the statue, the party is interrupted by evil Turkish merchant, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies). Dogati demands that the Professor decipher the map now and tell him where the mines are. The Professor refuses.

Several months later, Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) comes looking for her father. She has been sent a letter saying that she can meet up with him in the village of Tungola. She is to meet him in an establishment run by slimy trader Kassam (Shaike Ophir). But first she must get to Tungola. That’s where great white hunter and guide, Alan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) comes in. He leads Jesse Huston’s party to the remote jungle village.

Waiting for Jesse Huston are two men. The first is Dogati who has not been able to make the Professor tell where the mines are. The second man, who is Dogati’s partner out of necessity, rather than friendship and trust, is Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom). Bockner is a pompous German soldier who plans to take the treasure at the mines for the glory of Germany (and his own personal gain, of course).

Once in Tungola, Jesse manages to get herself kidnapped a couple of times, requiring Quartermain to come to her rescue. During the mayhem, Quatermain learns that Dogati and Bockner have Jesse’s father and are transporting him by train to a German military camp in Burumba. Being and action adventure film, Quatermain and Jesse catch the train and scramble on board. But once again, Jesse gets captured and is taken by Dogati and Bockner to her father. Dogati threatens to torture Jesse unless the Professor reveals the location of the mines. The Professor breaks and tells all.

Once again, Quatermain comes to the rescue and saves both Jesse and the Professor. But it is now too late, both Dogati and Bockner are making their way towards the mine and the fabulous riches there within. The Professor pleads with Quatermain to race to the mines first, (with Jesse in tow, too). Reluctantly he agrees and the race is on.

In modern times, the shadow of Indiana Jones looms large over most ‘old fashioned’ action adventures. And undoubtedly, King Solomon’s Mines is drinking from the same well, but you’ve got to remember that there were action adventure films before Indiana Jones. Granted Indiana Jones did it better than most, and that’s why it is used as a template and so many movies are compared to the series. The story of King Solomon’s Mines itself, has been filmed (or variations of) at least four other times. The story is a much loved classic, and it is a classic because it is a good old fashioned adventure, and that’s what the film strives to be. It isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it is darn good fun – particularly if you don’t expect too much from it, and it is viewed with an audience.

King Solomon’s Mines (1985)

King Solomon's Mines (1985)

Country: United States
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, Herbert Lom, John Rhys-Davies,
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard

As a young man at college, there were a few things that I did that were not really beneficial to the course I was studying. These weren’t bad things by any stretch of the imagination, but show that I was not as diligent in my studies as some of my class mates. One of these areas in which I strayed was in my library habits. While my class mates were borrowing books on design and typography, I was engrossed in the classic section. By classics I don’t mean William Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy – I mean Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. In particular, I remember the three leather bound editions they had of She, King Solomon’s Mines, and Alan Quatermain. Naturally I devoured them all.

Also at this time, Cannon Films released King Solomon’s Mines starring Richard Chamberlain as Alan Quatermain. The film also featured a virtually unknown actress named Sharon Stone (remember this is 7 years before Basic Instinct and she hadn’t acquired her sexual predator image). This is possibly her first big role.

Naturally, having recently read the book, I went and saw King Solomon’s Mines at the cinema. The cinema was all but empty and I walked out pretty disappointed. Later, when the film was released on video, I caught the film at a student video night, and watching the film with a very relaxed and light hearted audience, I came away with a very different viewing experience. The movie was still crap, but in an enjoyable way. Everything in it is so over the top. It was never meant to be an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, but rather a non-stop roller coaster ride. Once viewed in that light the film is very entertaining.

The action adventure begins with Professor Jebidiah Huston examining a small statue of a women. It looks Egyptian and is inscribed with markings and symbols all over the body. The Professor has spent all his life searching for King Solomon’s Mines and believes this may be a map to their actual location. Before the Professor can decipher the statue, the party is interrupted by evil Turkish merchant, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies). Dogati demands that the Professor decipher the map now and tell him where the mines are. The Professor refuses.

Several months later, Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) comes looking for her father. She has been sent a letter saying that she can meet up with him in the village of Tungola. She is to meet him in an establishment run by slimy trader Kassam (Shaike Ophir). But first she must get to Tungola. That’s where great white hunter and guide, Alan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) comes in. He leads Jesse Huston’s party to the remote jungle village.

Waiting for Jesse Huston are two men. The first is Dogati who has not been able to make the Professor tell where the mines are. The second man, who is Dogati’s partner out of necessity, rather than friendship and trust, is Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom). Bockner is a pompous German soldier who plans to take the treasure at the mines for the glory of Germany (and his own personal gain, of course).

Once in Tungola, Jesse manages to get herself kidnapped a couple of times, requiring Quartermain to come to her rescue. During the mayhem, Quatermain learns that Dogati and Bockner have Jesse’s father and are transporting him by train to a German military camp in Burumba. Being and action adventure film, Quatermain and Jesse catch the train and scramble on board. But once again, Jesse gets captured and is taken by Dogati and Bockner to her father. Dogati threatens to torture Jesse unless the Professor reveals the location of the mines. The Professor breaks and tells all.

Once again, Quatermain comes to the rescue and saves both Jesse and the Professor. But it is now too late, both Dogati and Bockner are making their way towards the mine and the fabulous riches there within. The Professor pleads with Quatermain to race to the mines first, (with Jesse in tow, too). Reluctantly he agrees and the race is on.

In modern times, the shadow of Indiana Jones looms large over most ‘old fashioned’ action adventures. And undoubtedly, King Solomon’s Mines is drinking from the same well, but you’ve got to remember that there were action adventure films before Indiana Jones. Granted Indiana Jones did it better than most, and that’s why it is used as a template and so many movies are compared to the series. The story of King Solomon’s Mines itself, has been filmed (or variations of) at least four other times. The story is a much loved classic, and it is a classic because it is a good old fashioned adventure, and that’s what the film strives to be. It isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it is darn good fun – particularly if you don’t expect too much from it, and it is viewed with an audience.

King Solomon's Mines (1985)

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Hebert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley Anne Down, Omar Sharif, Richard Vernon
Music: Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is the fourth film in the series, which I know, I know, is not a spy film. But it includes so many spy film tropes, and actors who are associated with spy films, I thought it was well worth inclusion here. And is it just my imagination but does Mike Grell’s Bond comic Permission to Die bear are passing resemblance to this film? I know Permission to Die also borrows heavily from The Phantom of the Opera too – and how co-incidental is it, that Herbert Lom should play the Phantom in Hammer’s film version of The Phantom. Of course, Lom plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus in this film (or should I say ex-Chief Inspector).

As the film starts, ex-Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is in an asylum for the clinically insane. But the good news is, he is almost ready to be released back into polite society. But first, unbeknownst to him, he has to pass one last test. That test arrives in the form of newly appointed Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sureté. For the one or two people in the world that are not familiar with Clouseau, let me explain that he is a walking disaster just waiting to happen. He’s the type of guy who, when entrusted with a simple task of vacuuming a room, ends up naked in another country, covered in raspberry jam with a poodle gaffer taped to his chest – or something like that (maybe that’s a past-life regression thing I shouldn’t be talking about). Needless to say, when Clouseau is around, the simple becomes complicated, and things are never quite the same again. However, most of the world seems obvious to the disaster that Clouseau seems to conjure up. Only Dreyfus appears to be able to see the disorder and destruction of Clouseau’s actions. And therein lies the rub, and how Dreyfus ended up in an asylum. Actually Dreyfus ended up in an asylum because he went mad and tried to kill Clouseau, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that if Clouseau was dead, a great many of the world’s ills would be alleviated. Anyway, that’s enough backstory – if you want to know more, track down a copy of A Shot in the Dark (in my opinion the best of the Pink Panther movies…although Pink Panther doesn’t appear in the title – nor the Pink Panther diamond in the story).

But back to Dreyfus’ test. Clouseau turns up at the asylum and joins Dreyfus in the idyllic grounds beside the lake. Dreyfus is distressed to see Clouseau but refuses to allow his arrival to interfere with his imminent release. But Dreyfus’s stoicism can only go so far, and after Clouseau has inadvertently dumped him in the lake three times and had him raked in the face (hey, it happens to all of us…ask Sideshow Bob), Dreyfus reverts back to an insane maniac and tries to kill Clouseau.

After a nifty animated title sequence Clouseau returns home, but little does he know that Dreyfus has now in fact, escaped from the insane asylum and has broken into the apartment below Clouseau’s. Plotting revenge, Dreyfus drills through the roof of the apartment he is in (or through the floor of the apartment Clouseau is in) and with a miniature periscope spies on Clouseau as he searches his house. What is he searching for? He is searching for Cato (Burt Kwouk), his manservant. Cato has been given instructions to attack his master when he least expects it – this is supposed to keep Clouseaus skills honed and his wits sharp. Well, that’s the theory – it usually ends in chaos.

After their usual fight routine, Clouseau receives a phone call from the Commissioner explaining that Dreyfus has escape and may try to kill him. Clouseau decides that positive action is required and chooses to adopt a cunning disguise…as a hunchback, with an inflatable hump! A diversionary phone call from Dreyfus (with disguised voice – peg over nose) distracts Clouseau as he is inflating his hump. As he talks, the hump continues to inflate, and then, like a balloon, lifts Clouseau off the floor and out the window. As he is so caught up in himself he doesn’t notice that he has drifted outside, but in a way it is a godsend. Dreyfus wanted Clouseau near the phone as he has a bomb prepared to kill Clouseau once and for all. But as Clouseau is actually outside, floating away, he isn’t at home when the bomb blows. Dreyfus is foiled once again. Out of frustration Dreyfus chooses to adopt a rather elaborate and grand scale approach to his Clouseau problem.

Now an evil mastermind, Dreyfus starts organising a series of audacious schemes. First Dreyfus arranges the escape by one of France’s leading criminals, Jean Sauniere. Dreyfus needs Sauniere for his next plan, which is to rob twenty-million France from the Paris Credit bank. Why does he need the money? To finance his biggest and boldest scheme which is to kidnap brilliant scientist Professor Fassbender (Richard Vernon). Now why does Dreyfus want Fassbender? Fassbender is required to invent a ‘Doomsday Weapon’ so Dreyfus can control the world. The weapon being a giant laser. But deep down, Dreyfuss doesn’t want to rule the world, he simply wants to kill Clouseau. So after the ‘Doomsday Weapon’ has been created, Dreyfus interrupts the television broadcasts around the globe and delivers his ultimatum. It’s simple – he wants Clouseau or he will destroy the world. To prove he is serious, he aims the weapon at the UN Building in New York and vaporises it. Once again, Dreyfus delivers his terms – the world has seven days to deliver Clouseau dead or alive or next time he will destroy an entire city.

Dreyfus’ ultimatum sends teams of assassins from every organization and corner of the globe to Munich (which is where Clouseau’s investigation has lead him) to ‘Kill Clouseau’. But of course, Clouseau is not an easy man to kill. Not because he is clever and resourceful, but because he is inept and unpredictable. In the end, many assassins die in grotesque and mildly amusing fashion.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the better entries in the series. It’s not right up there with the best, but those who have seen the dregs that Blake Edwards served up towards the end of this series (I don’t count the recent Steve Martin films), will know that this provides some classic Sellers madness and comedy routines. Which film was it that featured Roger Moore and for Sellers scenes simply used out-takes from this film – was it Trail of the Pink Panther? Man, that was one abhorrent piece of entertainment (the word being used very loosely, of course). I haven’t seen it in about twenty-five years, and I rightly don’t think I want to.

But this film has its moments (does your dog bite), and some classic scenes where Clouseau attempts to storm Dreyfus’ castle in Bavaria – the first hurdle being the drawbridge. What can I say – comic genius!

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

The Phantom Of The Opera

Film GenericThe Phantom Of The Opera is a tale that has been told many times, but in recent years, the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version, both on stage and on screen, has overshadowed some of the earlier telling of the tale. This version is the Hammer Studios version, and like many of their films, it deviates from the source material, but still provides a great little story.

The film begins on the opening night of Lord Ambrose d’Arcy’s (Michael Gough) new opera ‘Joan Of Arc’. For weeks the Opera House, in the lead-up to the production, has been plagued by small accidents. Some people even believe that the theatre is haunted. The bad luck continues during the performance when one of the stage hands, hanging from a rope around his neck, tears one of the backdrops and swings out into the middle of the stage, dead.

The leading lady in the production quits and the season of ‘Joan Of Arc’ is postponed until a replacement can be found. The production Manager, Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) finds a girl named Christine Charles (Heather Sears) who has the voice to fit the bill. But Lord d’Arcy is a lecherous swine and tries to take advantage of the rising starlets desire to perform. She rebuffs his advances and d’Arcy fires her from the production and seeks a new starlet to sing the lead.

Hunter tries to reason with d’Arcy, but for his trouble he gets fired too. Afterwards he goes to Christine’s lodgings to tell her the bad news. At the lodgings, however, the landlady tells him of one of her previous tenants, Professor Petrie who was a composer who died in a fire many years previously.

Hunter does some investigating into the death of Professor Petrie. It seems that Petrie wrote a great deal of music, but broke, went to Lord d’Arcy to see if he could get his work published. Lord d’Arcy agreed to buy and publish the work, but instead stole it, and put his name to the music. In a fit of rage, Petrie went to the printers that were running off ‘d’Arcy’s ill gotten sheet music and threw all the printed sheets into the furnace. One sheet fell out of the furnace and onto the floor starting a small fire. Petrie picked up a bucket filled with acid, thinking that it is water. He then threw the acid on the fire, and it splashed back in his face. Blinded in one eye and in tremendous pain, Petrie ran from the printers, out into the street, and then threw him self into the river – never to be seen again.

The Phantom Of The Opera is not a true horror film. Their are a couple of violent scenes, but they aren’t too shocking. Like the best of Hammer, what this film has got going for it, is a sense of atmosphere, and a great ensemble of character actors. Lom is good, but considering he spends most of the movie hidden behind a mask it is his voice that carries his performance. Michael Gough though is brilliantly evil as Lord Ambrose d’Arcy, and he dominates every scene he is in. All in all, The Phantom Of The Opera is an entertaining tale in true Hammer style, of good versus evil, corruption and revenge.

The Phantom Of The Opera

Assignment To Kill (1968)

Country: United States
Director: Sheldon Reynolds
Starring: Patrick O’Neal, Joan Hackett, John Gielgud, Herbert Lom, Eric Portman, Peter Van Eyck, Oskar Homolka
Music: William Lava

Assignment To Kill may not have a very high profile, but it is a very tight little package with a great sense of atmosphere. It’s major drawback is the lack of a major star. Patrick O’Neal is a fine journeyman actor – you’ll recognise his face as soon as you see him – appearing in hundreds of productions, but he is hardly a marquee drawcard. The supporting cast, however is exceptional, with John Gielgud, Herbert Lom, Eric Portman, Oskar Homolka and Peter Van Eyck.

The film actually belongs to that small sub-genre of spy films that are not actually spy films. It is a film about a high-flying insurance investigator – in the same vein as Deadlier Than The Male. In this film Patrick O’Neal plays Richard Cutting a hard-as-nails investigator who is only called in on the toughest case. His direct and brutish manner offend a lot of people, but he is effective in achieving the desired result.

The film starts off in the Engadin Valley in Switzerland, and three people are tearing up the fresh powder on a ski run. One of the party falls over. As she goes to put her ski back on, she finds a hand in the snow. Actually there’s a whole body under the snow, but the hand is near the surface.

After the title sequence, the film cuts to New York. It’s a rainy day, and Richard Cutting enters the building of Security International Underwriters. He has been called in to finish up an investigation into four sunken ships. The backstory is explained: Four ships belonging to wealthy industrialist, Kurt Verlain (John Gielgud), mysteriously sunk a year ago. There only lead that sabotage was involved was a man named Walter Green (Peter Van Eyck). Green died when a plane he was travelling in disappeared in the Swiss Alps. Without Green’s information or testimony, the insurance companies had to pay out. But the body frozen in the snow belongs to the pilot of Green’s plane. In fact the whole plane is under the snow. Cutting is sent to Switzerland.

Now Cutting isn’t the only man interested in the wrecked plane. Matt Wilson (Herbert Lom) is Verlain’s right hand man, and he too is trying to find out the fate of Walter Green. It’s not long before both Cutting and Wilson find the answer. The search of the plane and the surrounding area does not find Green. It appears that he survived the crash and is in hiding.

Cutting is the first to put two and two together and makes his way to the local police station. There, the town’s police chief recounts the tale of a man who claimed to be in a car accident – then caught a taxi to Zurich. Cutting heads off to Zurich and goes to Green’s old address. The landlady has had no contact with Green but supplies the contact details for Green’s girlfriend, Dominique Loren (Joan Hackett). Cutting catches up with her at nightclub. Naturally by this time, Wilson too has made his way to Zurich and attends the same nightclub. There he warns Cutting to leave the case alone. After Wilson has left, Cutting asks Green to contact him. She says that she has no idea how to contact him. But later that evening Cutting receives a call from Dominique, saying that Green has agreed to meet him at the train station.

Later at the train station, Green confesses that Verlain’s ship were sabotaged. He was the man behind it, under the orders of Matt Wilson. Green says he is willing to testify. Cutting leaves with Dominique, and Green makes his own way home. Unfortunately Wilson’s men are onto Green and follow him. Green tries to flee but Wilson has men everywhere. Green is killed.

It looks like the case is closed. Cutting prepares to leave and head back to America. Dominique, on the other hand pleads with him to stay. He says no Green – no testimony. As he packs, Wilson pays a visit to gloat over his victory. At this point, Dominique claims she possess a sworn affidavit from Green which relays Green’s duplicity in the matter. Of course, this has just put her in harms way. Now Wilson is forced to find the affidavit and silence Dominique. Now there is no way Cutting can leave.

Assignment To Kill is a first rate thriller with a clever resolution. Genre favourite, Oscar Homolka – who played Colonel Stok in the Harry Palmer films – plays Inspector Ruf a Swiss detective who watches from the wings. Ruf gives Cutting just enough rope to operate throughout the story. Cutting will either hang himself, or wrap the case into a neat little bundle.

The film is not particularly action packed. There’s a few good fights, and small scale chase sequences, but the strength of this film is its atmosphere and European locations. If you haven’t heard of, or seen this film, it is well worth the time of seeking it out.

Assignment To Kill (1968)