The Phantom of the Opera (1990)

Jackie Collins aside, it’s been a while since we looked at a chopped-up-and-re-designed classic book turned into a miniseries. Hmmm, which one shall we pick?  Dickens?  No, too frantic.  Austen?  No, outside of our domain, as the Brits always get there first and best.  The Bible?  No, mercy me, I don’t have the strength right now. 

In 1990, “The Phantom of the Opera” mania was high.  The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical had been running in both London and New York for a few years and was touring all over the place.  However, at the same time, there was another musical version of the Gaston Leroux’s novel by noted playwright Arthur Kopit and infinitely-more-talented-than-Sir-Andrew composer/lyricist Maury Yeston.  It’s the Kopit-Yeston version of the novel that became a miniseries in 1990, but without any of Yeston’s music (having the music certainly didn’t help the film version of the mega-musical over a decade later, so it might as well be chopped here too, though admittedly, Yeston’s “Phantom” score is fairly wan). 

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what is being filmed here since it bears only the slightest resemblance to the book and its themes, and the casting is a hoot, which is a word I never thought I would in describing this dark story.  It’s directed by no less than Tony Richardson, though it certainly bears no trace of his genius.  But, it seems that if we can’t have a fresh version of “Phantom” in one form or another every few years (lest we forget the 1989 big screen dud with Freddy Kruger), the man lurking beneath the Le Theatre de l’Opera will, I suppose, wreak havoc on us all.  You know, worse havoc than everyone putting together these sham versions of “The Phantom of the Opera.” 

Ooooh, one detail I did find out is that this is the only English-language version of “The Phantom of the Opera” to be at all filmed in Paris.  There are about 147 others using fake Paris, and most of them better than this one, so verisimilitude ain’t the key.

(I’m using character names here due to the familiarity of the story, or at least some of them are as the rest are brand new.)

Guttersnipe Christine Daae (Teri Polo, so young looking before her turns as Mrs. Focker) wanders around the magnificent opera house and then takes off her shoes and smiles.  Inside the venerable building, Gerard Carriere (Burt Lancaster, SERIOUSLY slumming) has been dismissed from his position as manager.  Don’t remember him?  Don’t worry, he’s new to the story, an amalgamation of characters (including some new ones).  The company is most upset at his dismissal.  Sent by the Comte de Chagny to meet the just-fired Carriere is Christine, who not only had an appointment to meet him, but is in serious need of even a slight European accent, ANY European accent.  The ladies of the opera, who are tarted up to look like hookers on a day off, laugh at her because they have all been recruited by the Comte and all have the lockets to prove it.   

Diva Carlotta (Andrea Ferreol), tarted up to look like…geez, I’m not really sure, wants to know “exactly what it is we are inheriting,” as she is the wife of the new manager Choleti (Ian Richardson).  So, she scares someone into going down into the bowels of the theater to find sets, costumes and anything else usable.  There’s a whole lot of crap down there and a man wearing a skeleton mask who scares the poor fool so badly, the latter dies.  Choleti, looking like nasty version of Hercule Poirot, and his wife are introduced to the underwhelmed company, but as Choleti starts to speak, a note from the Phantom wafts down into Carriere’s hand.  He tells Choleti of the ghost, who is fine as long as “the rule is obeyed…all you need to know is don’t go down below.”  Neglect the rule and you meet the fate of the sniveling dresser.  Reacting to this news and a few little special effects put on by the Phantom, Choleti roars into overdrive overacting and asserts that “these are tricks” designed to frighten him and his wife.  “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he says as a statue falls near him.  Stay in your seats.  The camp festival has only just begun. 

Erik (Charles Dance), aka The Phantom, lures Carriere down to his lair where he reveals that he also needs some sort of European dialect.  “Why did you let him go down there?” he whines to Carriere, not knowing that Carriere has been fired.  “What am I going to do?” the spoiled lurker wonders.  They have a special relationship, old ham and new ham (no cured hams here, trust me), but Erik reacts to Carlotta’s voice like a dog to a whistle.  “She can’t sing,” he says with a Paul Lynde lilt to his voice.  “I know what to do about it, I’ll kill them both,” Erik jokes, revising it to kill only Carlotta.  He decides to leave with Carriere, but oops, he can’t.  “Sometimes I forget that I’m only fit for these gloomy vaults…like blackness itself, for I am blackness itself,” he carps, sounding more like Paul Lynde with every line.

Choleti agrees to see Christine, who has been waiting this whole time (not that as a guttersnipe she has anything better to do) because he is told the Comte de Chagny who sent her is “one of our biggest contributors.”  However, when he shows her to Carlotta, she goes wild, knowing instantly the girl cannot sing.  “Where did you grow up?  On a farm?  The world of opera has nothing to do with farm life,” she says dramatically, but when whispered to about the patron, she suddenly gets friendly.  “My dear, I’m going to do a great favor for you.  I’m going to let you work for me, in the costume department,” replacing the poor dead guy.  Since Christine is homeless, the doorman lets her stay in…you got it…the basement, though warning her “not to wander around.”  The fussy Phantom, who happens to be wearing a shiny gold mask over his usual white one and who likes to powder his chin, is enchanted by the voice doing Christine’s singing (it sure as hell ain’t Teri Polo’s voice) as she does just what she was told not to do and wanders around.  He follows it all the way up to the stage, where she’s naturally found her way and is just warbling for the emptiness. 

This is the hokiest company this side of the Bath Touring Light Opera.  Choleti spends his time telling Carlotta how young she looks, and if you can make it through his “you look like spring” declaration without laughing, you aren’t drunk enough.  The director tells the male star at a “Faust” rehearsal, “this is poison, not soup…not happy!  Take it from la, la, la.”  The girls are actually bitchier than the boys, but no one is bitchier than the roaming Phantom, who has a whole gaggle of expensive custom-made masks, usually wearing two, the spiffy one over the normal one, for reasons not explained.  One is enough when no one is seeing you anyway.  Two is just, well, overkill since no one gets to see your fashion show. 

Finally, Erik the Phantom speaks to Christine, from the orchestra pit once everyone else has magically cleared the stage.  He loves her voice, “though it is obviously untrained,” and he offers to help her “attain the heights for which it was destined.”  She can’t tell anyone about their lessons, because others will want the lessons too and he obviously has standards.

Choleti receives letters from the Phantom trashing Carlotta for the next month.  “From a ghost?  Since when do ghosts know how to write?” he demands to know.  I guess he doesn’t know many ghosts, but to be fair, the Phantom can be awfully stinging (like Paul Lynde after a few too many), like when he says he loves everything about the new production of “Norma” except Carlotta’s presence in it.  He’s also demanding, insisting on having Box Five at every performance, which Choleti refuses.  The ladies of the chorus aren’t any nicer, talking of Christine, saying “she’s been here over a month and all she does it hum.”  “She’s getting better at it too.” “I can’t stand it.”  Wait, one can improve in humming?  Are there great hum teachers out there like great voice teachers?

Opening night finally arrives, with tout la creme de Paris in attendance, and a very unlucky quartet placed in Box Five.  The foursome is told by a voice, “this box is mine…I would appreciate if you left!” and they hustle out.  At the same time, Erik temporarily steals Carlotta’s wig to make her more nervous.  Carlotta makes her entrance as Norma, apparently unaware it’s not a comedy, and then her wig starts to itch.  Watching her find ways to scratch it has the audience roaring.  “Can’t say I didn’t warn you,” the voice of the Phantom tells Carlotta and her husband.  Inspector Ledoux (Jean-Pierre Cassel, about the only one here who plays this for understandable laughs) is still chuckling over the debut and the reviews to be of much help to the Choletis. 

Meanwhile, Erik is coaching Christine, telling her she’ll be singing for the audience in no time and “you are music itself,” though with the emotion of a dead sea monkey and that annoying monotonous voice (which loses his bitchiness only when talking to Christine).  He tells Christine not to put any faith in the Comte because “he comes to the opera for the wrong reasons.  He comes for the beauty of faces rather than the beauty of music.”  Two snaps!

At another opening of another opera, the Phantom has made sure that Carlotta’s props misbehave and the audience can’t contain their laughter.  Once again, Inspector Ledoux is a master of the obvious, telling her that he knows why the glasses did not come off the tray: glue.  It takes a real Parisian detective to be that smart, in what I assume is an homage to Inspector Clouseau.  Choleti sees a dead body (and hits something like an A flat yelling for Ledoux), but when Ledoux comes, the body is gone. 

With Carlotta’s nerves fraying and Choleti seeing dead people, Erik tells Christine she is finished with her lessons (after about four of them) because she is perfect.  She asks him where he lives.  “When you sing, in heaven.  When you do not, down below,” he says, as if he’s using his best line on the last girl around before closing time.

There is something of a romantic hero in all of this, the Comte de Chagny (Adam Storke), though for some reason he’s given the name Philippe rather than Raoul (both are in the book, but Philippe is not the one involved in the plot).  He makes his first appearance sporting the best hairdo in the whole movie and the most make-up.  He declares to the doorman that he actually does love Christine, that she’s not just another token.  He’s not happy to hear she’s languishing in the costume department.  When the girls find out he’s arrived, they descend up on him, all touching his luxurious locks, but he sees Christine with a cart of costumes.  “You have a wonderful voice.  I know about these things.  I come to the opera all the time,” he tells her in earnest, to the laughter of the gang.  So, he puts them off his trail by announcing, “I’m throwing a party tonight for the whole company.  At the bistro!”  He doesn’t say which bistro, but there are only 38 million in Paris, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. 

“The bistro is what we’ve been waiting for.  Everyone sings at the bistro,” the Phantom tells Christine, all excited.  It’s sounding more like a gay piano bar each time it’s mentioned.  I fully expect someone to launch into a Garland medley (or at least Piaf), but alas, everyone sticks to bawdy French ditties.  The Phantom gives Christine a ravishing dress and does her hair so she’s ultra-glam, though late.  That means she misses another of Carlotta’s tantrums.  Carlotta has refused to perform for the past month, but grosses are up, so Choleti has to break the news to her that he’s gone and added more pieces to the repertoire without her.  Philippe is better in the charm department, asking her to teach Christine (though he neglects to mention her name) and he’ll “cover the operating deficits for the next three years.”  Without bothering to think about the fact that he assumed there will be nothing but deficits, she agrees. 

And then Christine walks in, looking like youth personified and Carlotta is not pleased, but jokes because she expects the girl to be so bad she won’t have to go make good on her promise.  Christine finally launches into her song and Carlotta chirps that her voice “is a little thin,” so Choleti begs her to duet with Christine.  When she starts, the Phantom, outside in a very smart fedora, chuckles.  He knows that when it’s time for Christine to hit the big notes, she’ll wipe out Carlotta.  And so it happens.  Carlotta, all bug eyes and gestures, seethes while innocent Christine outsings her.  Any note Carlotta sings, Christine can sing better, so Carlotta bounces back to her seat in a huff.  The crowd at the bistro goes wild for her.  Carriere, specially invited by Philippe, weeps and Choleti announces, “that girl doesn’t need singing lessons, I’m signing her up!”  “Only for the chorus,” Carlotta sniffs.  Carriere tells her she sings like a particular legend and Christine stares at him blankly.  “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of her,” he says before sending her off with Philippe.  It’s a very weird moment to leave in the movie.  Just to make sure the scene glows with extra stupidity, they send on Offenbach and the can-can girls for a rump-heavy production number. 

Philippe takes Christine for a midnight boat ride while Erik and Carlotta each wait in their separate rooms for her return, neither at all pleased.  Carlotta only wants to know who is teaching her.  “No one can sing bel canto without lessons, God doesn’t allow it!” she fumes, to no reaction from her husband.  I had to rewind and listen to that corker about 10 times to make sure I heard it right and he doesn’t blink?   There is no dialogue worth quoting no the boat ride because Christine and Philippe are boring as hell, but there is a flashback where Christine reminds Philippe that she was his servant when he was a kid.  That’s why he recognized her voice, because she had the same one, fully mature by the way, as a pre-pubescent girl.  In the flashback, the two become the best of friends, which makes it a wee bit strange that he has completely blanked on who she is until being reminded.  He’s obviously spent all of his time since looking only in the mirror that he forgot what other girls…I mean, what other people looked like. 

Just as Philippe and Christine start very kissing, chaste pecs, she announces she has to go, a la Cinderella.  “Is it someone else?” he asks.  “It’s not what you think,” she replies, leaving him with that half answer instead of something that won’t make him suspicious.  Erik has not waited up for her, so Christine sobs over the piano and strokes the keys.  Carlotta, though,  has waited, finding Christine’s lodgings and oozing false adoration in her quest to find out the identity of Christine’s teacher.  Carlotta, as expected, has another diva fit, which such gems as “this is how you repay my generosity!” (for her job washing costumes), “letting you stay in these magnificent quarters” (the gloomy basement) “against all regulations, rent free” (oh, now she’s a landlord?).  Nimrod Christine decides she can trust Carlotta, but she doesn’t know the man’s name.  “I’ve never seen his face…he wears a mask,” she tells Carlotta, whose bug eyes hit their biggest size yet. 

“She is my costume girl,” Margo cries, referring to Eve.  Oh, wait, this isn’t that story.

“She is my costume girl,” Carlotta cries, referring to Christine, whom her husband has given the lead role in “Faust.”  “Exactly!  Think of the publicity,” he says, not at all comforting his stormy spouse.  Christine lies to Erik and tells him Choleti offered her the role at the bistro and that she was out celebrating with Carlotta, which he knows to be a lie.  That’s okay, because she’s a terrible liar, instantly changing her story to the truth.  “I thought you would be upset and I didn’t want to hurt you.  And because none of this would have happened without you,” she sighs.  He buys it.

Choleti them goes to Inspector Ledoux and they have a mime scene of plotting, like eager villains.  Thank you, Director Richardson, for acting like a four-year-old who knows something we don’t know. 

Christine makes her big debut with giant signs announcing it (although they spell Daae incorrectly, which is just the cherry on the top of this movie’s sundae of mistakes).  Philippe presents her with one rose for the big event.  Yes, just one.  Ledoux watches Philippe and Carriere in their box while they watch the performance.  Carlotta spits on Christine’s door before barging in to offer her insincere good wishes.  “Opera is my life, and you, my dear, have the greatest voice I’ve ever heard,” she says.  Shouldn’t Christine know better than to believe that?  Not this dimwit.  Carlotta offers Christine a glass of “herbs” to cure nervousness like the Evil Queen in Snow White and Christine eagerly downs it. 

It’s time for “Faust.”  Christine enters, dressed as a cross between Joan of Arc and Heidi, via a Hugh Hefner fantasy.  And suddenly she can’t sing.  Of course not, not drugged as she was.  This audience should be used to opening night mishaps, but only Carlotta cackles with glee at the unfortunate turn of events.  The Phantom is furious and Ledoux spots him as the crowd heckles Christine.  So, he rushes back stage and pulls out a dagger hidden in his sleeve to cut the ropes to the chandelier.  This is the climactic end to the first half. 

For those familiar with the story, you are not losing your minds.  In this scene in every other version, it’s Carlotta who loses her voice due to the Phantom’s trickery.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, you are probably lost anyway.

There is pandemonium in the theater.  Well-dressed people are running hither and yon, the ones who don’t play injured like they were limping around the Burning of Atlanta, and the police grab one of the actors who was clearly onstage thinking he is the culprit (Inspector Ledoux) fixes that quickly.  The Phantom spirits Christine to safety and takes her to his subterranean lair.  The doorman tries to tell Carriere this, but he says, “nonsense, he never lets anyone below!”

The Phantom’s digs don’t have the best lighting, but they are impressive.  There is a lake and all sorts of candles, although stick to the Lloyd Webber stage version for the best interpretation of his home.  Erik puts Christine in his big canopy bed and hum syncs her to sleep. 

Inspector Ledoux leads a parade of policeman down the stairs to the bowels, the only one to hear “some sort of music.”  But, there are “too many places to look” and Inspector Ledoux orders everyone back upstairs until they can return with more men.  Unfortunately, two of the men don’t hear the command and one dies rather comically. 

Just as Carriere goes down a secret staircase to meet Erik, the latter is in Christine’s dressing room finding the poisoned glass from Carlotta.  So, he goes to her dressing room (what’s she dressing for, everyone is gone for the night?) and pours a suitcase of rats on her.  “Rats for a rat,” he sniffs, as if that’s a good comeback line?  Paul Lynde wouldn’t stand for such blather!

The rats cause Carlotta to go crazy.  She sees rats where they do not exist and puts flowers in her hair, the international symbol of craziness ever since Ophelia made it all the rage.

Meanwhile, Christine puts on a beautiful gown she finds in Erik’s bedroom and then snoops around further to find a very old doll in a bassinet, whose head falls off.  And all of these paintings that look like her.  Carriere sees Christine jumping around below and warns Erik that there may be trouble from above.  He replies that he’s been waiting for such an opportunity.  “I’ll just show off my defenses and prepare a counterattack,” now apparently Frederick the Great.  There is no arguing with a pissed-off Phantom.  Ordering Carriere to go away, he shows off his stockpile is gunpowder.  “A few of these and the opera season is gone forever,” he barks.  “I was born so she could save me.  That’s what she’s done.  She’s the reason I was born.  I love her, Gerard.  I believe in time she will come to love me,” Erik says, insisting that Carriere never return as “she is all I need.” 

Carriere doesn’t heed Erik’s dire predictions and warns Christine to get to safety.  “Monsieur Carriere, I remember.  You said my voice reminded you of a certain singer,” coos a suddenly puffed-up Christine, who milks a compliment for all its worth.  She’s therefore joined the ranks of true artists.  Carriere informs her that she’s in danger because Erik intends to keep her there, madly in love with her because…for those of you who have not guessed…the singer whose voice Christine reminds him and Erik of belonged to Erik’s mother.  The woman in the paintings.  While Carriere slowly tells the story, Erik is busy preparing the catacombs for the big kaboom.  However, Christine gets another shock when she asks who took care of Erik after his mother did.  “I did, I’m his father,” Carriere tells her (and now we’ve gone so far away from the book’s plot, I think Dominique Devereaux is going to pop in and reveal she’s Blake Carrington’s half sister).  Christine responds with one of those uncomprehending stares she’s so good at delivering and Carriere launches us into a flashback that includes a nude scene in the grass.  After the romp in the field, Erik’s mother reveals a hidden talent for singing that young Carriere finds bewitching, but she tells him it has to be their secret because “singing is something very private for me.” 

“Does that make any sense to you?” Carriere asks.  No, absolutely not.  I’m completely lost.  But, Christine answers yes, allowing him to continue.  Young Carriere pushes Christine to reveal her talent at an audition and “she became the toast of Paris, but the acclaim did not interest her  She thought only of me.”  Most men would like that.  Unfortunately, he’s already married, but he doesn’t tell her that to avoid hurting her, because leaving her with no excuse is so thrilling.  Indeed, she walks right into the Seine and tries to kill herself (and her unborn child) she’s so thrilled.  He saves her, but “she disappeared for months” and he finally found her months later buying an abortion tonic from a gypsy.  As she drinks it, he smashes it out of her hand and she goes into labor.  “We had nowhere to go.  I brought her back to the opera house where we could hide in the stalls we used for the animals,” he continues.  Wait, in all of Paris that’s the only place he could take her?  And right there, in the hay like the Virgin Mary, she gives birth to little Erik and doesn’t seem to notice that her baby is hideously deformed.  “To her, he was beauty itself.  To him, so was she.” 

Three years later, Mom dies of fever and Carriere expected Erik to die as well, “which would be a mercy to all of us.”  All of who?  Carriere is the only person alive who knows his son even exists.  It was the boy’s cries echoing through the opera house that bore the legend of the ghost and Carriere “allowed the legend to grow.”  Erik does not know Carriere is his father, for no particularly good reason, but admits that “for the past 30 years, he’s been the real director of this opera house, not I.  If we were a great company, and we were, it was because of him.  Every decision, from the repertoire to the small prop, was his,” Papa admits, which is more than a little strange because if he’s been letting the boy make decisions since the age of three, that must have been one wacked out opera company!

At the end of the tale, he urges Christine to leave with him, not to fill Erik with “false hope,” but our angelic dopey leading lady says “he deserves better than that” and wants to say her goodbyes in person.  “I will go when I’m ready to, after I’ve talked with him,” she says, but Carriere insists that she’s making a terrible mistake.  “Now I know his heart,” she says.  “So do I.  Unfortunately, there’s more to him than that,” Carriere grumbles before heading off.  “Get out while you can.”  Burt Lancaster made tons of terrible movies in his long career, and many a camp delight, but that doesn’t mean the fossil deserves this claptrap right at the end.  But, he read the script (presumably), so he’s as much to blame as writer Arthur Kopit for delivering it. 

Back upstairs, Inspector Ledoux corners Carriere, saying “you help me, I’ll help you.”  More cloak-and-dagger nonsense. 

When Christine finds the Phantom, he’s awfully chipper.  “Good morning, did you sleep well?  I’ve always like that bed,” he says, hurriedly putting on his mask.  “Well?  What should we do to.  I have an idea, what about a picnic?”  He puts on a straw hat, takes a cane and a basket and offers his arm.  He takes her to a part of the catacombs where he’s created an outdoor world, complete with trees and “squirrels, foxes and rabbits all playing harmoniously.  Like magic.  You are magic too.  Oh, yes, I know.  Magic is my friend,” he rattles on, which should be scaring the hell out of her, but she’s merely perplexed.  This is the strangest picnic outside of Wonderland, but Alice was only a little girl, so it’s understandable she believed what she saw.  Christine sees all the dead stuffed animals and doesn’t even seem a bit weirded out by his attempts at taxidermy. 

He asks her to sing as he lays out the food, and she says she will, but only if he grants a favor.  Nope.  She has to sing because she loves it, but he’ll grant her the favor anyway.  She wants to see his face.  “You have asked, I’m afraid, the only thing in my power that I cannot grant,” he replies.  “Please don’t ask it again.”  She pushes and pushes.  “Only if you say you do not love me will I stop,” is her non-sequiter answer to that.  “I know your face can be looked at by someone who loves you.”  Where did she learn schmaltz like that? 

He finally agrees, removes his mask and she faints dead away (we don’t see his face, as I can only guess there was no money left in the budget after the stuffed deer and Carlotta’s wigs).  “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” he shouts through the catacombs. 

Ledoux pushes Carriere to give him information, but Carriere remains tight-lipped.  He warns the old man that if he doesn’t help, he’ll be forced to send his men back into the basement and Carriere finally agrees, though it’s obvious he doesn’t really mean it. 

Christine wakes up to find Erik throwing a Hades-size fit, bigger than anything Carlotta could ever dream of.  He’s trashing the whole underground.  He throws her in a cell, yelling that “no one who has ever seen my face is allowed to leave.  I thought everyone knew that.”  I didn’t see that written in the opera house rule book, what’s he talking about? 

Carriere runs into Philippe puttering around the theater and says he has to go get her.  Philippe wants to go too, but Carriere says, “no, I need you up here,” but telling him that the Phantom lives below, expecting him NOT to follow him.  Christine escapes from her cell and runs off, hiding behind a post where Erik can’t find her (hey, it’s dark, so Hide and Go Seek is a bit easier in the underworld).  Philippe, who doesn’t want to muss his hair or get involved in physical activity, agrees to do what Carriere says, but only because he loves her so much.  That means taking Christine away from Paris and the clutches of the Phantom.  Just then, Christine escapes and trembles in fear all the way into Philippe’s coach.  “I saw his face,” she tells Carriere, who, uninvited, travels with them! 

At the Comte’s estate, Christine has an even bigger bed, but she’s miserable nonetheless, her bubble of self-esteem popped by Erik’s hideous face.  Teri Polo is given a bed-bound monologue of confusion that, sorry to say, is beyond her skills.  She’s full of guilt for upsetting Philippe (who goes after the Phantom with his hair following at top speed), for not responding better to Erik’s face and, if given the time, she could throw in global warming and teenage prostitution.  As for Erik, he puts on a Pierrot mask and pets his wig (I’m not kidding). 

Christine sees a vision and decides she has to go save Erik, and persuades the equally idiotic Philippe to take her.  They stop at the Choletis, to cue them into Christine’s big plan, where Carlotta is still mad, darting around tossing off bits of arias.  They literally have a conversation as Carlotta dancing among them.  Carriere beats them to the underground lair, while upstairs, Christine reveals her plan, to sing on the stage in that night’s opera so the Phantom can hear her sing once more.  She has to remind Philippe that she loves them both, but “it’s not the same kind of love at all.” 

Erik is dying.  Of what?  I’m not sure.  He’s coughing, so let’s go with consumption.  Or a broken heart.  That was still possible before transplants and such.  Erik gets a little sentimental with Carriere, but admits he has one regret, not killing Philippe, who doesn’t love music and thus can’t possibly love Christine.  “He loves her,” says Carriere with the exasperation only a father could have for a petulant child.  He offers to show Carriere his face, but he, of course has seen it, so decides to make the moment worse and remind Erik of the first time he saw his own reflection.  That’s bound to cheer him up.  “Father, I’m sorry for what I put you through,” Erik starts, and then it becomes a game of “I’m sorry,” “no, I’m sorry, “no, let me be sorry,” “okay, we’re both sorry.”  It would be touching if it weren’t so badly written.  Carriere leaves, promising to bury his son.  “Make it deep,” said son commands.  “Tell her that I’m sorry I frightened her.” 

The crowd gathers, the maestro takes the baton and “Faust” starts again.  Amazingly, there is an audience willing to see it after the last disastrous attempt.  Naturally, Christine is flawless this time.  Her voice awakens the dying Phantom.  Choleti is nervous because no one has appeared in Box Five as per the plan, but Ledoux takes a typical French attitude, “if he doesn’t come, he doesn’t come.”  What, does another chandelier have to crash before he does anything? 

The Phantom wheezes his way up from below, roused by her voice (though, there is far more singing by the men during his looooooong climb), and she finally sees him make it to Box Five.  Erik starts singing the male part, which upsets the tenor, but finally proves that the Phantom exists (and can lip sync as well as everyone else).  Amazingly, not only do the other performers continue as if nothing weird is happening, so does the full orchestra…and the audience!  They finish the duet to thunderous applause, which must be especially gratifying for the Phantom, who could barely talk, let alone sing, only moments ago.  Ledoux’s men screw it up when they fire at Erik, so he jumps to the stage and snatches Christine.  Carriere stops them from firing more and then goes into the office to get a hidden pistol.  Erik and Christine go for the roof, knocking over Choleti in the process, but the police move at a snail’s pace.  Even Philippe is faster, begging for her safety.  “She sang for me tonight!” he crows, and Christine insists that Philippe “means you no harm.”  That’s not entirely true and they tussle, with Philippe almost going over the edge.  Christine has to beg for her pretty boy’s life and Erik actually helps him back up.  Ledoux wants him alive, but Erik appeals to his father to end it, so Carriere shoots him and then cradles his dying son with Christine.  She removes his mask and kisses him (we still don’t see his face) before he dies. 

You know what would be REALLY cool?  If the Phantom didn’t die and was taken in secret to Coney Island, where he opened an amusement park devoted to Christine, lured her there to sing under false pretenses and revealed to him that they actually have a son, because she’s miserable in her marriage to her alcoholic pretty boy? 

Far-fetched?  Check out “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera,” currently running in cities around the world.  That’s exactly what happens. 

But, it’s no stupider than this miniseries version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which is a barrel of laughs, most of them unintentional.  It’s hard to believe that the slapstick antics of Choleti and Carlotta were not mean for the gigglers and I would like to believe they were in on the joke (heaven knows, Ian Richardson is a superb enough actor to know the difference).  Burt Lancaster certainly never understood comedy, so he plays it like he played everything else, which unfortunately leaves poor Charles Dance and the thoroughly miscast Teri Polo to handle the weight of the nonsense.  They are not up to the task, but who would be?  Kopit’s script alternates between quicksand and pie-in-the-face, and Tony Richardson is no help, apparently at the point in his career where he just cared that it looked pretty. 

Mind you, it’s not the worst film “Phantom,” but it’s the funniest and it’s not supposed to be a comedy!

Question?  Comments?  Extra laughs? I would love to hear from you.  Email me at

Categories: Romance Miniseries

6 Comments to “The Phantom of the Opera (1990)”

  1. Alice 15 February 2013 at 5:39 am #

    hey so in this miniseries you know the part where its a flashback and Christine when she was younger sang a song while her father played violin do you happen to know what the name of the song is or what it is saying?

    • Rebecca Ann 14 February 2014 at 2:57 am #


      The song is called “Laissez-moi planter le mai”.
      I’ve seen the title translated as “Let Me Come A-Courting”.

      I hope this helps.

  2. Paul Glover 31 March 2013 at 2:18 am #

    Did Teri Polo actually sing the Faust aria in this version?

    • Bj Kirschner 29 June 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      No. She can barely get her dialogue out. She’s dubbed, and even that looks ridiculous.


  3. Brook 27 January 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Hey,that was a nice review.
    i have just watched this movie for the second time(not really,the first time i was little)
    anyways I’ve been trying to find the song Christine hums and sings in her childhood part…if you know its name please tell me i have to listen to it fully it wont go out of my head

    • Bj Kirschner 29 January 2016 at 9:50 am #

      Thank you!

      The song is “Laissez-moi planter le mai,” as a previous commenter with astounding ears and knowledge noted. 🙂

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