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In October 1940, Universal announced plans to produce a sound version of Gaston Leroux's novel under the supervision of producer Joe Pasternak, starring Deanna Durbin and Broderick Crawford and directed by Henry Koster. One year later, Hollywood Reporter news items state that, with Durbin under suspension, Universal had decided to rewrite Phantom of the Opera as a comedy for the team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. By February 1942, however, Hollywood Reporter news items were reporting that Koster was once again planning a dramatic version starring Durbin. In November 1942, George Waggner took over the project, casting Lon Chaney, Jr. as "The Phantom," a role made famous by his father, and actor Jon Hall as the romantic lead. According to Hollywood Reporter, Waggner traveled to San Francisco to study a production by the San Francisco Opera Company in preparation for this film.
In January 1943, news items state that Durbin had been replaced in the female lead by eighteen-year-old Universal contract player Susanna Foster, with noted musical star Nelson Eddy cast alongside her. This was the first film to feature Eddy after leaving M-G-M and his long-standing motion picture partnership with actress Jeanette MacDonald. On January 7, 1943, a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Claude Rains had been signed to play the lead in the picture. According to New York Times, the budget of Phantom of the Opera was approximately $1,750,000, which included $100,000 to soundproof the still-existing opera stage from Universal's 1925 silent film version of the Leroux novel.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, a script for the film, dated January 18, 1943, was tentatively approved, with some stated concerns about violence. On May 21, 1943, however, the finished film was rejected by the Breen Office because of a "number of unacceptable breast shots of Christine" in her dressing room. It has not been determined if the offending scenes were deleted or reshot, but the film was released in August 1943 with PCA approval. According to Universal press materials, opera singers Alfred Marlowe and Tudor Williams, along with radio singer Francis White, appeared in the opera sequences.
Phantom of the Opera received two Academy Awards: Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman, R. A. Gausman and Ira S. Webb received Oscars for their work on the color film's interior decoration, and Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene were recognized for their cinematography. Edward Ward was also nominated for his music score, but lost to Ray Heindorf's scoring on Warner Bros.' This Is the Army, while Bernard B. Brown was nominated for his sound recording, only to have the award go to Stephen Dunn's work on Twentieth Century-Fox's This Land Is Mine (see entries below). Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy reprised their roles of "Christine" and "Anatole" on a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 13 September 1943.
This was the second Universal film based on Leroux's novel. In 1925, the studio made the silent classic The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin and directed by Rupert Julian (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.4230). Many other versions of Leroux's story have been produced. In 1962, Universal released a British version of The Phantom of the Opera by Hammer Films, directed by Terence Fisher and starring Herbert Lom and Heather Sears (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.3801). Another adaptation of the Leroux novel was made in 1989, directed by Dwight H. Little and starring Robert Englund and Jill Schoelen. Two television versions of The Phantom of the Opera have also been made: Robert Markowitz directed Maximilian Schell and Jane Seymour in a 1983 production, while Tony Richardson directed Burt Lancaster and Charles Dance in a 1990 U.S.-British mini-series. In 1987, Andrew Lloyd Webber created a musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Michael Crawford that has become one of the most successful stage musicals of all time. A film version of Webber's musical which, like the stage version had very little dialogue, was released in 2004. That version was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred Gerard Butler as The Phantom and Emily Rossum as Christine.
Others films loosely based on this material include Twentieth Century-Fox's 1974 feature Phantom of the Paradise, directed by Brian DePalma and starring Paul Williams and Jessica Harper, and the 1974 made-for-television film The Phantom of Hollywood, directed by Gene Levitt and starring Skye Aubrey and Jack Cassidy.
Because of the success of the 1943 release, Universal announced plans to make a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, featuring Foster and Eddy, in August 1943. That film, which Curt Siodmak was to write, was never made, but parts of the production became elements in the 1944 Universal release The Climax (see entry above). Modern sources add William Desmond and Hank Mann (Stagehands) to the cast.