American Cinematographer (1982) - The Phantom Set
- magazine article: The Phantom Set
- author(s): George E. Turner
- journal: American Cinematographer (01/Jul/1982)
- issue: volume 63, issue 7, page 673
- journal ISSN: 0002-7928
- publisher: American Society of Cinematographers
- keywords: Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Laughton, Claude Rains, Henry Hull, Joseph A. Valentine, Miklós Rózsa, New York City, New York, Paramount Pictures, Royal Albert Hall, London, San Francisco, California, Torn Curtain (1966), Universal Studios, Warner Bros.
Conspicuous among the big sound stages on the Universal Studio front lot is Stage 28. It is obviously older than the others, betrayed by its pitched roof, corrugated iron covering and the ravages of time. It has almost a haunted look, as well it should, for inside stands the last large remnant of Hollywood's version of the Paris Opera House and its fabled ghost. Old 28 is the Phantom Stage, built 58 years ago for that legendary thriller, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Its origins lie in a trip Carl Laemmle, president of Universal, made to Paris in 1922. He was as a we‑struck as any tourist when he stood before the Place de l'Opera in the Boulevard des Italiens. Built by an imperial decree of Napoleon III, it took 12 years to complete, opening in 1874. In size and lavishness it dwarfs the opera houses of Vienna, St. Petersburg, Munich and Turin.
While in Paris Laemmle met Gaston Leroux, who, intrigued by tales of the "opera ghost" wrote a novel, "The Phantom of the Opera," in 1907. He gave Laemmle a copy of the book, and the little movie mogul spent the night reading it. Next day he pondered the idea of filming it, but balked at the thought of sending a cast and crew to Paris. Later, he cabled his studio manager, telling him to begin planning to build a replica of the Opera House on the lot.
The story, set in 1880, is of a disfigured genius known only as Erik, who lives in the cellars beneath the Opera House. He falls in love with Christine, a young singer, and, keeping his face hidden behind a mask, trains her to be the prima donna. He launches a reign of terror in her behalf and eventually lures her to his subterranean home. When she unmasks him, he threatens to destroy the Opera House. Her sweetheart and a secret police operative rescue Christine while the Phantom at last is slain by an irate mob.
Already a large section of old Paris was being built at the studio for THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, completed in 1923. Laemmle rightly believed that HUNCHBACK would be a great success and that its star, Lon Chaney, would become a leading box-office attraction as a result. The picture's release the following year brought Universal greater prestige than any other picture in its history. Chaney's personal success was so great that he was lured away from Universal, where he had labored for years, by a lucrative offer from MGM, where he remained under contract until his death in 1930.
Laemmle felt certain that only Chaney could play Erik properly. Mary Philbin was cast as Christine and Norman Kerry as her lover. As the sets neared completion in 1924, Universal began negotiations to borrow Chaney from MGM.
The main set, of which the auditorium takes up approximately the west quarter, was the first ever constructed on a structural steel framework set in concrete foundations. The customary wooden structure was deemed unsafe because the main floor, the five tiers of boxes and balconies that surround it, and the stage would be filled with players. It is the auditorium portion which remains on what is now Stage 28. Llewellyn Steel Co. of Los Angeles set up the skeleton. The outside was covered with wood and reinforced, corrugated iron. Trucks bearing building materials to the studio were bannered, "The largest shipment of lumber in the history of Los Angeles."
The stage was 360 feet long and 145 feet wide (there have been some additions since). A tank for filming water scenes was constructed under the floor, which can be taken up in sections. The backstage area contained the mechanical effects equipment necessary for the operation of a real opera stage as well as props, such as the dragon from "Siegfried," used in familiar operas. Eleven sculptors and scenic artists worked for six weeks to complete the decorations. A huge crystal chandelier was made in the property department and hung from a pulley in the rafters, about 60 feet above the floor.
Other portions of the Opera House were built in the vast area beyond the auditorium stage and in other locations on the lot. Charles D. Hall designed most of the sets and Archie Hall was in charge of construction. Bart Carre designed the subterranean areas, which were tunneled into a hillside. Tanks higher up the hill furnished the water for scenes in which the cellars were flooded. The roof, including the great statue of Apollo at its center, was built full scale, the background of Paris by night being added by a glass painting placed in front of the camera. The huge staircase and foyer, the Phantom's torture chamber and underground home, the dressing rooms and offices all were elaborately mounted.
Louis B. Mayer, president of MGM, was not fond of Laemmle and at first refused to loan Chaney. Irving Thaiberg, formerly assistant to Laemmle and now May er's associate, convinced him that the picture would boost Chaney's popularity to MGM's ultimate advantage‑an accurate prophecy. So it was that Chaney returned for the last time to his former studio, now at a much higher salary, to make what became his most celebrated picture. His contract included a clause that no photos of his makeup could be shown until after the picture went into release. The skull‑like makeup, as always, created by Chaney himself, became immortal.
Production, which began in the Fall of 1924, did not proceed smoothly. Chaney, although loyal to his friends, was a hard‑boiled, exacting man. So was the director, Rupert Julian, who as an actor had been Erich Von Stroheim's nearest rival at portraying brutal Prussian officers. The director soon was embroiled in conflicts with Chaney and the supervisor, Bernard McConville. Mrs. Julian joined the fray, complicating matters further. The cameramen acted as liaison between Julian and Chaney much of the time.
Charles Van Enger, ASC, and Virgil Miller, ASC, were the principal cinematographers, with additional unit work by Stephen Norton, ASC. Van Enger was in charge of overall production photography while Miller, who had good rapport with Chaney on previous films, did most of the scenes in which the Phantom appears.
"I'd worked with Lon for years experimenting with one makeup after another," Miller said shortly before his death in 1974. "It was a challenge because he set me an almost impossible goal. He'd say, 'Virg, make me look frightening and repulsive, but at the same time make the audience love me.' He always wanted to be loved. I felt I really succeeded in THE PHANTOM."
In one famous scene the great chandelier falls into the audience, killing and injuring many spectators. This was done by lowering the chandelier slowly on a rope and undercranking the camera so that when projected the chandelier appears to hurtle down with horrifying speed. Unfortunately, the fall itself is missing from most prints existing today, which derive from a version in which the scene was shortened by order of the New York censor.
The ballet which opens the film some operatic scenes, and a sequence the Grand Masque Ball were filmed of Technicolor by Van Enger under the supervision of Edward Estabrook. The opera and ballet scenes are rather weak but the Masque is a triumph of color photography. Technicolor at that time was a two‑color process. Prisms separated the image taken by a single lens to red and green filters. Reds and oranges were recorded on one black‑ and‑white film, greens on another. In processing, the separate images were printed or very thin strips of film. The red‑filtered pictures were floated on a green dye and the green‑filtered pictures were dyed red. Cemented together, the strips yielded a surprising range of colors and good flesh tones. The film was slower than normal emulsions and required a drastic increase in lighting on the larger sets.
After some 10 weeks of work, Julian was replaced by Edward Sedgwick normally a comedy specialist, who directed the mob and chase sequences that climax the picture. Several previews were held in January, after which Sedgwick was brought back to film further sequences photographed by Milton Bridenbecker. After the official premiere, at the Curran in San Francisco on April 26, 1925, the picture was recalled and new comedy material was added featuring Chester Conklin. Eventually, all the added work other than the chase was scrapped.
Professor Gustav Hinrichs, 75‑year-old German‑born conductor formerly associated with the Metropolitan Opera, was engaged to arrange the musical accompaniment. It was scored for a 45‑piece orchestra for the initial large city play dates and for smaller pit ensembles and keyboard solos for the subsequent runs. Most of the music was adapted from Gounod's "Faust," the work being performed on stage during much of the film.
Most of the sets were dismantled and distributed to wall storage and the property departments. The auditorium, however, remained intact. Laemmle considered it a permanent asset to be used as often as practical.
It would be futile to attempt to list here all of the hundreds of pictures made on the Phantom Stage. Many have utilized the space only, with the distinctive features of the Opera House not visible. Following are a few notable films in which the set played a crucial part, and, in several instances, made the film's production possible.
The Paris Opera became the Imperial Russian Ballet Theater in THE MIDNIGHT SUN (1926), a romantic extravaganza set in pre‑Revolutionary Russia. A leading European director, Dimitri Buchowetski, staged some fantasy ballet sequences in which the costuming and settings were marvelous. Some of these appeared as stock footage 11 years later in FLASH GORDON. Laura LaPlante and Pat O'Malley were the stars and the cinematographers were Jackson Rose, ASC, and Ernest Smith.
For the superb mystery‑farce, THE LAST WARNING (1926), the Opera House became a venerable New York legit theater supposedly haunted by the ghost of an actor who was murdered onstage on the opening night of a play. The eccentric German director, Paul Leni, demanded photographic effects that lent the setting more menace than even the PHANTOM provided. Hal Mohr, ASC, was the man for the job, supplying not only weird lighting and camera angles but some virtuoso crane shots. Other touches‑such as having the facade of the theater change into the face of a grinning monster‑were added by Jerome Ash, ASC.
Stanley Cortez, ASC, was Mohr's sole assistant (that was the day of the two‑man camera crew). He recalls that the corpulent Leni set the cadence of his films by beating a big drum: "Every scene it was bang! bang! bang!"
Carl Laemmle resisted the "talkies" as long as he dared, but during production he ordered that a part‑talking version of THE LAST WARNING must be made. Accordingly, a 12‑minute talking prologue was filmed, along with four minutes of assorted dialogue and a nine minute closing reel with dialogue. For these scenes the camera was housed in an infernal device called an "ice box"‑a smothering enclosure resembling a heavily padded telephone booth with a single window through which camera and cinematographer looked out at what they were shooting. Otherwise the noises of the camera would be heard on the Movietone track. In New York, composer‑conductor Josef Cherniavsky recorded an excellent symphonic score which runs throughout the picture.
Another celebrated European director, Paul Fejos, followed on the Phantom Stage with silent and part‑talking versions of THE LAST PERFORMANCE. The German star Conrad Veidt was the fiendish magician, Erik the Great, and Mary Philbin was the heroine. The sound version had another Cherniavsky score and sound effects throughout, plus some bits of dialogue and a fully dialogued last reel. Mohr exhibited even greater camera virtuosity in this one.
"In one scene the camera was supposed to swoop down to the theater stage from a great height," Cortez recalls. "We hoisted Hal to the top of the stage and he rode down on four cables, sitting in a boatswain's chair and shooting with a little DeVry camera. As he reached the stage he turned over and I caught him. It's a wonder he wasn't killed. And that's how we did a zoom shot in those days.
"My most embarrassing moment also occurred on the Phantom Stage during that picture. I was a sort of cocky kid and Hal decided to cool me off. The theater was full of extras and the stage curtain was down. He had me carry some cans onto the stage, then he and some others grabbed me and pulled my pants off. They held me as the curtain went up, and there I stood in front of 400 people‑with no pants! "
By this time the studios were spending all the money they could spare (and some they couldn't) building sound stages. Many structures were converted into sound studios until more suitable stages could be completed. The Phantom Stage was one of the first of these, and it has served as a sound stage for more than a half‑century. The conversion of the great barn‑like building cost about $100,000‑a good investment in that it helped Universal catch up with the studios that had realized the inevitability of the talkies a year or two earlier.
Universal announced in April 1929 its plans to produce THE RETURN OF THE PHANTOM, a sequel wherein the leading players of the original would recreate their roles "in dialogue, recorded on Movietone." It was evident to everybody concerned that the public would accept no other Phantom than Chaney, who made it clear that he had no intention of attempting such a chore. Like Charles Chaplin, he believed his kind of characterization was suited only to pantomime and that the hated "talkies" would soon pass from public favor. So much for THE RETURN.
Seven months later, under the direction of Ernst Laemmle, Charles Van Enger photographed new dialogue scenes on the Phantom Stage, not for a sequel but for a partial remake in which Chaney would be represented only in his original silent footage. Philbin and Kerry performed in sound and two‑color Technicolor, Edward Martindel replaced John Sainpolis for new scenes, and a mysteriously disguised actor spoke a prologue as the shadow of the Phantom flitted past. Anonymous singers dubbed the voals to the old operatic scenes and new Technicolor opera excerpts were added.
In the 1930 PHANTOM, dialogue was heard from time to time during the first two-thirds of the picture while music and sound effects were employed throughout. David Broekman, a young conductor from Holland, adapted the Gounod score, composed new music and added themes by 24 American and European composers. The part‑new PHANTOM was advertised as "Massive, Marvelous, Melodious and Mysterious. . . Talking, Singing, Dancing, TECHNICOLOR! " They also stated honestly that "Mr. Chaney's role of the Phantom is a silent portrayal."
The public, already sated with "part‑talking" pictures, wanted only the so‑called "hundred per cent all‑talking pictures" and refused to take this PHANTOM to its heart. The old footage, even with sound added, betrays its silent origins because it had been made for projection at 16 frames per second and the sound print has to be projected at 24 fps. The new dialogue scenes also lend to break up the flow of action. The color is quite good, but the overall hybrid effect is inescapable.
Late in 1930, Count Dracula, recently arrived from Transylvania, attended a London Symphony Orchestra concert. In one of the boxes at stage right the vampire, portrayed for the ages by BeIa Lugosi, introduced himself to his next victims, played by Helen Chandler and Frances Dade. It became a memorable scene in Universal's DRACULA, whose fans never mind that Royal Albert Hall closely resembles the Paris Opera. Here Lugosi intoned his fondly remembered lines, "To die. To be really dead! That must be glorious!" Tod Browning directed the enormously popular film, which was photographed with grand style by the newly arrived German master, Karl Freund, ASC.
A few hours later, after the cast and crew had gone for the night, Carlos Villarias repeated the same lines in Spanish for director George Melford and cinematographer George Robinson, ASC. Lupita Tovar and Carmen Guerrero were the imperiled ladies. DRACULA, EL HOMBRE VAMPIRO, was filmed at night on the same sets the main company used by day, as was Universal's custom when making bilingual films. Both versions were highly successful when released early in 1931. Foreign versions usually were given second‑class treatment, but this one, lovingly produced by Miss Tovar's future husband, Paul Kohner, was a halfhour longer and in some respects a better picture than the English version.
John Barrymore performed briefly on the Phantom Stage a few weeks later for the memorable Warner Bros. production, SVENGALI (1931), directed by Archie Mayo. As designed by Anton Grot and photographed Barney McGiIl, ASC, it projects a weirdly expressionistic Paris more reminiscent of the German silent films than the "City of Light." So recognizable is the Paris Opera, however, that it was deemed prudent to rent Universal's authentic set for one sequence. In these scenes the mesmerist Svengali (Barrymore) presents his tragic and beautiful singing protege, Trilby (Marian Marsh), to the cream of Parisian society. The picture is an artistic triumph, but was too highbrow to become a very popular show with the public.
The Opera House remained in use as a stage theater in several pictures before regaining its identity in 1935 in the lavishly produced THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD. In this World War I drama, Lionel Atwill, wealthy munitions monger, takes Joan Bennett, as an innocent housewife, to a Paris Opera performance of "Tristan and Isolde." He has railroaded her husband, Claude Rains, to the war front so he can have his way with the wife. Previously, he had robbed Rains of his writings to gain fame and fortune for himself. Rains, gone mad, returns to Paris to retrieve his wife, his child and (as he states it) his mind. Sawing off Atwill's head with his bayonet, he stuffs the grisly memento in his field pack and takes it along for a chat with his lawyer.
This powerful film, directed by Russianborn Edward Ludwig and photographed in an unusual softly lighted style by Norbert Brodine, ASC, proved too grim to find favor with Depression‑weary audiences. The opera scenes were handsomely staged, with hordes of players on stage and in the seats.
Universal's plans for 1936 included remakes of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. The distinguished English playwright, W.P. Lipscomb, prepared a new script for the latter and it was announced that either Karloff or Henry Hull would have the title role. Unfortunately, these and other promising works were aborted in March 1936, when Laemmle sold the studio to a group of investors.
The new regime set out to emphasize youth and beauty in the product of the much heralded "New Universal." The numerous mystery and horror films announced by Laemmle were shelved in favor of slick romantic dramas, comedies and musicals similar to those being made at MGM and Paramount.
One of the company's new producers was Joseph Pasternak, a second assistant director on the 1925 PHANTOM, who vowed that "nobody is going to get sick or die in any of my pictures. " Late in 1936 Pasternak and director Henry Koster launched the starring career of a teen‑aged light opera singer named Deanna Durbin in THREE SMART GIRLS. The slimly budgeted musical was a huge success and the sweet-faced singer was credited with saving the studio from collapse. A successful sequel followed. Both pictures were photographed by Joseph Valentine, ASC, whose success at making Miss Durbin appear smaller, younger and even prettier than she really was made him the new star's official cinematographer.
Pasternak and Koster lost no time in putting Durbin into the expensive, highly polished ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL (1937). The picture's biggest and best‑remembered sequence was filmed on the Phantom Stage with Maestro Leopold Stokowski conducting a 100‑piece orchestra in a program of classical excerpts. Valentine's low‑angle shots of the conductor were impressive, that famous mane of white hair receiving the same glamorous attention as Durbin's teeth. Even the foreboding shadows were gone from the repainted and brilliantly lighted Opera House. This same merry atmosphere prevailed in several musical romances that followed.
The warning shadows returned when the veteran German director, Joe May, and Director of Photography Milton Krasner, ASC, undertook to remake THE LAST WARNING 11 years after the original was filmed. Although the new version, THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1939), was produced on a moderate budget, it was well made and extracted a maximum of menace from the big set. Witty dialogue was delivered by William Gargan, Irene Hervey and Alan Dinehart, who were among the principals menaced by murderers Robert Coote and Tom Dugan.
On December 17, 1940, production of MAN MADE MONSTER on the Phantom Stage was halted briefly for a dedication ceremony. Lon Chaney, Jr., wearing his monster makeup from the picture in progress, accepted a plaque from Patsy Ruth Miller, costar of the 1923 HUNCHBACK. Also present were five of the crew of PHANTOM, whose names were signed to the sentiment:
Dedicated to the Memory of LON CHANEY For Whose Picture PHANTOM OF THE OPERA This Stage Was Erected in 1924. Murray Rock, Shirley Ware, Sherman Clark, Bob Roberts, Norton Kurland.
The plaque remained on the door until a souvenir hunter snatched it. More recently, a likeness of the Phantom has been painted on the south side of the stage.
The studio announced in 1941 that Deanna Durbin and Broderick Crawford would star in an elaborate Technicolor version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Preproduction was begun enthusiastically by Henry Koster, who had some striking ideas about the use of color. The backstage of the opera would be designed entirely in grays, the better to dramatize a trickle of red blood‑a heady idea at a time when the few color films being made tended to be overly bright. When Crawford was called to military duty, Charles Laughton, late of RKO's big remake of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1940), was announced as the new (and less skeletal) Phantom.
The project did not go into production until 1943, by which time the original group was no longer involved. George Waggner produced, Arthur Lubin directed, and the stars were Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster and Claude Rains. As the Phantom, Rains is a more rational character, seen without disfiguring makeup during the early sequences as a mild‑mannered musician and composer who goes mad and becomes the "opera ghost" only after his face has been scarred by acid. His makeup, by Jack Pierce, is more realistic and less horrendous than Chaney's and is kept discreetly masked until the climax of the film. The production numbers are opulently staged and costumed. The pleasing voices of Eddy and Foster are heard in rousing pseudo‑operatic scenes composed by Edward Ward with thematic material from Chopin, Tchaikowski and others.
Despite its very large budget (for the time ) of more than $1,750,000, the picture could not have been made adequately but for the existence of the Phantom Stage. World War II was at its height and the government had placed a strictly enforced limit on new set construction at $10,000 per production. Art directors Alexander Golitzen and John B. Goodman, aided by decorators Russell Gausman and Ira Webb, refurbished the Opera House for color. The equally impressive subterranean lake and the Phantom's lair were cleverly assembled from existing set elements, some dating back to the silent era.
Hal Mohr was director of photography, with the collaboration of W. Howard Greene, ASC, a Technicolor specialist. Few pictures before or since can equal this PHANTOM for its artistic use of color. The softly romantic, the mysterious and the spectacular all are set forth with equal beauty. The picture was a great success at the boxoffice.
David Bruce, effectively made up by Jack Pierce to resemble a withered corpse, stalks onto the opera stage in the climactic moments of THE MAD GHOUL (1943). This time the opera house is situated in an American city. Acting under the control of satanic George Zucco, Bruce interrupts singer Evelyn Ankers' rendition of "All For Love" and attempts to murder her pianist‑fiance, Turhan Bey. Detectives Milburn Stone and Charles McGraw leap up from critics row to gun down the zombie.
This modest black‑and‑white chiller was directed by old‑timer James Hogan and photographed by Milton Krasner, who made the concert audience seem larger by panning the camera across the patrons in the left boxes down to the stage, then reseating the extras in the orchestra seats for other shots.
Waggner regrouped his PHANTOM crew, including the cinematographers and designers, and utilized the same sets for the beautifully Technicolored THE CLIMAX (1944). Because the setting this time was a mythical kingdom, the proscenium was redesigned, with ornate cylindrical pillars covering the distinctive Paris Opera designs. (These pillars are still in place 28 years later). THE CLIMAX spotlights the considerable talents of Boris Karloff in his return to the screen after a long absence while appearing in the hit play, "Arsenic and Old Lace." He portrays the venerable opera physician, Dr. Hohner, who is haunted by the memory of a prima donna who disappeared mysteriously 10 years before.
In a fine opening sequence, Karloff walks down an eerily night‑lighted street to the opera house, where he sits alone in the dark, empty theater, staring into the shadows as he relives in his mind the night he murdered the singer and concealed her body in a secret vault beneath the auditorium. This flashback is a montage seen within a circle of colored lights. When a new soprano‑Susanna Foster‑joins the opera, Karloff deems her voice to be that of his murdered paramour reincarnated. He uses hypnosis and commits murder in his efforts to rid himself of the haunting voice, but dies at last in an accidental fire in the secret room. The diva is free to sing and continue her romance with Turhan Bey.
This production is as opulent as PHANTOM, Karloff is superb and the new opera material (by Ward and Waggner out of Shubert and Chopin) is pleasant. Unfortunately, there are too many dull stretches to allow the picture to achieve its potential.
Charles Van Enger returned often to the Phantom Stage during 1944 and '45 in the course of photographing a string of lively black‑and‑white musicals: THE MERRY MONOHANS, with Donald O'Connor, Jack Oakie, Peggy Ryan and Ann Blyth; BOWERY TO BROADWAY, with Oakie, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Maria Montez, O'Connor and Ryan; FRISCO SAL, with Foster and Bey; and ON STAGE EVERYBODY with Oakie, Ryan and Julie London.
Although the Durbin‑Laughton PHANTOM never came to pass, the stars performed together on the Phantom Stage in BECAUSE OF HIM, a comedy about a family of Broadway actors. The black‑and-white photography was by Hal Mohr. For TIME OUT OF MIND, a costume drama directed by Robert Siodmak, a long concert sequence with specially composed music by Castelnouvo‑Tedesco was filmed on the Phantom Stage. The director of photography was Maury Gertsman, ASC, who had been Krasner's operator.
At the start of A DOUBLE LIFE (1948), Ronald Colman enters the Empire Theater, one of numerous exteriors filmed in New York City during a three‑week location trip. The interior of the theater is the Phantom Stage, barely recognizable after a facelift ordered by production designer Harry Horner. With the removal of the upper tier of boxes and the addition of a modern revolving stage and some temporary facing to disguise some of the more florid embellishments, the set became a perfect replica of a typical Broadway legit house.
A DOUBLE LIFE, directed by George Cukor from a script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, is a first rate drama. It won Oscars for Colman and composer Miklos Rozsa. The story is of a noted actor who becomes so engrossed in the role of Othello that he assumes the murderous jealousy of the character. After murdering a waitress (Shelley Winters) and almost strangling his leading lady (Signe Hasso) during a performance, he kills himself on stage while enacting Othello's suicide. Dying to thunderous applause, he regrets he is unable to take a curtain call.
Much of the success of A DOUBLE LIFE is due to the unusual photographic technique employed by Milton Krasner, especially in the play sequences. Most of these are shown from the stage and backstage areas rather than an audience point of view. Using wide angle lenses and source lighting, he shot across the stage into the wings and outward beyond the footlights toward the audience and the spotlights. The result is an unforgetably realistic yet fantastic world of hazy glare and ghostly, backlit figures.
Another major appearance of the opera house is in the long ballet theater sequence of the Alfred Hitchcock production, TORN CURTAIN (1966). The set was redecorated to look "East German" by designers Hein Heckroth and Frank Arrigo. Although Hitchcock wanted the entire picture photographed by reflected light only, Director of. Photography John F. Warren, ASC, found the Opera House too vast for such a treatment. He had to fake the effect by using spun glass diffusere over direct incandescent lighting.
Occasionally the opera house is used without redressing, a certain unkempt quality being desirable for its sometime role as a onetime movie palace which has degenerated into something less. One such appearance is in the hilarious sequence of ANGEL IN MY POCKET (1969) in which a small town preacher, Andy Griffith, secures an ancient theater organ from a burlesque theater. Appropriately, the organ is the one played by the original Phantom. The set was again a burlesque joint where Robert Redford picks up his girlfriend in THE STING (1973).
For decades Stage 28 has been in danger of being torn down and replaced. The acoustics are not as good as the more modern stages and the exterior has a somewhat rag‑tag look. Every so often a new studio executive insists upon its demolition, but cooler heads have prevailed. The stage is in almost constant use; all the larger sets for the recent CAT PEOPLE were built there for example. The studio tour guides always point it out to their guests: "And this is the Phantom Stage, where the original PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Lon Chaney was made in 1925. Some say it's haunted."
Well, if it isn't, it should be.