Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)

As the title suggests, this enjoyable TV movie relocates the gimmick of Gaston Leroux’s classic 1908 novel The Phantom of the Opera to a decaying Hollywood backlot: A physically and psychologically scarred madman haunts the abandoned dream factory, killing anyone who invades his domain. What makes The Phantom of Hollywood fun to watch is the verisimilitude of the location. The picture was shot in the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backlot just before demolition, so viewers get to witness the last days of showbiz landmark. Seeing once-beautiful facades overrun with rust and weeds is so poignant that it’s easy to empathize with the nutjob who considers the backlot hallowed ground. That said, The Phantom of Hollywood’s narrative, credited to George Schenck and Robert Thorn, is perfunctory at best: When a fictional studio decides to sell its long-unused backlot, the Phantom (who wears in a medieval costume and wields old-school weapons like a bow and arrow) starts whacking interlopers, so the studio has to smoke out the psycho. Feeling trapped, the Phantom kidnaps the studio head’s daughter (Skye Aubrey), causing her boyfriend, PR man Ray Burns (Peter Haskell), to rush to the rescue. Not much in The Phantom of Hollywood will surprise (or really frighten) most viewers, but the picture benefits from brevity, delivering a steady stream of melodrama and thrills over the course of 74 fast-moving minutes. And though the incredible location is the real star of the picture, reliable actors including Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, and Peter Lawford lend authority. As the Phantom (and also in a secondary role), journeyman actor Jack Cassidy has a field day spewing Shakespearean quotes and other overwrought dialoguein fact, he sounds rather like Claude Rains, who played Leroux’s original Phantom in Universal’s 1943 monster-movie take on the tale. There’s also creepy irony to Cassidy playing a burn victim; the actor, perhaps best known as the real-life father of ’70s teen idols David and Shaun Cassidy, died in an apartment fire two years after The Phantom of Hollywood was broadcast. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)

The Phantom of Hollywood: FUNKY

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