This film I had sought out as it was listed in a horror film encyclopedia of ones in the genre to see. I was intrigued as this seems to be one of the lesser known Universal horror films and I actually think it is probably one of the last ones in their run as well. Also seeing that it starred Boris Karloff, I was down to check it out. The official synopsis is a demented physician becomes obsessed with a younger singer whose voice sounds similar to his late mistress.
We kick this off with Dr. Friedrich Hohner (Karloff) as he leaves his home and walks to the nearby opera house. He is the doctor that attends there to make sure that all of the singers do not hurt themselves with overexertion and ensuring they are ready for their performance. He is clearly sullen about something and we learn what it is. He was in love with the former star of the show, Marcellina (June Vincent). She has been missing for ten years. Dr. Hohner goes into a dressing room where we are given a flashback of the events that led to this singer's disappearance.
In it we see that she slated to perform in front of the king. She is the focal of this performance and Dr. Hohner, her lover, didn't want her to perform for anyone, but him. He then strangles her.
The present day, the prima donna of the opera house, Jarmila Vadek (Jane Farrar) is getting frustrated with management. Count Seebruck (Thomas Gomez) listens to her grievances with her co-star Amato Roselli (George Dolenz), who she feels it getting a little too handsy. When they ignore her, she threatens to not perform. Her understudy is brought in and she faints. It is then that they hear singing in another room. It turns out to be Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster). She is practicing with her fiancé, Franz Munzer (Turhan Bey). They decide they are going to give her a prominent role with how amazing her voice is. Her singing also attracts Dr. Hohner, as it reminds them all of Marcellina.
After she has a great show, Count Seebruck decides to bring back the opera that Marcellina headlined before her disappearance. Dr. Hohner also has Angela come back to his house to check her throat after the performance. It is there that he hypnotizes her and tells her that she doesn't want to perform for anyone, but him. We also see he is hiding a secret within his home. In his service is also the best friend of Marcellina, Luise (Gale Sondergaard) who isn't very trusting of Dr. Hohner.
The first thing that I really found intriguing about this film was that it was originally conceived to be a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, but the only cast member coming back was Foster. They decided to make this a stand alone film, which I think was a better choice in the long run. The biggest problem I had with this film is that is more of a musical. Not one in the traditional sense, but it definitely focuses on the opera scenes a little too much and the practicing of them as well. From what I read, this film didn't do well upon its release, which probably explains why Universal started to move out of these types of horror films.
This film though does have an interesting premise that is still relevant today and that is toxic masculinity. Now before anyone starts to freak out about this, hear out what I have to say. We have Dr. Hohner, who is in love with the star of this opera. She has worked her whole life to get where she is and she has a great honor to perform for the king. He wants her all to himself and doesn't want her performing for anyone. He even goes as far as strangling her to prevent her from performing. This is also domestic violence and just not respecting her as person. I slightly felt bad for him until we learn the truth. This also has the aspect of 'if I can't have her, no one will'. What is also interesting is that they are just lovers as well.
On the other side though, we have Franz. He does push Angela when she is telling him she can't do it, but he does have her best interests at heart. He knows that she loves to perform and this is what she's wanted to do her whole life. Franz will do whatever it takes to ensure that she does this, which is nice to see.
The aspect of using the hypnosis I thought was fine. The machine he used was actually pretty interesting. The problem I really had with the film was the flashback. The effect used was cheesy, but with the time this came out, it did make sense and was probably state of the art. I just didn't like being force fed the back-story and us seeing things that Dr. Hohner couldn't have seen, as he is the one having it.
I will say that the film for me was slightly boring. I think this is due to the fact that they focused so much on the opera aspects of the film, instead of building tension. I really only felt it when Angela doesn't want to perform and Franz, Count Seebruck and those around her are pushing it. I was only anxious about her going on stage and failing in front of everyone. It did lack building the tension that the film needed. The ending is fitting for the era and I didn't mind it.
Acting though was something that I thought was really solid. Karloff is yet again amazing in this role. He is brooding and sullen, but it is really his own fault. I do like him as the menacing villain. Foster was pretty cute for the era and I thought her voice was absolutely amazing. Not really my type of singing, but I can see the talent. I thought she plays the role very well also. It is tough to pretend to be subdued due to the hypnosis. Bey was interesting to me. I like what he is doing to help his love, but he has a good look for a villain. I did find it interesting that he did that a lot in his career. He is a little bit too exuberate for me though. The rest of the cast did fine for what was needed of them.
As for the effects, there weren't a lot due to the era. I thought the flashback was fine as we could tell that was what it was from the border of the image. Bringing to life the machine to hypnotize Angela I thought was good. Really the only other thing that comes to mind was the very end and how they made it look pretty real. That was pretty solid in my opinion.
The final thing to touch on would be the score of the film. I've alluded a few times, but this is not the type of music that I'm into. I wasn't a fan to focus on the opera sequences as much as they do, but I won't fault the film as that is what it's about. I do think that talent of the singers involved was really good.
Now that said, I did like the concept of the film and the undertones that actually still work today. This story though focuses on some things that I wasn't the biggest fan out and I didn't really care for the force feeding of the back-story. Due to some of this, I also think it hurts the pacing in that it doesn't build as much tension as it could. The acting I thought was pretty amazing, especially from Karloff. The score, although not one I'm normally into, is good. Overall I'd say this film is above average for me. If you are into the horror films of 1940's or opera style musicals, I would recommend giving this a viewing.