Sándor Korvin/The Phantom of the Opera – Maximilian Schell
Elena Korvin/Maria Gianelli – Jane Seymour
Michael Hartnell – Michael York
Baron Hunyadi – Jeremy Kemp
Madame Bianchi – Diana Quick
Kraus – Philip Stone
Inspector – Paul Brooke
Lajos – Gellért Raksányi
Director – Robert Markowitz
Writing credits – Gaston Leroux (novel) and Sherman Yellen
Production company – Robert Halmi, with Hungarofilm/MA Film Budapest
Producer – Robert Halmi (Sr)
Executive Producer – Robert (A.) Halmi Jr
Composer – Ralph Burns
Composer (theme music) – John Cacavas
Director of Photography – Larry Pizer
Film Editor – Caroline Ferriol
Music Editor – Jim Henrikson
Designer/sets – Tividar Bertalan
Designer (The Phantom) – Stan Winston
Costumes – Alice Heltay
Makeup – Jim Gillespie
At the Budapest Opera House, soprano Elena Korvin’s debut as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust is sabotaged by a claque and by a devastating review, both arranged by the Opera House owner Baron Hunyadi in revenge for Elena resisting his sexual advances. Overwhelmed by failure, Elena drowns herself. Her husband Sándorm also the opera’s conductor, takes revenge on the leader of the claque and the music critic, becoming badly scarred in a fight and subsequent fire. He is saved by Lajos, one of the opera house workers, and hidden in a vault long ignored beneath the Opera House. Sándor is presumed to have burned or drowned.
Four years later Faust is being restaged with an English director, Michael Hartnell. He gives the understudy role of Marguerite to Maria Gianelli, an ambitious American soprano who coincidentally resembles Elena Korvin. She attracts the attention of Sándor, a ‘ghost’ at the Opera House, stealing what he needs (including a very large pipe organ…). Director and understudy develop a mutually useful personal relationship, while Maria receives free singing tuition from an admiring patron who retains anonymity by wearing a mask (inevitably, it is Sándor aka the Phantom).
Sándor scares away the leading soprano Brigida Bianchi and Maria steps in to make her debut as Marguerite. Maria arranges a secret meeting with her unidentified patron at the Opera House’s masked ball, during which he warns her she will die if she sees Michael again. Hunyadi has made advances to Maria as he did to Elena. Sándor kidnaps Hunyadi with Maria and imprisons them in his vault. Hunyadi is allowed to go after promising to ensure Maria’s triumphant reception at the opera, but he is fatally double-crossed by Sándor. Maria remains imprisoned, and Madame Bianchi returns to take the role of Marguerite in the final rehearsals of Faust. From gossiping cleaners, Michael learns of Maria’s resemblance to Elena Korvin, works out that the Phantom is Sándor, who may be somewhere under Opera House. He tries in vain to warn the inspector investigating Opera House thefts.
In his vault, Sándor’s unmasked face horrifies Maria, and he vows to keep her imprisoned with him for life: ‘My fate is your fate.’ Michael rescues Maria, and with the inspector – now convinced – they plan to trap Sándor during the opening performance of Faust, in which Brigida Bianchi will sing Marguerite. During the performance, Sándor saws through the chains of the auditorium’s huge chandelier, and he crashes with it into the audience. Maria narrowly escapes.
In this feature-length adaptation made for television, the relocation of the story from Paris to Budapest is emphasized through character names, architecture and incidental music, such as the Hungarian band in restaurant. Although parts of Gounod’s Faust are shown in rehearsal scenes and part of the opening performance, they are noticeably limited. Indeed, given the storyline and the location of the action, the inclusion of opera singing itself – particularly by Maria – is minimized to a surprising degree.