By 1974, the Golden Age of Hollywood was long gone. The famous backlots that had once been home to famous Tinseltown characters were no longer satisfactory for modern audiences who had grown to demand realism in their films. And so, movie studios bigwigs decided to auction off classic costume and props, and sell those large parcels of land — which were now running wild with weeds and littered with debris — for oodles of cash. Punks crept in regularly to wreak havoc on the building facades that literally extended for miles.
A heartbreak, indeed: but there was one man that wasn’t going to sit by and idly watch the dismantling of everything that he held so dear. And so, The Phantom of Hollywood emerged.
As you may have guessed from the title, this classic CBS television movie is a take on Gaston Leroux’s classic tale The Phantom of the Opera, set on the actual remains of the MGM backlot (which was being torn down at the time of filming, causing filmmaker Gene Levitt to whip this one into production before it was too late). While it may have just been little more than late-night feature fodder, the movie is also a loving nod to that same bygone era of filmmaking that our story’s murderous protagonist fights to protect.
It also gave a number of aging actors a chance to make a few bucks, such as Jackie Coogan, John Ireland, Broderick Crawford, Peter Lawford, Regis Toomey, and Kent Taylor. There’s even a bit part by former Dead End Kid Billy Halop as a studio engineer. Jack Cassidy (the late father of David, Shaun, Ryan and Patrick) takes the lead here in a dual role, while Peter Haskell and top-billed forgotten actress Skye Aubrey portray the young(er) lovers whom the Phantom interferes with.
While the movie may be an easy title to forget about (many modern moviegoers will no doubt walk straight past it), The Phantom of Hollywood managed to bring a tear to my eye; not from the film’s oft-corny dialogue or lax acting, but because the title is a painful reminder of how studios in the ‘70s (most of whom were struggling) resorted to destroying the very elements that had once made them so powerful. Film buffs and historians will find it hard not to weep over the sight of bulldozers tearing down classic sets.
And, I suppose it’s for that reason alone that The Phantom of Hollywood should be on home video — and Warner Archive has once again brought forth another obscurity from the vaults as a barebones Manufactured-On-Demand release which has been remastered. The full-frame picture is more than adequate for a 37-year-old TV movie, and the mono sound delivers admirably.
The Phantom of Hollywood is available via the WBshop.com, and is worth a look if you’re a classic film buff.