Next up in our Warner Brothers Archive coverage is the conceptually brilliant made-for-television film, The Phantom of Hollywood. The late, great, Gene Levitt directed this little gem, while the still-prolific George Schenck crafted the teleplay. Check out the synopsis of the film below, I’ll fill you in on the positives and negatives following the breakdown.
Worldwide Films was the biggest of the big, the grandest of the grand. But the era of dream factories has gone, replaced by the era of quick-bucks real estate. It’s time to sell the studio, parcel by parcel. Not so fast, a mysterious someone says – someone who has secretly lived amid the sets and soundstages for decades, someone who will kill to preserve his backlot home. The Phantom of Hollywood lures movie fans with its luminous cast and a remember-when nostalgia that includes clips from famous classic films contrasted with glimpses of the same sets years later (filming took place at MGM while the backlot was being dismantled). Enter the realm of the phantom’s mad, murder-filled memory lane. Lights, camera…mystery!
Pros: First and foremost, I’ve got to applaud the casting director, Rachelle Farberman, as she assembled an admirable ensemble that really put their finest foot forward: Peter Haskell is absolutely top notch as Ray Burns; Peter Lawford does a wonderful job as the stressed out boss, Roger Cross and Skye Aubrey adds a lovely feminine touch as the hapless hostage, Randy Cross. The group work wonderfully together, and there’s a believable chemistry shared onscreen by all.
Beyond the casting, at the root of this treasure is an absolutely outstanding concept. This early slasher effort is very tame due to both the timeframe which it was released, and the platform it was released too; you can’t expect an overtly gruesome film out of a made-for-television flick, especially not one released in the early 1970’s. That said, the story is damn near brilliant; disgruntled madman offing those who threaten to bulldoze the Hollywood backlot in which he lives? Genius!
Kudos go out to the crew responsible for remastering this lost nugget of gold. You can get an idea for what the sound and picture quality were like three plus decades ago by giving the embedded video below a quick glimpse. Trust me, the restored rendition dances on icicles in comparison.
Cons: As was the case with Killer Party, there isn’t too much to really nitpick here. There are some unique editing techniques at work, and while they often serve to conjure a very cool sense of nostalgia via some tricky splicing methods, the crafty camera work falls apart in the pictures final frames, unfortunately. The lighting is another issue, the story itself is genuinely eerie, but the vast majority of the picture unfolds in bright daylight, and it can be pretty tough to sell fear under the shining sun, especially given the material we’re working with here.
Summary: There are unnecessary remakes being pumped out by Hollywood moguls on a regular basis; this film is a great reminder that the big wigs are picking the wrong ones. If ever there was a picture fit for reimagining, it’s this one right here. Shot without the restrictions of network television, with some slight timeframe and contemporary adjustments, this could not only be terrifying, it could act as the Launchpad for one of the more entertaining slasher franchises to see release (with the right crew at the helm). All the potential is there, sitting in the hands of Warner Bros execs. Your move!
Studio: Warner Bros.
Screen Aspect: 4 X 3 FULL FRAME
Run Time: 73 minutes
Packaging Type: Amaray Case
Bonus Features: None
Order your copy of The Phantom of Hollywood right here at Warner Brothers Archive!