Paris Opera House violinist Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) finds himself out of a job due to his deteriorating playing skills, which proves to be a problem as he needs the money to pay for the singing lessons for Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster), a rising young talent in the opera, whom he is obsessed over. He tries to have his concerto published in order to fix his money problems, but due to a tragic mistake, he ends up disfigured and on the run from the law. He then takes refuge in the underground tunnels of the Opera House, and sets out to help Christine in her career, no matter how many corpses he must leave behind.
While this film is considered a core part of the Universal Monster franchise it is usually overshadowed by the 1925 silent film, even during its time of release. However, it is this 1943 version that is included in Universal Monsters DVD sets due to the fact that it is still owned by Universal whereas the 1925 film fell into public domain. Though the 1925 film is still the one used on all of Universal's other merchandise (besides DVD and Blu Rays).
Aside from being a massive financial success of the time, this is the only Universal Horror film to win an Oscar, winning the awards for Art Direction and Cinematography.
This film has the examples of:
- Abominable Auditorium: In a twist on the usual appearance of this trope, the Paris Opera is a perfectly reputable business with no seedy underbelly... up until Eric Claudin moves in following his disfigurement and begins the Phantom's reign of terror.
- Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Claudin gets away from the chantarms by escaping through the sewers of Paris.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Instead for a having skull for a face, the Phantom only has a very nasty acid burn around his right eye.
- All There in the Manual: It's never stated, but Claudin is in fact Christine's Disappeared Dad (hence the transferral of the third member of the Love Triangle to Anatole). Universal decided to cut all references to this lest it add accidental Incest Subtext for viewers who remembered the setup in the 1925 film.
- Anonymous Benefactor: Claudin was one for Christine, as he paid for her singing studies.
- Canon Foreigner: Since Phantom in this version was meant to be Christine's father, a completely new character Anatole takes his role in the Love Triangle.
- Career Versus Man: The film ends with the Love Triangle unresolved, and with an implication that Christine chooses to pursue her career instead.
- Chekhov's Gun: The acid in Pleyel's office.
- Coat, Hat, Mask: Claudin's disguise as The Phantom.
- Composite Character: Due to the intention to have Claudin be Christine's father, since in the original story Erik and Mr. Daae were two different characters, with the latter long dead by the time of the story.
- Decomposite Character: Due to the intention to have Claudin be Christine's father, a new character named Anatole took his role in the love triangle.
- Dissonant Serenity: Aside from his outburst of rage when he believes his music has been stolen, Claudin as the Phantom talks in an extremely gentle, fatherly manner to Christine and almost never raises his voice to anyone else, which makes him even more chilling with the murders he commits.
- Dramatic Irony: When Erique Claudin tries to have his work published, one of the publishers tells him that he never received it. Little did either of them know, was that the company was showing Erique's work to renowned music critic Franz Liszt to get his testimonial for its publication. When Erique hears his music being played to Liszt in the other room, he assumes that the company stole his music and strangles the publisher to death. The publisher's wife then grabs a tray of etching acid and... well, you know the rest.
- Deathly Unmasking: Claudin's final unmasking occurs right before he ends up getting crushed under the collapsing sewers.
- Dramatic Unmask: As Christine sings for Claudin in the climax, she gets closer to him until she can rip off his mask and reveal his burned face to the audience.
- Facial Horror: Claudin getting splashed with acid.
- Falling Chandelier of Doom: When Claudin's demands of letting Christine sing are not met, he drops the chandelier on the unsuspecting audience.
- Gay Paree: Like the novel, the film is set in Paris, where everyone speaks English.
- All signage is in French, except for the notice plastered over the opera's billing, which says, in English, that the Opera is closed until further notice.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Prevalent in the opera performances.
- High-Class Glass: Worn by Lecours, one of the owners of the Opera.
- Historical Domain Character: Erik's work is presented to Franz Liszt, who loves it.
- Lost in Imitation: This version changed the nature of the Phantom's ugliness from deformity to disfigurement, and several subsequent adaptations followed suit.
- Love Triangle: Differing from the usual setup, it's not Raoul and The Phantom competing over Christine, but Raoul and a fellow opera singer named Anatole.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The performances depicted in the film were based on works in the public domain.
- Running Gag: Raoul and Anatole trying to fit themselves through the same doorframe.
- The Prima Donna: Biancarolli, played by Jane Farrar, who is strangled to death by the Phantom to make room for the unsuspecting Christine to take her place. Amusingly, Farrar played the same type of role in the next year's (1944) movie The Climax, which was intended originally as a sequel to this movie.
- Scars Are Ugly: Rather than being born deformed like other versions, this iteration of the Phantom was a normal person who was disfigured with etching acid.
- Sequel Hook: Averted. As Christine and the boys escape, the camera zooms into the collapsed chamber where Erique's violin and mask are laying in the rubble. Modern audiences half-expect a hand coming into frame to pick up either, to suggest Enrique survived the cave-in.
- The Scrooge: As Claudin has secretly spend all his money on Christine's education, his landlady thinks that his overdue rent is caused by him being a miser and complains him about it.
- Standard Female Grab Area: Claudin manages to drag Christine all the way down to his underground lair against her will by grabbing her arm with one hand.
- Take a Third Option: Christine is confronted by Raoul and Anatole at the end, who demand she choose between them. She chooses neither and pursues her singing career unhindered by marriage prospects, leading the two men to awkwardly go to dinner together as friends.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Claudin tampers with Biancarolli's drink to make her unable to sing.
- To the Tune of...: Claudin bases his concerto around the Provencean lullaby he (and Christine) knows.
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: While inquiring about his concerto at the publisher's, Claudin hears it being played in the next room and immediately jumps to the conclusion that the publisher stole it. He strangles the man to death and the frightened assistant throws acid in his face.