Warner Bros. // 1974 // 74 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 30th, 2011
He lives amid the flickering ghosts of 1000 movies!
The Phantom of Hollywood should be nothing more than a completely disposable B-movie, but it pulls off a neat trick of resourcefulness that allows it to convince us that it's better than it really is. During the early 1970s, MGM decided to use the dismantling of its old back lot as the backdrop for a film, cashing in on the semi-impressive footage of prestigious locations being torn to pieces. Secondly, MGM decided to use clips from its own archives to give the production an enhanced sense of history and nostalgia. This isn't a good film, and yet it proved a curiously touching experience.
The story goes something like this: MGM...er, I mean, Worldwide Studios has sold their old back lot and is tearing the whole thing down. Some of the longtime employees of the studio are a bit saddened by this, as the back lot has a great deal of history and played a key role in quite a few magical movie moments. However, someone has allowed their sadness to turn into bitterness, and allowed their bitterness to turn into murderous rage. A mysterious figure known only as "The Phantom" lurks through the back lot; killing those who are attempting to destroy these hallowed grounds. Who is The Phantom, and why is he so protective of the back lot?
The answer to that question is fairly uninteresting, and the scenes in which a group of concerned individuals attempt to sort of the details of the killings even moreso. Despite a cast of Hollywood veterans including Broderick Crawford, Elisha Cook Jr, Jackie Coogan, Peter Lawford, and Jack Cassidy (turning in an admittedly ham-tastic bit of old-school acting in a key role), the plot which dominates the film just never manages to grab our interests or generate any tension. Despite a handful of potent images (including an early shot of The Phantom strolling across the back lot in broad daylight like some kind of nightmarish Patron Saint of Sadomasochism), the meat of the tale never amounts to much.
And yet, the soul of the movie lies within a generous handful of tangents that gaze upon the destruction of this once-majestic place in melancholy fashion. A handful of tremendously effective sequences flash back and forth between lavish vintage movie scenes shot at the back lot and the stark, weed-covered reality of that barren real estate in the present. It's a simple technique but a tremendously effective one, and these scenes swing the weight of decades of cinema history with considerable force. Of course, those without any nostalgia for Hollywood's golden age might find themselves entirely unmoved by this, which leads us to the film's central flaw: those who come for the nostalgia will probably be bored by the tedious Phantom plot, while those who come for the violent B-movie elements will probably be turned off by the film's languid, meandering pace. There's a great short film lurking in The Phantom of Hollywood, but the material for that short is used as filler to pad a cheesy thriller to feature length.
The DVD transfer looks pretty rough, but I honestly wasn't expecting much from this low-budget '70s flick. There are scratches and flecks present throughout, and the image looks a little grimy at times. It's not appreciably worse than many films of the era, though Warner Archive could have put more work into their transfer. Audio is okay, with generally clean dialogue and a surprisingly nuanced score courtesy of Leonard Rosenman (who also elevates the film above schlock from time to time). No extras are included on the disc.
Guilty, but with a reduced sentence for good behavior.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated