The Phantom of Hollywood

The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) tells the tragic story of a masked madman (Jack Cassidy) who secretly dwells underneath the backlot of a famous movie studio. When the lot is sold to investors who plan to demolish it, the “Phantom” goes on a killing spree to defend his home—his victims include trespassing vandals, construction workers and his own brother (also played by Cassidy). The Phantom eventually abducts the studio chief’s daughter, Randy Cross (Skye Aubrey), holding her captive in his lair while her boyfriend, press agent Ray Burns (Peter Haskell), works with the police to uncover the killer’s identity. They learn that he is Karl Vonner, a Shakespearean actor disfigured during a botched movie stunt. Ray and the authorities locate the Phantom’s lair and rescue Randy. After a violent confrontation with his pursuers, Vonner accidentally falls from an elevated structure to his death.

While the film is an obvious spin on The Phantom of the Opera, it deviates from its source material most notably in its lack of a romantic attachment between the Phantom and Randy. Instead, the central romance belongs to Randy and Ray, but the script barely develops their relationship, so the third-act abduction asks for little investment from the viewer. Cassidy evokes an air of tragedy as the titular killer, but the true pathos of the project comes from its authentic depiction of the destruction of historic movie sets: the film was one of the last shot on M-G-M’s backlot, then being dismantled due to the increasing popularity of on-location shooting.

Leonard Rosenman’s avant-garde score suits the character of the Phantom: the music is cold, alien and violent. The composer employs a small orchestra throughout, one that never exceeds more than 24 players. A deformed saxophone tune for the Phantom bookends the film, while Rosenman’s staple tone pyramids, clusters and grunting low brass dominate the suspense cues. Aside from a handful of famous melodies heard as source music, the score remains relentlessly modern, turning a deaf ear to Vonner’s ties to old Hollywood. Rosenman’s music never humanizes or sympathizes with the murderous Phantom, even as the outcast relays the story of his tragic past to Randy.

15. Main Title
After an unscored opening sequence featuring expository dialogue from a TV news crew and shots of deserted sets on Lot 2 at Hollywood’s once-great Worldwide Studios (intercut with scenes from classic M-G-M films shot on the same sets), opening credits play out over footage of a deserted train station on the backlot. Rosenman sets a creepy tone for the forthcoming murder mystery with an unstable saxophone tune over whining portamenti and blatting low brass. The cue concludes with a harp flourish as the credit sequence pauses to accommodate more classic footage intercut with shots of the present-day desolation.
16. Jump
Rosenman’s music returns quietly as the credits continue rolling and two young hoodlums sneak onto the empty lot and proceed to vandalize the sets. When they see the masked Phantom (Jack Cassidy) observing them from a window, Rosenman introduces the killer’s primary material: a primitive figure of low repeating chords that serves as the foundation for an angular woodwind melody. The composer develops the Phantom’s music as the hoodlums chase him across the lot—but he eventually gets the drop on them and murders them with his medieval flail.
See You Later
Police summon studio press agent Ray Burns (Peter Haskell) to the backlot, where Captain O’Neal (Broderick Crawford) informs him of the death of the two hoodlums. Omninous brass and low strings give way to the Phantom’s primitive motive as the masked villain, concealed behind foliage, watches Ray leave the scene.
17. Westside Financial
Studio chief Roger Cross (Peter Lawford) informs Ray of his plans to sell Lot 2 to developers at Westside Financial. A nostalgic medley of tunes from classic M-G-M films plays through a sequence of the Roger and Ray driving the potential buyers around the studio’s famous make-believe neighborhoods. The medley includes: “You Were Meant for Me,” from The Broadway Melody (1929), and “You Are My Lucky Star,” from Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), both by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown and famously used in Singin’ in the Rain; “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” from Ziegfeld Girl (1941), by Gus Kahn and Nacio Herb Brown; and “The Girl Next Door,” from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
The Phantom
Strident chords mark the Phantom observing them from atop an empty building, with pounding timpani leading to the act-out for a commercial break.
18. 50 Cent Tour
The tour comes to an end at the studio’s phony cemetery. Saxophone suggests the Phantom’s presence as the executives usher the developers back into their car. Before they drive off, the camera pushes in on a batch of flowers; a subsequent transition to Cross’s office reveals the flowers on his desk, along with a threatening note from the Phantom.
Phantom on the Roof
Ray shares an intimate moment with his girlfriend—and Roger’s daughter—Randy (Skye Aubrey). Menacing brass marks a revelation of the Phantom watching them from a rooftop. The killer’s primitive motive enters on a transition to a Westside Financial van arriving at the studio, with the peculiar saxophone theme sounding as the Phantom observes two survey engineers exiting the vehicle to discuss leveling the lot. Rosenman reprises subdued material from “Jump” when the engineers split up to explore the cemetery set. The score generates suspense as one of the men searches for his missing partner in a nearby house and discovers the man’s hardhat stained with blood. When the Phantom appears and closes in on the terrified engineer, the primitive motive builds before the cue subsides with low, sinister colors on a transition to the killer burying his victims in the cemetery that night.
Sneaky Phantom
Ray meets with the police and a studio security guard, Joe (Regis Toomey), near the Westside Financial van to discuss the missing engineers. Ray becomes concerned when Joe suggests that the Phantom is responsible for the disappearances, but the police dismiss his suspicions. The Phantom’s primitive motive figure surfaces as the killer spies on them.
19. Funny Time/Opening Scene
In a screening room, Ray, Roger and an editor, Jonathan (Jackie Coogan), watch a montage of famous clips from movies shot at the studio. Wry source music (a humorous brass tag by Harry Lojewski, followed by a brief excerpt from Franz Waxman’s score to The Philadelphia Story for a scene from that film) newly recorded by Fielding accompanies some of the footage.
20. The Ring
Ray seeks out Otto Vonner (Jack Cassidy), one of the studio’s oldest and most knowledgeable employees, in the still vault. A variation of the Phantom’s primitive motive underscores Otto’s appearance, suggesting a connection between him and the Phantom.
Act End
When Ray questions Otto, the old man insists the Phantom is only a rumor. After Ray leaves, however, Otto becomes agitated and crumples up an old still, marked by a suspenseful tone pyramid.
Fade In
After a commercial break, a dreary passage for low strings introduces Ray meeting with Capt. O’Neal under the studio water tower.
Phantom on Lot
The Phantom spies on Roger and Ray as they plan a farewell bash for the backlot. A repetitive passage for harp, woodwinds and brass marks a transition to Joe reading a Variety headline announcing the sale of the backlot. The cue subsides when Otto appears.
21. Empty Street
The Phantom’s primitive motive persists under imitative brass as Joe’s partner patrols the backlot. Exclamatory winds and pummeling timpani sound when the Phantom confronts the security guard, who opens fire on the approaching killer—but the Phantom has replaced the bullets with blanks.
22. The Body
After the discovery of the guard’s corpse the following morning, Capt. O’Neal suggests that the farewell gala be called off; a threatening tone pyramid marks a shot of the chalk outline of the body.
That’s Entertainment!
The scene transitions to the farewell party on a backlot street, where costumed extras, actors and filmmakers mingle, accompanied by a festive arrangement of “That’s Entertainment!” (by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, from 1953’s The Band Wagon).
23. Get the Phantom
The Phantom emerges at the party, his masked attire allowing him to blend in with the costumed attendees. He pulls aside Otto (his brother), who warns the Phantom that if the killings do not stop, he will be forced to expose him. A tone pyramid builds suspense for the Phantom cutting down a light fixture that crushes his brother and causes chaos to break out at the party.
As police pursue the Phantom across a rooftop, Rosenman launches a violent action cue featuring tone pyramids and the primitive motive. The music subsides when the killer ditches the police, disappearing into an underground tunnel. The Phantom emerges elsewhere on the lot, where he finds Randy waiting alone outside a soundstage. Creepy, pitch-bending sustains sound as he stalks her and traps her inside the soundstage, finally sliding down a rope to come face to face with the young woman as brass crescendo to an act-out.
24. Captive Randy
After the police inform Ray that Otto is dead, the scene switches back to the Phantom with a captive Randy. Brass chords trade off with the primitive motive and atmospheric percussion as the killer carries the unconscious Randy to his underground lair at the cemetery. Eventually Randy awakens and explores the dungeon, accompanied by queasy textural writing incorporating tone clusters and bass marimba rolls. The killer confronts her and forces her to write a note to her father, explaining that the Phantom will kill her unless the studio chief preserves the backlot.
25. The Ventilator
Ray and the police discover Roger knocked unconscious by the Phantom. Austere low strings and winds sound when the police inspect a ventilation shaft—the killer’s escape route.
The Ugly Face
Back at the Phantom’s lair, the killer reveals his disfigured visage to Randy. As he bitterly explains his backstory—he was a handsome rising star wounded during an explosive movie stunt—the score offers an alienated musical portrayal of the Phantom, featuring wandering low-register lines, slowly evolving pyramids and swelling textures.
The Phantom’s lair begins to collapse as bulldozers demolish the cemetery above. A fateful tone pyramid underscores the Phantom’s exit from the dungeon as Randy pleads with him not to leave her.
26. The Bulldozer Appears
With help from the police and Jonathan, Ray discovers that the Phantom is actor Karl Vonner. He rescues Randy from the dungeon, but once the lovers emerge from the lair, the Phantom ambushes them and the demolition team. As Vonner pelts his prey with arrows, Rosenman reprises action material from “Get the Phantom.” When the police arrive, the killer retreats to the roof of a nearby castle, which Ray proceeds to demolish with a bulldozer.
27. End of the Phantom
The Phantom survives the castle’s collapse and flees to a nearby bridge, where he indignantly shouts down to a crowd of police and construction workers. When Vonner suddenly loses his footing, Rosenman scores his deadly fall with lingering dissonant chords that punctuate stylized freeze frames of the killer in midair, intercut with shots of buildings set to be bulldozed: the Phantom’s cause is completely lost. After the Phantom hits the ground, the composer marks a still of a handsome young Vonner with eerie guitar trembling and a final cathartic pyramid.
End Title
Rosenman reprises the main title’s warped saxophone tune for the closing credits. —