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Subj: Creature Feature 203: The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 at 05:36:29 pm EDT (Viewed 115 times)
One of the most successful and renowned horror movies of the silent era was Universal Pictures The Phantom Of The Opera. Released in 1925, it was produced by Carl Laemmle, starred Lon Chaney and was based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantome de l'Opera. Rupert Julian was the credited director and other stars include Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry and Arthur Edmund Carewe. Chaney's makeup as The Phantom has gained iconic status.
A mystery man has been haunting the Paris Opera House, scaring workers and occupying opera box 5. When this "Opera Ghost" becomes enamored with lead understudy Christine Daae(Philbin), he demands that she be given the lead in the production of Faust. The producers refuse and the Phantom causes the giant chandelier to fall onto the crowd during the performance. He then entices Christine into his lair and professes his love. He lets her free to tell Raoul (Kerry), her love, that she will never see him again. At the Bal Masque, Christine tells Raoul what occurred and the Phantom feels betrayed. He kidnaps Christine and sets traps for her rescuers. However, the mob, lead by the brother of one of the Phantom's victims, also closes in. They chase the Phantom to the river's edge, where he is beaten and thrown in, presumably dead.
The Phantom of The Opera is a silent movie that I have seen before, a couple of times, actually. Like Karloff's Frankenstein Monster, Chaney's Phantom has gone down in history as having the definitive look despite several other adaptations over the years. While there is silent movie overacting in the film, Chaney's performance is great. A madman haunting an opera house should be overly dramatic and Chaney's Erik certainly has a flair for the dramatic, right up to his last moments. The makeup work is brilliant, both Erik's face and his Red Death costume.
The plot of the story, at least in this telling, is a bit silly by today's standards. If a madman killed several people by dropping a chandelier on them in a major city, that city would be on lockdown until he was caught. They certainly wouldn't say "The show must go on!". However, I love this plot device, whether in serious adaptations or Scooby-Doo or Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. It is better than the 1943 and 1962 versions in story and look although a bit less sophisticated.
The chandelier. I hadn't remembered that this scene was so early in the movie. There's less dramatic build up but it still works very well. The Phantom announcing his vengeance was very super-villainous. The chandelier falling onto the crowd isn't graphic but it does sell the illusion of the carnage.
The unmasking. Probably the most famous scene from the movie. Christine's hesitation is melodramatic but it's still a winning scene. Chaney and Philbin's reactions are perfect and the makeup job looks horrific. Apparently, the audiences of the time were screaming and fainting with fright.
The Bal Masque. The first time I saw this, I was surprised by the color sequence and the look of Chaney in his Red Death costume. He looks great! However, with the Phantom still on the loose, it's baffling that no one stopped him to find out who was disrupting the Ball.
The ending. With the mob on his tail, the Phantom raises his hand over his head as if holding a grenade, causing the mob to stop in their tracks. Knowing he's defeated, he opens his hand, showing nothing, as the mob attacks him, a fitting end for his dramatic reign of terror. It's really great.
Apparently, in 1922, Carl Laemmle vacationed in Paris and met author Gaston Leroux, who gave him his novel. Laemmle immediately bought the rights with Lon Chaney in mind. There was trouble with director Rupert Julian and Chaney reportedly did whatever he wanted on the set. Chaney, along with Ernst Laemmle and Edward Sedgwick get uncredited director credits on wikipedia. The makeup work was kept a secret until the film's release and reportedly the wires in Chaney's nostrils caused some heavy bleeding.
The film was re-released in 1930 with 40% of the movie reshot and sound added. Chaney, however, was under contract with MGM at the time, and his first speaking role was being well publicized, so he didn't refilm or voice any of his parts and a special disclaimer was added to the promotions saying that "Lon Chaney's portrayal is a silent one". This version of the film is lost, but the soundtrack has survived. I watched the 1925 version with the 1930 soundtrack synched and it made for a weird experience. There are scenes that still have the title cards but also have dialogue that is often different. Add to this the color sequence in the black and white silent movie, and it makes for an interesting bit of mixed up film style.
Lon Chaney died in 1930. He suffered from lung cancer and pneumonia and also had artificial snow made from cornflakes lodge in his throat during filming of Thunder (1929) which caused an infection. He died a month after the release of The Unholy Three (1930), his only talkie. He was played by James Cagney in Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957). His son Creighton went on to fame as Lon Chaney Jr. in horror roles like The Wolf Man (1941).
You can watch The Phantom Of The Opera here:
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