Movie Name: The Phantom of the Opera
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date(s): November 25, 1925
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
The voice of Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) has gained a rabid fan. Lurking in the sewers of the opera house of is the “Opera Ghost”, a disfigured musical genius who can infiltrate the opera and come and go as he pleases. Demanding that Christine replace Carlotta (Virginia Pearson), the Phantom is willing to go to any means to get his muse on the stage…even murder! Now, faced with Christine’s true love Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry), the Phantom must take Christine by force if he hopes to possess her voice for his own.
Directed by Rupert Julian, The Phantom of the Opera is a silent classic. Based on the serialized 1909-1920 novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, the film has become a classic and the first of many versions of the story. The film fell in to public domain and the quality of the film varies from version to version in addition to a lost 1930 reissue version with sound and reworking of the story including cast changes.
Silent films are always a struggle to me and The Phantom of the Opera is also a hard sell. Though being scared of Chaney’s Phantom face as a child, the story is tied to gothic horror and not as accessible for children as other classic Universal Monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman (my personal favorite). As a result, I hadn’t sat and watched The Phantom of the Opera as a whole…it was an enjoyable film but still a challenge.
The movie takes a ton of liberties with the novel (something common to most versions of the story). This version due to its nature plays and the great casting of Lon Chaney plays up the horror aspect of the story. The Phantom is a monster with very little redeeming qualities and since it is a silent film with a score soundtrack, we aren’t able to really judge his skill (or Christine’s skill for that matter) as a performer…which provides some challenges. I also felt the conclusion of the story with the “choice” of Christine and the mob scene ending also gets a little messy (you can see the set of Chaney’s other classic “monster” film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) in the background).
Chaney really makes this movie and makes it memorable. The Man of a Thousand Faces earns his title with the Phantom who is insane looking. Most of the chills and scares come from the Phantom’s creepy look. His smiles, leers, and teeth are horrific and it is fortunate that it was a silent film because they didn’t allow him talk. Chaney’s parents were also deaf and that allowed for more expression with his acting…which is perfect for silent films.
The film is also benefitted from some fantastic sets. The movie looks grand and big. The film also employed early Technicolor to some scenes. While most of these scenes were lost the color scenes of the masquerade still exist…and it is interesting to see these early attempts at color.
The Phantom of the Opera is an important film. Not only is it early horror, but it is also early film. I can’t really recommend it for everyone however because silent films aren’t for everyone (myself included). They are fine in small doses but sadly my shattered concentration doesn’t always allow me to give them the focus they deserve. With so many versions of The Phantom of the Opera, this version is a must for anyone who is a fan of the story.
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