#122) The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The_Phantom_of_the_Opera_(1925_film)

#122) The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

OR “Why the Lon Face?”

Directed by Rupert Julian

Written by…whoops, no credited writers. The only writing credit is “From the celebrated novel by Gaston Leroux”.

Class of 1998

Note: I’m still not quite sure which version I watched. It appears to be the original 1925 version, though the sequence of events seems closer to the 1930 re-release. Regardless, the version I watched seems to be the most common one available today.

The Plot: Around the turn of the century, the Paris Opera House is said to be haunted by The Phantom (Lon Chaney). He is obsessed with their new singer Christine (Mary Philbin) and insists that she perform instead of the lead soprano. After creating chaos with a falling chandelier, the Phantom brings Christine to his underground lair and makes her promise to be his love, forgoing her relationship with handsome viscount Raoul (Norman Kerry). The classic story you love, but in a Webber-free zone.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “a classic horror film” and praises Lon Chaney’s work, particularly his makeup.

But Does It Really?: There are other Phantoms out there, but there’s only one Lon Chaney. His performance still holds up and makes the film worth a watch. The film’s public domain status means there are several cuts out there, but any version you can find is worth your time thanks to Mr. Chaney. This isn’t the definitive film version of the novel, but it’s probably as close as we’ll ever get.

Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone, but the main takeaway is Lon Chaney, the famous “Man of a Thousand Faces”**. Born to deaf parents, Lon learned to communicate physically at a young age, which lent itself perfectly to silent films. A lifetime in the theater made him very adept at makeup, which led to the outstanding creations he applied in his films. Chaney designed the makeup for The Phantom in total secrecy, not revealing it until filming. His version of The Phantom is the most faithful to its description in the original novel.

Wow, That’s Dated: As always, any passing knowledge of opera.

Title Track: Someone actually calls him “The Phantom of the Opera” (as opposed to simply “The Phantom”) just once in the entire film.

Other notes

  • With the exception of director Rupert Julian and the cast, no one else is credited for their work in this film. Is it any wonder Hollywood would unionize within a decade?
  • This version begins with a two-minute shot of someone holding a lantern. We get it. Move on, please.
  • How come the previous theater owners don’t disclose the fact that there’s a phantom until after the new owners have signed? This is stigmatized property, after all.
  • Beautiful women running in fear because a strange man is wandering around backstage? It might just be our President.
  • Is Christine playing the Swiss Miss in this opera?
  • We get the chandelier drop early in the version I saw; about 20 minutes in.
  • The great thing about a silent film set in an opera is that you don’t have to cast anyone who can actually sing.
  • I always forget that the Phantom’s real name is Erik. Kinda takes away from the whole mystique. It’s like finding out that Pennywise the Clown’s real name is Bob Gray (which is legitimately canon, by the way).
  • Every time the Phantom plays the organ all I can hear is “A Fifth of Beethoven”. I blame “The Simpsons”.
  • That mask removal scene is still terrifying. Shout-out to Chaney, as well as the cinematographer and editor, whoever they are.
  • Cool, the masquerade scene is in color! Apparently more scenes were filmed in early Technicolor, but the ball is all that survives.
  • Ledoux kind of looks like Martin Landau.
  • Now the Phantom’s referring to himself in the third person? What a loser.
  • At one point the Phantom declares, “I will not be cheated of my happiness.” Typical millennial.
  • Good lord, how far down is the Phantom’s room? Say hi to The Mole People while you’re down there.
  • It took a while, but I think this is my first film on this blog with a classic angry mob scene.
  • Wow, after all of that, the ending’s a bit of a let down. It’s a total departure from the novel with no real character payoff.

Legacy

  • Hmmm, I wonder if there are any other adaptations of this novel out there…
  • This film launched the Universal Monster Golden Age of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Thanks to this film we get “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, and “Dracustein” (the latter considered such an embarrassment that in 1996 the NFR voted to have all copies burned).
  • Lon Chaney died of a throat hemorrhage only five years after the release of “Phantom”. His son Creighton changed his name to Lon Chaney Jr., and continued his father’s makeup work in the original “Wolf Man”.
  • Universal remade “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1943 with Claude Rains in the title role. They reused the original set, and pretty much threw out the original story.
  • The Phantom will be included in the upcoming Universal Dark Universe with a remake that….what’s that? “The Mummy”? Oh. Never mind.
  • I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen.

 

**2017 Update: Lon Chaney now has “HE Who Gets Slapped” on the list. And with a title like that, my interest is piqued.

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