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Friday, October 5, 2012

October 5- The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Continuing with the theme from yesterday of silent movies, we've got one from Universal Studios, 1925's The Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, The movie stars the legendary Lon Chaney Sr. (also known as "The Man of 1000 Faces"), and he sure lives up to the name here. Lon Chaney was known for designing and applying his own make-up, which is partly what earned him the nickname, the other part being that the faces characters he portrayed looked so different from each other. Such a practice wouldn't be allowed today, but at the time, it's what made him a star.

Lon Chaney both as the Phantom of the Opera and without makeup

The film starts with eerie background music and a very dim background showing only a man with a lantern walking through the catacombs under the Paris Opera House, where the bulk of the storyline takes place. At first, a performance of ballerinas is occurring while two men are making a deal with the owners in the executive office to purchase the Opera House. The current owners allow the contract to be signed and notarized before mentioning right before leaving the room, "It is barely possible you may hear of a ghost, a Phantom of the Opera." I don't know why, but I just find the context in which this is said incredibly funny. The new owners play it off as a joke, but the former owners tell them to go talk the attendant in Box 5 if they don't believe the statement. So, the two gentleman check Box 5 and see a cloaked man sitting in the seat. They turn away, look back, and he's gone.

The next scene features the telling of the mythology of the phantom himself, about how hideous he is, etc. Then Miss Carlotta, the main female performer at the Opera House gets a note from the Phantom saying that Christine Daae (played by Mary Philbin) will be performing on Wednesday or else Carlotta's career will be in jeopardy. Obviously, Carlotta plans to perform anyway, but by Wednesday, she is mysteriously ill and Christine goes on and gives an amazing performance. It is revealed afterwards that Christine has been talking to a "muse," which happens to be the Phantom. Carlotta receives another note demanding she step aside for Christine the next night, but this time Carlotta refuses, and to her dismay, a crystal chandelier falls on her head during the performance.

Erik the Phantom and Christine

Throughout the rest of the movie, the Phantom tries to keep Christine for himself and get rid of Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (played by Norman Kerry), Christine's budding love interest. He plots revenge on the two, Raoul for being Christine's love and Christine for rejected the Phantom. There is a rather interesting color sequence with the Phantom attending a party in a red costume with a skull mask. There were originally supposedly 17 minutes of color in the original print, but the scene with the masquerade party (called the Bal Masque in the film) is the only color scene that survived.

Pretty impressive by 1925 standards. Done using Technicolor.

The moment that I remember the most. however, is the unmasking scene where Christine reveals the Phantom's disfigured face for the first time.

The Phantom almost succeeds in stealing Christine for good, but slips up in the end. Christine continues to refuse to join the Phantom, and after a particularly intense scene in which the Phantom is chased through the streets of Paris, and back down to the cellars and waterways, where he is violently murdered by an angry mob (off camera of course).

At the end, I felt bad for the Phantom and saw him as just a misunderstood man with a physical deformity who's looking for someone to love him. Lon Chaney does a great job of expressing the emotions the Phantom has, such as loneliness, sadness, despair, and anger; all without using his voice. That's pretty incredible if you ask me. Plus, Universal forgot to renew the copyright on the film in 1953, so now it is free for all to watch. There are also 2 versions of the film, a totally silent version (the original from 1925) and a re-released part-"talkie" version released in 1930. I've seen both and they're both good. The version from 1930 is about 15 minutes shorter than the original. The 1930 version is available on Netflix, here's the original below. Definitely a movie for the horror classics fan if you don't mind watching a silent film.

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