Friday, January 6, 2017

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Rupert Julian
1925 • 107 Minutes • 1.33 : 1 • United States

Cast: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland
Screenplay: Elliott J. Clawson, Raymond L. Schrock, Bernard McConville, Jasper Spearing, Richard Wallace, Walter Anthony, Tom Reed, Frank M. McCormack; Based on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Cinematography: Milton Bridenbecker, Virgil Miller, Charles Van Enger
Producer: Carl Laemmle

Awards & Honors

National Film Registry
Inducted in 1998

If I am the Phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so. If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.


The most famous adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel (no, not counting the musical from 2004.) Lon Chaney, the man of 1000 faces, sports one of his most ghastly and ghoulish disguises in this story of a disfigured composer living under a theater who falls in love and becomes obsessed with a beautiful opera singer. His obsession leads to murder, mayhem and mystery in the opera house that he haunts. The film is easily found, as it is in the public domain.  The film is a masterpiece of silent cinema and was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1994.

Lon Chaney's performance is one of the most memorable of silent and horror cinema. His face covered by a mask for most of the film, and the image of Christine unmasking the Phantom for the first time is one of horror, if not cinema's, most iconic images. Because of the massive success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, Chaney was given free reign to customize his Phantom make up for full horrific effect.  Even by today's standards, the Phantom's face is disturbing, making a mockery of Gerard Butler's prosthetics in the 2004 musical. Chaney transformed his face by physically altering the shape of his nose by pulling it back with tape and pinning in place, plus simple tricks like false teeth and paint around the nostrils and eye sockets. This commitment led to Chaney's portrayal as being the most accurate based on the source material's description as a skull like head with a few wisps of hair on top. Legend has it that audiences screamed at the reveal of his shocking disfigurement.  In this version of the film, The Phantom was born with his deformity, as opposed to being scarred as in later adaptations.

"Feast your eyes! Glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!"

The "Masque of Red Death" sequence, in which Julian used a two-strip technicolor process to add the color red to the film remains possibly the film's second most iconic sequence. The image of Erik The Phantom, descending the stairs in his skull mask is as haunting in 2017 as it was in 1925. The sets are magnificent and the Paris Opera House in particular was a massive undertaking, built with steel girders and capable of housing thousands of extras.

This film is a beautiful gothic masterpiece perfect for a Halloween viewing experience or Horror marathon.

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