Lon Chaney did a lot of work with his performance through his hands. The son of two deaf mutes, he learned to be very expressive with them, and as this is a silent performance, the hands are required to convey quite a lot.
According to the film's cameraman Charles Van Enger, one of Lon Chaney's most trusted associates, Mary Philbin's reaction to the unmasked Phantom was real--she had no idea what he would look like until that exact moment.
Inside Sound Stage 28, part of the opera house still stands to the side where it was filmed some eight decades ago, making it the oldest standing interior film set in the world. Though it remains impressive, time has taken its toll and it is very rarely used. Urban legends claim the set remains because when workers have attempted to take it down in the past there have been fatal accidents, said to be caused by the ghost of Lon Chaney.
According to Charles Van Enger, the film's cameraman, he himself had a very strong reaction as Lon Chaney's unsuspecting "guinea pig". Chaney had summoned Van Enger to his dressing room, but without telling him why. When he got there and was standing about a foot behind the actor, Chaney suddenly spun around in full Phantom makeup! "I almost wet my pants. I fell back over a stool and landed flat on my back!" Chaney laughed so hard and Van Enger, who by then was "mad as hell" yelled, "Are you NUTS?" Unable to clearly talk with his fake teeth in, he spit them out: "Never mind Charlie, you already told me what I wanted to know."
For the 1929 sound version, Universal purchased a pipe organ from the Robert Morton Organ Company in Van Nuys, CA. It was installed on Stage 10, which was first used for filming and quickly converted for scoring music as well as doing Foley sound effects work. The organ was used for scenes where Erik plays the organ in his basement lair. It was used in several Universal feature film scores including Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Ghost Story (1981), as well as episodes of various TV series produced by the studio. It was sold sometime in the late 1990s.
Not a single photograph of Lon Chaney as The Phantom was published in a newspaper or magazine or seen anywhere before the film opened in theaters. Universal Pictures wanted The Phantom's face to be a complete surprise when his mask was ripped off.
Rupert Julian fought constantly with the cast and crew. Julian and Lon Chaney were not on speaking terms for most of the production, and had to communicate through intermediaries. Norman Kerry actually charged at Julian while riding a horse, knocking him to the ground in front of a group of onlookers.
On October 31, 2008, this film was screened at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with live musical accompaniment by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Ads contained a tag line that was a clever twist on that for Alien (1979): "In silent films, no one can hear you scream".
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
A Jewel Production. Unlike most of its peers, Universal never owned a theater chain (ultimately, a wise decision given the 1949 Supreme Court anti-trust decision that would threaten the livelihood of many of its competitors). As a result, in 1916, Carl Laemmle devised a 3-tiered branding system to market its features to independent theater owners: Red Feather (low-budget programmers), Bluebird (mainstream releases) and Jewel (costly prestige productions). The studio would abandon branding altogether by the end of 1929.
Several sequences were shot in various color processes for the general release prints. Technicolor was used for scenes from "Faust" and the Bal Masque scene, Prizmacolor sequences were shot for the "Soldier's Night" introduction and Handschiegel (a process that uses stamps to hand-color prints) for the Phantom's notes and red cape on the rooftop. Only the Technicolor Bal Masque sequence is known to survive (an IB print from the 1929 re-release).
The only stage in the history of Hollywood where a turntable was built specifically for the 1925 "Phantom of the Opera" feature film, and has remained intact for ninety years. Stage theatrics use of a turntable in set design was primarily a European novelty incorporated into elaborate opera productions in England, Italy and Germany. A turntable built into the set design was first introduced on Broadway in 1941, for the Kurt Weill musical "Lady In The Dark" designed by stage designer Harry Horner. The novelty of this motorized turntable was unique, a center donut ring, with an outer six foot ring. The entire "donut turntable" could move in either direction, or the center turntable could move independent of the stationary outer ring, and the outer ring could move in the opposite direction of the center ring. The same turntable concept was copied in the set design for the 1969 Broadway musical "CoCo" designed by Cecil Beaton. The Oliver Smith set design for the 1956-1962 Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" utilized two turntables, aligned on center stage, rotating in opposite direction of each other, to transform the scenic set elements. During the 50s, 60s and 70s, NBC Burbank's stock scenery division built a motorized turntable which expanded from a ten foot diameter, to a thirty foot diameter turntable. This scenic element was used on several NBC color television variety series, as "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Bob Hope Show," "The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Show," etc.. "The stage 28 Phantom of the Opera turntable" is unique in the history of both Hollywood films, live color television series/specials and Broadway stage productions.
The print restored by Kino is a 1929 re-release version that was re-edited, eliminating some scenes and inserting new material shot after the 1925 version was finished. These included a sound sequence with opera star Mary Fabian singing in the role of Carlotta. In the re-edited version, Virginia Pearson, who played Carlotta in the silent 1925 version, is credited and referred to as "Carlotta's Mother" instead.
The film's European three-tired box seat horseshoe theater and stage proscenium still exist at Universal Studios as a standing set. It was used in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), among other films. By 1965 the interior had fallen into disrepair, but Universal let Hitchcock use it in the climax for the film. Hitchcock had his crew--including Joseph Musso, then an illustrator and later an art director--restore the theater set back to the way it was in the original "Phantom" film. Although the original blueprints could not be found, Musso had an 8x10 photo collection from the Chaney film that showed the set in great detail. Production manager Hein Heckroth, art director Frank Arrigo and assistant art director Joe Alves had set designers create new blueprints based on the photos. The original seats were reupholstered and put back in the audience section. When the sequence was finally filmed with Paul Newman, Julie Andrews and 500 extras, the set looked just like it did in the Chaney film.
The Phantom's makeup was designed to resemble a skull. Lon Chaney attached a strip of fish skin (a thin, translucent material) to his nostrils with spirit gum, pulled it back until he got the tilt he wanted, then attached the other end of the fish skin under his bald cap. For some shots, a wire-and-rubber device was used, and according to cameraman Charles Van Enger it cut into Chaney's nose and caused a good deal of bleeding. Cheeks were built up using a combination of cotton and collodion. Ears were glued back and the rest was greasepaint shaded in the proper areas of the face. The sight was said to have caused some patrons at the premiere to faint.
When restoring this film, the sound version created in 1929 was going to be part of the restored version of the movie. However, the quality of the audio was so poor that, although the restored version was used, it was kept silent.
The Universal Studios' stage 28 floor-foot print, built for the 1925 B&W Lon Chaney "Phantom of the Opera" feature film, is enormous. The European horseshoe Paris Opera Theatre's three tiered box audience seating area surrounds the floor audience ramped area. The master wide-shot from the top rear box seat area encompasses the stage proscenium, orchestra pit, and the chandelier. The top of the interior theatre ceiling master shot is completed with a matte painting. The audience area is one third of the stage's foot print. The North end of stage 28 encompasses the raised stage area. What really makes this stage unique is that in 1925, an elaborate 30'-0" diameter mechanical turntable sits in the center of the front stage area, allowing forty (40) feet from the back edge of the turntable to the rear stage back-wall. The basement of stage 28 houses the original turntable mechanical mechanism to turn the 30' diameter turntable. All of the mechanics for the turntable have remained intact, sitting in their original structural position. The turntable centers on a center cylindrical shaft, with triangular inverted bracing branches, welded to the center shaft, similar to an inverted umbrella brace. The entire weight of the turntable is thrust upon this center turning spindle. After the original film was completed, the turntable area of the stage floor was covered with three layers of 3/4" thick plywood 4'-0" x 10'-0" sheets, which allowed future film sets to be built upon the turntable stage area for feature filming. When a camera crane is used on the stage, allowances have to be considered with the turntable's floor position, related to the film set requirements. The original stage had a theatre pin rail system with hanging pipe arbors for electrical lights, existing on the stage right area. The raised stage area was utilized for feature film "process photography" because of the depth required for a film projector onto a rear screen, enough room for a camera and crew, with an acting/performance area in front of the screen. The projector camera has to be in direct center of the filming camera's lens point of view position, with a depth of field allowance. The 1943 Universal Studios Technicolor remake of "Phantom of the Opera" starring Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster and Claude Rains stripped the plywood floor covering in order to utilize the turntable for the film's stage production numbers. The turntable mechanism was tuned up and used in the film. After the 1943 Technicolor film was completed, the stage flooring was installed, re-covering the turntable. The turntable has never been used since the 1943 feature film. The interior Opera House theatre has been filmed, and the production stage area of stage 28 has been host to many feature and television films.
The film was re-released in sound in 1929 using Vitaphone/Western Electric sound disks. Approximately 40% of the film was re-shot in synchronous sound and the rest had a music/soundtrack added or was dubbed over. The Kino edition is a silent version of the 1929 cut (as are, with few exceptions, most others), which was a common practice at the time for theaters that did not have sound systems installed. For the sound edition Lon Chaney was not available, and contractually Universal was not allowed to have vocal synchronization of the Phantom. However, the studio had third-person lines written and dubbed over shots of the Phantom's shadow. The actor who spoke these lines is uncredited, but it is probably Universal regular Phillips Smalley.