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Bibi is a world class escape artist, but he cannot escape the false murder charge that is placed on him. Max has killed Bourrelier before he was removed from the will so that he will be rich when he marries Cecile. Together with Vera, they put the blame on Bibi, who is a romantic rival to Max, and he is sentenced to death. But Bibi escapes before his execution and hides in Herman's secret cellar. When he learns that Max is dying, Bibi goes to his house for his confession, but Max dies before it is told to anyone else. So Bibi, has just one chance, and he goes to Dr. Gorin who will make him look like Max so that he can clear his name and put the blame where it belongs - on Max, even in death. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Handsome "disappearing artist" John Gilbert (as Chéri-Bibi) entertains wealthy Parisians with his sensational Houdini-like escapes. Off-stage, Mr. Gilbert courts pretty Leila Hyams (as Cecile). When her father is murdered, Gilbert is accused and jailed. You will likely suspect the killer is sneaky Ian Keith (as the Marquis du Touchais), Gilbert's rival for Ms. Hyams' hand in marriage. As expected, Gilbert escapes from prison, vowing to solve the crime and clear his name. Eventually, he assumes a startling new identity, stepping into the "Marquis" character played by Mr. Keith...
How Gilbert passes for Keith strains credulity, but this is an otherwise fine mystery. "The Phantom of Paris" was the fourth, but first really good film in Gilbert's famously unsuccessful career in talking pictures. It was originally slated to star the recently deceased "man of a thousand faces" Lon Chaney. Gilbert, who surprised "talkie" audiences with a more higher pitched voice than expected, had been excellent in "The Show" (1927), another Chaney-like role...
You can hear how Gilbert records poorly on the larger soundstages. But, it's also evident he and MGM had been working on the voice. Note how Gilbert seems to enjoy showing off his "deep" voice against the squeaky "cigarette case" actor (Tyrell Davis), apparently employed to show off his more high-pitched tone. Gilbert tries some weird acting tricks - like, what the heck is he doing with the knob of that chair while hiding in Jean Hersholt's basement? - but, in a challenging (almost dual) role, Gilbert clearly reveals a potential for greatness as a credible actor in the changing medium.
******* The Phantom of Paris (9/12/31) John S. Robertson ~ John Gilbert, Leila Hyams, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt
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