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Only a shadow of a film.
J. Theakston28 June 2003
The current copy of the Universal production of "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) is only a shadow of what was once a great film.

Originally, the way the film was shot, it stayed quite close to the book. Many people have complaints about the film straying from the novel, but key sequences like the Graveyard at Perros and the alternate ending where Erik dies of Christine's kiss were shot, then scrapped, then reshot, and then re-scrapped. Eventually, they were just rewritten or disacknowledged altogether.

The original cut was shown in Los Angeles on January 7 and 26, 1925. This was the cut that used the most footage from what was shot starting on October-December 1924. Due to poor reviews, the January release was pulled, and Rupert Julian was told to reshoot most of the picture. Already having become a difficult director and egocentric over the fact that he was the star director ever since he replaced Erich Von Stroheim on THE MERRY-GO-ROUND (1924), he walked out on the studio.

Edward Sedgewick (later director of Keaton's THE CAMERAMAN), who was working for Universal at the time, was asked by Carl Laemmele to reshoot and redirect a bulk of the movie. Raymond L. Schrock, who along with Elliot Clawson, was the screenwriter for the film, re-wrote new scenes to add into the film by the request of Sedgewick. Most of these scenes were added subplots, with Chester Conklin and Vola Vale as comedic partners to the heroes and Ward Crane as the Russian, "Count Ruboff" dueling for Christine's affection. This cut premiered in San Fransico on April 26, 1925 and also failed miserably with reviews.

The final cut had to be made, so Maurice Pivar and Lois Weber re-wrote the final draft script, which was edited to the final nine reels, which debuted on September 6, 1925 at the Astor Theater in New York City, and October 17, 1925 in Hollywood. This cut only exists in 16mm Show-At-Home prints made by Universal for home movie use. These prints are not top quality, but watchable, and even the most complete existing version of this print today is incomplete from years of splicing. These 16mm prints sometimes make it to the underground video market and are best to watch for story, but not for quality.

If you think about all of the mishandling in between, you realize how much has been tampered with the film so far. To add insult to injury, most prints circulating today, including Kino's and the Kevin Brownlow restoration, are actually from a re-release in 1929. When sound came around, Universal immediately redubbed Phantom in sound and re-shot about 40% of the film (whatever Lon Chaney was not in, since he was unavailable). The only quality 35mm print today is a copy made in 1950 for Eastman House in Rochester, NY of the silent cut of the sound re-release to distribute to theaters that didn't have sound systems.

So as you can see, it is really almost impossible to truly critique THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). It is a semi-lost film.
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Chaney outshines everyone.
jondaris19 December 2001
Chaney is best known today for two roles: Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and Erik in "The Phantom of the Opera." The pair contrast the human response to physical deformity. While Quasimodo searches for kindness and acts to protect his home and loved ones, Erik shuns humanity and in his hatred and isolation becomes truly evil.

Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) is the understudy at the Paris Opera house, an ancient structure built over a network of torture chambers and interconnecting cellars. Rumors abound of a ghost or phantom who stalks the halls, and even rents his own box for the performances. With the help of this mysterious stranger, Daae becomes the lead diva.

Daae, apparently fine with her benefactor's use of extortion and mass murder to help her career, dumps her boyfriend Raoul (Norman Kerry) and follows the masked Phantom into the bowels of the opera house. She is, however, sensitive enough to collapse in a faint at the discovery that her benefactor is the legendary Phantom, and at his profession of love for her.

Awakening, she discovers herself in a lavish bedroom he has prepared for her, with her name engraved on a hand mirror. But upon snatching off the Phantom's mask, she realizes that he isn't Prince Charming after all, but hideously deformed, with a skull-like face.

The Phantom returns her to the opera, telling her that she must never see Raoul again. Upon reflection, however, Christine decides that looks and sanity are more important to her in a lover than she originally thought, and makes plans to meet Raoul at the annual masked ball. Raoul, neither particularly brave or smart, suggests that the two of them hightail it out of town. Christine, not one to run before her chance at the big time, suggests that they flee after the following evening's performance. Erik, of course, is listening in.

At that point Erik drops his nice-guy facade, hangs a stagehand who discovers his trap door, kidnaps Christine and flees into the cellars. He is hotly pursued by Raoul and a Secret Police inspector, who are followed by Raoul's brother, who is followed by angry mob led by the murdered stagehand's brother.

Erik, meanwhile, is trying to convince Christine of his capacity to reform ("No longer like a toad in these foul cellars will I secrete the venom of hatred -- for you shall bring me love!"). Alas, his plans to become a good husband are interrupted by the need to bump off a few of his pursuers, using elaborate boody traps and alarms throughout the dungeons.

The final minute of the movie is perhaps the best, with Erik's final gesture proving that his mental ability far outweighs that of anyone else in the film. He goes out in style, leaving the dim-witted Raoul and his amoral girlfriend to live happily ever after.

The two best things are Chaney's over-the-top performance as Erik and the spectacular sets. Chaney had a way of making any other actors in a film appear flat and lifeless, and this is no exception. The elaborate set of the opera house and the gothic appearance of the dungeons are still impressive, and the tinting and two-strip technicolor in the Bal Masque sequence look great.

"Phantom" is rousing horror/adventure, while "Hunchback" was a touching allegorical film. The latter is better and more serious, but "Phantom" is still some of the most fun it's possible to have before a movie screen.
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The pathos of Lon Chaney gave the Phantom its dimension...
Nazi_Fighter_David27 April 2005
Lon Chaney was the first of the long line of Phantoms and the one against whom all his successors had to be measured…

The story, despite all its alternatives, is the familiar one of the musician avoiding the world because of his disfigurement and retreating to a hideout beneath the Opera House, from where he emerges to terrorize singers and audience alike…

He kidnaps a young girl singer – perhaps to teach her to become a great star; certainly because, in his grotesque and pathetic way, he loves her – and carries her off to a boudoir he has prepared far underground…

There was melodrama in plenty: in the first version, for example, two would-be rescuers found themselves trapped in an uncomfortable mirrored room the Phantom had prepared, where they first got a heat treatment and then were flooded…

But, beyond all the heightened effects, it was the pathos of the Phantom underscoring his lonely menace which gave the character a dimension, and the isolation of the captor and his captive, imprisoned to a literal underworld, which gave the suspense of the whole film its power…
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Who was that Masked Man?
lugonian15 March 2003
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Universal, 1925), directed by Rupert Julian, from the celebrated novel by Gaston Leroux, stars Lon Chaney, the legendary "man of a thousand faces," in what is hailed to be his most famous movie role, as well as one of the most bizarre presentations of his thousand faces ever shown on screen.

Hailed as a horror movie, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is actually a mystery tale with added suspense that takes place in a Paris opera house believed to be haunted by a mysterious cloaked figure obsessed by one particular girl, Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), an understudy, whose main interest is her love for Raoul De Chagny (Norman Kerry), her fiancé. Christine keeps hearing a compelling voice behind the walls of her dressing room that gives her encouragement to perform. Her career soon takes a turn for the better when the lead performer is "mysteriously" unable to go on and Christine is called to take her place. The voice later summons Christine to the cellar five flights beyond the opera house where she follows this sinister man whose face is covered with a mask. Although she fears him not, Christine becomes very curious about "The Phantom," but curiosity gets the better of her when she decides to creep up from behind the phantom and remove his mask, only to get the surprise of her life. The Phantom agrees to release Christine from his underground cellar (consisting of a coffin bed where the Phantom sleeps) at a promise that she not only devote herself to her opera singing, but to never see or speak to her fiancé again. Only after Christine has a secret meeting with Raoul during a ball masque does the Phantom, who shadowed her, to make Christine his prisoner of love.

In true Universal fashion, this Gothic presentation has all the elements of a suspense thriller. From its opening shot shows a cloaked figure creeping about the underground cellar of the opera house. The storyline immediately gets down to basics in which there's a discussion amongst the staff regarding a mysterious figure roaming about, followed by the sudden appearance of another mysterious character (Arthur Edmund Carewe) walking about the opera house, saying nothing but observing everything. In between these key scenes leading to the purpose of the movie title, there are ballet and opera sequences inter-cutting the plot, along with a stage hand (Snitz Edwards) supplying some "comic relief.". This being a silent film, the compositions from FAUST cannot be heard, but are usually heard through the underscoring which accompanies the film. Besides the now familiar story and its just famous unmasking sequence, it's Chaney as Erik, the mysterious phantom, with his skull-like appearance, who makes this one of the most intense characters ever played on the screen. The movie, itself, fails to explore the background to Erik's character, as to why does he choose Christine as his selected one. Only late into the story is it realized, through the investigation in the police records by Christine's fiancé, Raoul, that Erik is not only a self-educated musician having escaped imprisonment from Devil's Island, but is actually insane. Other than being insane, he's a genius, for that he has decorated his underground chambers with certain traps, including a room that can fill with water or become filled with intense heat for his intruders. While Erik being insane might explain certain aspects as his intent to kill certain individuals at the opera house (with one scene finding one man left dangling from a noose), but fails to answer the question, "Was Erik born this way or was he a rejected creation of Doctor Frankenstein?"

So popular upon its release, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was reissued in 1930, a shorter print with added talking sequences and new orchestral score. Universal remade THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1943 with Claude Rains; and in 1962 with Herbert Lom, each performed differently from the Chaney carnation, but with some explained detail to the Phantom's background of character.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has achieved cult status over the years, due to constant revivals, ranging from theaters to television. It was one of the selected twelve movies shown on public television's 1975 presentation of "The Silent Years", hosted by Lillian Gish. During the era of home video in the 1980s, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA not only became a public domain title, but consisted of various versions and different scores. The Kartes Video Communications print features no scoring but a different opening introducing Raoul de Chagny (Kerry) and his brother, Philippe (John St. Polis), through title cards, and other scenes detailing the character of Carlotta (Virginia Pearson). There's even a conclusion with Christine and Raoul kissing on their honeymoon in Viroflay, a fade-out that's non-existent in most prints. BLACKHAWK Video, later Republic Home Video, included an excellent organ score (by Gaylord Carter) and clear picture quality of 79 minutes, the standard length of many video copies, but excluding the brief honeymoon closing. This similar print can be found from KINO Video.

In one of the Turner Classic Movies cable TV presentations of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA during its weekly Silent Sunday Nights a few years ago, the station, having broadcast with a traditional organ score in years past, presented Halloween night one of the worst reproductions and bad orchestrations ever presented for a silent movie, making this 97 minute version appear endless. Eventually TCM went ahead and a more soothing copy and organ score afterwards.

As it stands, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA can be seen numerous ways on video and DVD (at either 97 minutes or longer with orchestral scoring), but it's Lon Chaney's cloak figure that will remain in lasting memory long after the movie is over. (***)
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The first remains the best
divaclv20 December 2004
"The Phantom of the Opera" is a tale that's been oft told, but all too often it's told poorly. The story--a grand melodrama, like much of opera itself--requires a fine balance of terror and tragedy, with perhaps a bit of camp humor to lighten the proceedings, and finding the right tone is a task which has defeated many a director and actor. But it can be done, as this first of the many film incarnations proves.

For anyone needing an overview of Gaston Leroux's tale, the premise is briefly thus: during the latter decades of the Victorian Era, the great Paris Opera is troubled with whispers of a ghost--a frightening specter which visits misfortune on the company should they fail to please him. Up-and-coming singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), meanwhile, is more preoccupied with her singing tutor--a disembodied voice she believes to be an emissary from her dead father, who guides her to new heights but demands she put her music above all else, including and especially her handsome childhood sweetheart Raoul (Norman Kerry). Neither Phantom nor tutor is a spirit in truth, but are two different sides of the same man--a horribly disfigured, unnaturally gifted, and frighteningly passionate man, but a man nonetheless.

Despite dated acting techniques and some extremely overwrought title cards ("You must save me, Raoul--oh, save me!" Christine pleads at one point), the silent film version of "Phantom" has held up remarkably well, thanks to some evocative scenes and an unforgettable turn by Lon Chaney in the title role. The moment when the Phantom, driven by his all-consuming desire for Christine, lures the girl into his home beneath the Opera is every bit as eerie and compelling as it should be. An Escher-like series of ramps descends into the earth, leading to the sort of black subterranean lake Charon would feel at home on, and an underground apartment that seems fairly normal, until you see the coffin in the master bedroom and the mirrored torture chamber adjoining.

Any version of "Phantom," though, lives or dies by its title character, and Chaney does not disappoint. Even in his early scenes, where he appears almost solely as a shadow on the wall, he has a remarkable presence, his gestures expressive and elegant in silhouette. The audience first sees him in physical form as Christine first sees him--a masked and cloaked figure, disturbing yet with an aura of weary sadness about him. When that mask finally comes off in the film's landmark scene, Chaney's makeup genius is instantly in evidence. The wild-eyed, cadaverous skull remains the most frightening interpretations of the Phantom's disfigurement, and also the one which hews closest to Leroux's description. (To be fair, it's doubtful Chaney's makeup would have been practical in a sound film; the distortions of his nose and mouth would have made speaking--and singing--very difficult indeed.) The movie's greatest weakness is its ending, a chase scene (complete with the standard Angry Torch-Bearing Mob) that feels wedged in, probably because that's precisely what it is. The original ending stuck with Leroux's novel, where the Phantom, moved by Christine's compassion, releases her to marry her young suitor--but the first audiences, apparently not as empathetic for the character as his creator was, found this ending an unsatisfying one. Unfortunately, the current resolution denies the Phantom the redemption which has been a major part of his appeal to modern audiences, and one wishes that we had an opportunity to see Chaney portray it. But on the whole, this is a "Phantom" that remains head and shoulders above its many film successors.
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A magnificent performance from the legendary Lon Chaney, Sr.
ACitizenCalledKane6 December 2004
This 1925 silent classic is still impressive, even after seventy-nine years!

Lon Chaney's performance is easily the highlight of the movie. His ghostly movements about his underground lair are haunting even by today's standards.

Use all of the computer generated images you want, but there is no substitute for authentic, old-world macabre. The scene where Erik's face is revealed is still shocking. He seems as horrorified by Christine seeing his face as she is by seeing his face. He seems to feel genuinely violated by her taking his mask off, revealing his horrible visage to the last person on earth he would want to see it. The Technicolor scene of the "Bal Masque" is also quite famous. The backdrops are very effective in creating the moody, medieval atmosphere of the underground passages. All in all, an excellent version of a timeless story.
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A good magic trick.
jaywolfenstien22 September 2006
I find silent films more eerie than the talking B&W horror films (Dracula, Frankenstien, the Thing from Another World) and also more eerie than the modern color films (Suspiria, Ju-on, the Descent). The exaggeration in the actors gestures and expressions; the early camera technology that's not quite fluid and not quite clear; the tinted colors; and an artificially overlaid soundtrack – it all combines and adds up to paint an abstract and unnatural picture.

Cinema has evolved so far since the Silent Era that watching these films is almost like glimpsing into another world completely unrelated to the one most of us grew up watching. And I find it fascinating that this is, indeed, the ancestor to many horror films that I adore today. So, like with other classics, I viewed Phantom of the Opera with the delight of discovering our cinematic horror roots – seeing the predecessor to Jack Pierce, Rick Baker, and Stan Winston in action, watching the precursor to John Carpenter, Mario Bava, and David Cronenberg.

From the opening scene, Phantom of the Opera makes great use of shadows. A character with a lantern wanders the labyrinth below the Paris Opera house, ducking into an alcove as the shadow of the Phantom passes. Barring a handful of shots showing a cloaked figure from behind (or from a distance), this motif continues as Erik, the Phantom, is represented as a shadow, calling to Christine from the catacombs behind her dressing room mirror until she inevitably comes face to face with the mask (which she will inevitably remove.) Even though I'm quite familiar with the face of Lon Chaney's Phantom from the numerous still-shots out there, I still felt the pulse of anxiety and suspense when that famous moment drew near. Though blatantly exploitive in its camera angle, the timing, the expression on Chaney's face, though it aims purely for spectacle and shock for the audience of 1925, it carries something newer spectacles/shock-films lack: charm.

I couldn't help but smile watching Chaney's haunting performance beneath that famous makeup, seeing it animated for the first time, the sadness and tragedy that underlines the phantoms soul. He moves with a precision and deliberateness that's not entirely natural, but remains paradoxically sincere. The rooftop scene, in particular, where Christine and Raoul plot, oblivious to the presence of the unmasked phantom who listens in with great intensity from his perch above – gripping his cape in his heartbroken state, eventually throwing himself back into the grasp of the statue in disbelieving defeat.

There's something both awkward and poetic to the movements of the actors as they express their emotions not in subtleties, but rather in exaggerated body language that almost feels at home here (almost, but not quite.) Early in the film, frightened ballerinas spontaneously spin in place (one revolution) as a visual representation of their anxiety. Somewhat silly, but simultaneously delightful in its approach.

Later in the film, Christine rejects the Phantom, arcing her back to its limit, her face turned as far away as possible, with her hands outstretched as if the very air around Erik would prove toxic. A single still frame presented to an audience, completely isolated from the context of the rest of the film, would leave absolutely no room for misinterpretations.

The film goes on to a larger scope and bigger thrills with the inevitable fall of the chandelier, the Phantom's many tricks and traps in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House, and the final pursuit where the mob chases Erik through the streets of Paris -- the film strains itself to outdo all the silent films that came before. However, it strains too far, and I find myself liking the film in its quieter, more personal, exploits (the phantom in the shadows, the unmasking, the rooftop.) I do have to comment on the end of the film, though: Erik has been cornered and surrounded on all sides by the angry mob. He raises up a closed fist threateningly, as though within his grasp lay one final card that could level the playing field -- an explosive of some type -- and the crowd visibly hesitates, backing off. After a dramatic pause, the Phantom opens his hand to reveal he's holding nothing at all.

Then we realize the film, itself, has done the very same thing. For the length of its running time it convinces you it held something -- some kind of awe-inspiring trick up its sleeve. Thus the problem with all exploitation films, but you have to admire Phantom for how it sustains so little for so long and makes you smile after you realize the truth.

Like a good magic trick.
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Silence is golden...
Coventry31 May 2004
One of the most eminent horror films ever made and perhaps even the most famous silent horror movie from that time. Lon Chaney starred in over 150 films (most of them silent ones) but he'll always be remembered best for his personification of Erik, the Phantom. And justified! Even though this role was played by many respectable actors afterwards (like Claude Rains, Herbert Lom and Robert Englund) Lon Chaney is – and remains – the one and only Phantom of the Opera. The film itself is depressing and dark, with terrific photography and settings. Deep down the catacombs of the Parisian Opera building, the phantom reigns in forgotten dungeons and underground lakes. After all these years of dwelling in the opera, he has fallen in love with the unsuccessful singer, Christine. He helps her career a little and threatens to kill the prominent singer Carlotta if she doesn't hand over the her role in Faust to Christine. The until then unknown singer is thankful and meets her `master' in the catacombs. Her appreciation soon turns into fear when she finds out her benefactor is the horribly scarred Phantom of the Opera. The biggest difference between this first version and the later remakes lies in the roots of the Phantom. Here, Erik is said to be an escaped madman whereas he merely only was a hurt romanticist in later versions. His deformed appearance isn't explained and neither is shown how he falls for the beautiful, shy Christine.

At least 3 sequences in the 1925 Phantom of the Opera are legendary and still astonishing after almost 80 years. The masked bal, which the Phantoms attends as the `Red Death' is an outstanding horror sequence and truly atmospheric. The grimaces of Chaney seem to look right through the other partygoers and his search for Christine is relentless. Immediately after this scene, the crew moves to the roof of the Opera building and Chaney takes place on top of the Apollo statue. A breathtaking piece of early cinema that stands the test of time like no other. The climax of Phantom of the Opera is an extended series of chasings and battues, resulting in the dramatic (and gruesome) death of our protagonist. Rupert Julian's classic silent has got everything! An actor capable of carrying the toughest role ever written, beautiful scenery, real-life drama, sentiment and romance. And last but not least an unbearable tension… Throughout the entire film, you're looking at it with your eyes wide open.
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chicagoblt6 December 2004
Turner Classic Movies owns a restored copy of this film, which I saw from beginning to end for the first time last night. Thanks Ted!

For an 80 year old film, I was honestly swept away by the strengths of this production. OK, once you get past some of the hammy acting, remembering that it was completely de reguer for the time, you get caught up in it.

It has a very steady editing pace, which carries you along in the story, and so there are few, if any, slow points. The plotting and narrative are clear, there are no ' what did he say/mean' moments. The characters are pretty well filled out (there are a few exceptions, most notable the character of the boyfriend/hero) and so the plot wraps around you easily and enjoyably. The production values are amazingly high in this film, the recreation of the Opera (the grand staircase, the auditorium and the stage) the underground (the Phantom's lair, the underground river, the chambers and sub-chambers) and the exteriors were all created in Hollywood full scale. Unlike now, when we would have gotten some truly terrible CGI trash, when that chandelier drops from ceiling…it's a real chandelier, it's a real ceiling and its really COOL!

Cant leave out the amazing secret that few if any talk about, but did you know that not only are certain scenes single color tinted, but there is an amazing 2 strip Technicolor sequence, the Masked Ball, that takes place on the grand staircase. Further, there is an stunning sequence that takes place on the roof of the Opera, the Phantom lurking on the parapet, his 'Red Death' costume from the ball billowing behind him in the wind while he stalks the heroine.

If you are expecting buckets of blood and Spiderman-like effects, this isn't the film for you. If you are looking for a fun film with romance, adventure and thrills in it, if you have an appreciation for classic film making, or just want a film you can watch with the kids, this one has a lot to offer.
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Music, Words and Personality Cannot Make Up for That Face.
tfrizzell30 April 2004
The titled character is a badly disfigured man (Lon Chaney) who stays in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House. He falls in love with the theater's newest leading lady (Mary Philbin) and hatches a plan to take her down to his tomb. Masked, able to play lovely music and say such lovely things, she finds herself strangely attracted to Chaney. However, she makes the mistake of unmasking him and that is when he shows his true deviant colors. "The Phantom of the Opera" is one of the finest pictures of the late silent era and Chaney was arguably the greatest performer of the period (of course Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin fans would not agree). His ability to literally transform himself into movie monsters is truly uncanny, especially considering the lack of technical resources in the 1920s. New Zealand director Rupert Julian (who took sole credit in spite of the fact that Chaney and fellow director Edward Sedgwick also did some of the work behind the camera) uses tone to stretch his audience to their outer-limits throughout. Spooky, dramatic, stressful and memorable, "The Phantom of the Opera" is one of those silent pictures that will suck you in and never let you go. 5 stars out of 5.
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Seeing this one with Mary was an unforgettable experience!
Greg Couture25 April 2003
My goodness...close to fifty years ago I saw this film in the company of its leading lady, Mary Philbin. She was a friend of an unforgettable lady our family had met when we moved from New England to southern California. Our mutual friend was constantly prodding Miss Philbin, who had become quite reclusive after retiring from the screen, to get out and enjoy life. (They took a trip to Europe one summer, for instance.) One evening she persuaded Mary, who was extremely reluctant, by the way, to accompany us to the silent movie theater on Fairfax Ave., not far from Hollywood Blvd. and the site of Grauman's Chinese Theater and other first-run movie palaces, to see a revival of "The Phantom of the Opera." That old theater, not in the least luxurious and quite small, was a virtual shrine for lovers of silent films. Management had obtained a print of this film in acceptable condition, though I don't recall that the Technicolor sequence had been preserved in that print and, on that evening anyway, there was no musical accompaniment.

Mary dreaded the experience of seeing one of her old films amid a mid-Fifties audience, which she feared would find the film a subject of comical curiosity rather than a piece of genuinely enthralling entertainment. We joined the rest of the audience that night in enjoying the experience of seeing the film, however, and Mary was relieved that she had consented to accompany us (though she insisted that we shield her from any possible recognition, not too easy to do, since she had hardly changed in appearance in the quarter-century since that classic's production.) I, for one, remember being amazed at the care and expense that had obviously been lavished on its production.

Not very long after that evening, we went to a neighborhood theater in Pacific Palisades, Calif., to see James Cagney in the 1957 Universal-International biographical film about Lon Chaney, Sr., "Man of a Thousand Faces," again with Mary Philbin in our company. The unmasking scene from "The Phantom of the Opera" was rather perfunctorily recreated, with an actress playing Mary who did not resemble her. As we exited the theater, Mary and our family friend, who had quite a few early Hollywood associations (She had once been married to Ernst Lubitsch, the legendary director, when they first came to Hollywood from their native Germany.), regaled me with reminiscences about Irving Thalberg (played in the film by a young Robert Evans), whom they had both known and for whom they had quite a high regard.

Mary remained a family friend over the years until her death more than thirty years later. She led a very quiet life, for many years occupying a house she had owned since the days of her stardom (only a few blocks north on Fairfax Ave. from that silent movie revival house!) I remember her with great fondness for her modesty and extraordinary sweetness.
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Vintage Silent Horror
heatmise8 June 2001
Lon Chaney, Sr. gives a legendary performance as well as making an everlasting horrifying spectacle of himself. The make-up and elaborate sets are truly to be held in awe, even by today's standards. The rare use of two-strip Technicolor brings dazzling effect to the incomparable masquerade ball scene. Sit back and enjoy the silent and definitive film version of a classic monster fable that sound, technology and time have yet to top. 8 Stars
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In many ways the best version of Phantom.
TxMike30 November 2005
My first exposure to the story, "Phantom of the Opera", was the current 2005 film version, featuring beautiful costumes, perfect filming, and on DVD a superb surround sound track. I like it, I own it, I watch it again from time to time.

But this 1925 silent version with Lon Chaney as Eric, the Phantom, is actually a much better film to tell the story. Sure, it is silent, so we have to interpret facial expressions and body language, plus read occasional subtitles. But during the climax when Christine is down in the catacombs and comes face to face with Eric the first time, and sees his disfigured face. And when Raol is in the dark, wet, complex tunnels looking for her, these are much more dangerous looking scenes than in the modern movie.

For all practical purposes the story is the same. Eric is the disfigured but insane genius who tries to force Christine to love him. As has been widely reported, Chaney did his own makeup and succeeded in making his character look almost skull-like. In all a fine older movie. Saw it on TCM channel.
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The darkness behind the scenes at the playhouse…
Michael DeZubiria12 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The 1925 Phantom of the Opera, widely regarded as the best film adaptation of the story ever, starts off with the explanation that the Paris Opera House rises nobly over torture chambers and hidden dungeons, which is a great way to start a story about a disfigured man living in the torture chambers and hidden dungeons under the Paris Opera House. It not only establishes the setting as a classy playhouse built on the ruins of past torture chambers and dungeons, but also provides a level of creepiness necessary in a movie in which Erik (the Phantom) is able to live down there, in vast recesses which have become unknown.

Lon Chaney delivers a stunning performance, one of the most famous in film history. Indeed, the scene where Christine pulls off the Phantom's mask is still scary 80 years after its release. People in 1925 must have been nearly frightened out of their seats. This film is indeed the Exorcist of the 1920s. The very simple story is presented with stunning effectiveness, especially since the now very recognizable music is not even in this version.

In the cellars under the Paris Opera House lives the Phantom, who demands of the new and understandably skeptical management that the lead role in the play be given to Christine Daaé, under penalty of devastating punishment. The new owners laughed off a warning that they might hear rumors of ghosts, so it's the fact that they similarly ignore the Phantom's warning is to be expected. In this version that Phantom takes the terrified Christine into his dungeon because he loves her, "so that which is good within my, aroused by your purity, might plead for your love." As is also stated in the film, man's hatred made him into the Phantom, and he needs her love to redeem him.

The Phantom is constantly making gestures with his hands that give the appearance that he is about to pull off his mask, which is one of the brilliant ways the film adds to the suspense of Christine pulling it off. There is an impressive psychological subtlety here, as the film makes a comment on mankind's need to see and touch, our inability to leave things unseen, even when we know that they are better off unseen. Everything must be touched, experience, and, in this case, corrupted, even to theirs and our own detriment. Christine is humanity.

The infamous chandelier is indeed one of the stars of the film and the story itself, as it is the Phantom's instrument of his most extensive murderous damage, but its effects are almost immediately forgotten. Even though the scene after it falls is the one where Raoul and Christine meet against the Phantom's instructions is the only one that really shows that they truly love each other, this takes place the night after presumably dozens of people were killed or injured in that very room. I would think that the Phantom would have been upset as much by the lack of remorse shown by the people that he intends to punish and frighten as he was at the reunion of Raoul and Christine.

The Secret Police officer is one character that has been removed for the 2004 version, which is too bad because he added a great element of possibility to the movie, as he is initially thought to be the Phantom in disguise but ultimately reveals himself to be an officer who has been studying the Phantom for months in his attempts to capture him. The character makes for a great chase sequence of sorts late in the film, in which he and Raoul attempt to capture him in his dungeon home. In the climactic scene Raoul and the officer are in some sort of an oven-room being baked by the Phantom, who demands Christine's love in order to save them (the 2004 version of this scene, again, is strikingly different), but they escape into a nearby room full of gunpowder. Nevermind the influence this must have had on National Treasure, the important thing is that this shows that the Phantom had some explosive plans. He is a character for whom we are meant to have limited sympathy.

Although Chaney's powerful performance is the biggest aspect of this film production, Christine is the star of the story in this movie. She doesn't love the Phantom, obviously, but needs him to bestow upon her the talent necessary for her to achieve the stardom the she so strongly desires. Once she sees his disfigured face, she immediately calls upon Raoul to save her from him. It is important that she seeks Raoul's help only after seeing the Phantom's face, calling into question the realness of her love for him. Both men love Christine, but she loves neither of them. Her desire for fame turns to a desire to be saved from a man of whom she is terribly frightened but who is in love with her, and her only savior is a man who will similarly expect a lifetime of love and devotion from her but with whom she is certainly not in love either. The tragedy is Christine's, not the Phantom's.

I was initially wondering about the point of having Christine turn a scorpion or a grasshopper to indicate her answer rather than simply saying yes or no, but it allows a great opportunity to have a deathly hazard befall the police officer and Raoul as a result of Christine's actions. The Phantom redeems himself by helping to pull them out the trapdoor, which finally brings sympathy to the fate that he ultimately suffers, which is similar to that suffered by Frankenstein's monster in James Whale's unfaithful 1931 adaptation, which was invented for that movie, as is this one. Nevertheless, the reputation that this film has as the best Phantom adaptation ever made are richly deserved. This is a milestone in film history.
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A great gothic presentation
bob the moo15 November 2003
Christine Daae is the understudy for Carlotta in the opera Faust at the grand opera house in Paris. She receives coaching from a mysterious man that she can only hear but not see in her dressing room. Meanwhile stories of a phantom go around the opera house and threatening notes are received that force Carlotta to call off sick, giving Christine her chance to shine, and shine she does. However when she meets the man, he is the phantom – horribly scarred and insane. He demands her love, but Christine plans to flee with her real lover – a plan that the phantom cannot allow.

I'm not sure it if makes any great difference, but the version I watched was a restored version of this film with a new score and some colour treatment on the film stock. The main thing that struck me about the film was the sheer grandeur and scale of the film. The story is simply told but doesn't lose the tragic elements even if they are silently told. The cast are to be praised for the job they do telling the story without words – it is a very different style of acting from today, but they do it well. Each actor has to exaggerate their expressions and movements but not do so to the point of being comical, they all do well. Philbin is excellent as the woman with an unwanted admirer and Chaney is a great phantom – tragic and hideous throughout.

The film benefits greatly from a superb series of sets, each large, gothic and foreboding. These wonderful sets are made even better by the cinematography which makes excellent use of shadow and light, the film has a great atmosphere to it and this is almost entirely created by the lighting and sets. The film has had a helping hand in the restored version, the phantom's appearance as the Red Death is colour treated to give him a blood red cape which stands out in scenes of full colour or, as on the roof, where his cape is the only colour. Even without this help the direction is great and the film feels rich in darkness to suit the material.

The score is really great (in the version I saw) and is well designed to help the mood onscreen and compliment the emotions of the characters at any given moment. I'm a protégé of action movies and multiplexes and am supposed to need things exploding to hold my attention, however this film hooked me throughout with it's tragic tale and lavish design.
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Nice movie, with superb scenery
b-a-h TNT-610 June 2001
Analyzing an old silent movie using nowadays standards wouldn't be fair: the medium is too different, the acting performances require a different perspective, and when you watch it you find yourself enjoying the movie much like you would do with a painting. This is especially true for the classic The Phantom of the Opera, a movie that gets you lost in the images more than in the story itself.

Lon Chaney gives a good portrayal of the phantom, yet somewhat different from what was portrayed in later efforts with the same subject: his character comes off more like a cold blooded than a somewhat likeable character. What shines in this movie is the visual impact: the costumes are really nice, and the gothic scenery is perfect. The best scene of them all has to be the Red Death one, appropriately shot in a painting-like color, definitely one of the most beautiful images offered by old cinema.

Sure, the movie is hardly gonna provide any scares by now, and the story has been told many times. However, this is a primary example of how old cinema can still offer a very worthy experience.
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Lonely In His Subterranean World
Lechuguilla11 January 2012
As silent films go, this one is pretty good. Though it gets off to a slow start, the plot eventually picks up, and is easy to follow. Living alone, and presumably lonely, in a subterranean maze beneath the Paris opera house, the phantom, known as Eric (Lon Chaney), sets his desires on Christine (Mary Philbin), a singer. Though there are secondary characters, the story centers on Eric and his actions to claim Christine for himself.

Is Eric for real? We're given no back-story. He has no apparent means of survival. All we know about him is that he wears a mask, desperately wants Christine, and has enormous technical skills that allow him, beyond all reason, to furnish his lair with a large organ, to set traps for his enemies, and to control his underground world via remote control. I don't think we, as viewers, are supposed to ask too many questions about how all this works.

Nevertheless, a big part of why this film appeals to me is its hidden, subterranean physical spaces, a kind of labyrinthine cave, so close to the opera house yet socially far removed, the perfect abode for a disfigured human reject.

With his grotesque makeup and expressive body language, Lon Chaney gives a fine performance, actually much better than the other performers who overact in a melodramatic way. I thought the film's ending could have been a little more imaginative.

The introduction of crude colors in a few scenes conveys a welcome Gothic tone to the film. Several scenes, like Eric's unmasking and the Masked Ball, are quite famous. Even if a viewer doesn't normally care for silent films, he or she needs to see "The Phantom of the Opera". This 1925 film is one of the most well respected of the silent era.
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Lon Chaney is the Man to Watch
Vornoff-322 April 2011
Having read the original book (in translation, admittedly), I feel safe in saying that it is not great literature. But, as has happened many times, a mediocre piece of literature has allowed artists to tap into a kind of archetype and rise above the material to create something more. This version probably sticks closer to the source material than any other, although my personal favorite scene is derived from Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." The creeping through the catacombs, the various torture and strangulation devices, the love scene atop the Paris Opera House, all of these I recall from the book (the book is mostly action, since it has so little else to offer). And of course, the chandelier crashing into the audience, which no version has dared to skip. But, what really brought in the audiences was Lon Chaney, Sr.'s exquisitely horrible makeup, and it is this, along with his tortured performance, that make it really worthwhile today. If you have any ability to watch silent films whatsoever, this is the one to see.
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A classic of silent horror.
BA_Harrison1 April 2011
Those unaccustomed to the vagaries of cinema during its infancy may struggle with The Phantom Of The Opera's overtly theatrical acting, which in this case seems to be even more exaggerated than your average silent movie (I know I struggled at times with the actors' extravagant body movements and OTT facial expressions, some of which border on the ridiculous); however, no matter how cringe-worthy these exaggerated melodramatic performances might be at times, Rupert Julian's 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera is still a worthwhile effort thanks to loads of breathtaking visuals, a memorable performance from Lon Chaney as 'phantom' Erik, and in the version I saw (the 1929 re-issue, I believe), a rousing orchestral score that perfectly complements the imagery.

Blessed with excellent production values, superb set design and bold lighting, Phantom is a delight to behold, a visual feast that compensates for its cast's often laughable histrionics with several truly iconic moments: beautiful opera star Christina snatches the mask from ghoulish 'phantom' Erik as he plays the organ, revealing his hideously disfigured face; perched high atop a Gothic statue, cape billowing wildly in the wind, Erik watches in silent rage as Christina plans to run away with her lover; his face hidden by a grinning skull mask, Erik pursues Christina through the crowds at a masquerade ball; like Charon ferrying the dead across the river Styx, 'the phantom' guides his boat silently across an underground lake, Christina the unwilling passenger.
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There have been many Phantoms but only one original
ozthegreatat4233028 March 2007
I have seen a number of versions of this story over the years, but my favorite is a re-release from just a few years ago of the Original with an all new Soundscore by Rick Wakeman (Keboardist and Organist from the rock group "YES")Introduced by Christopher Lee actually in the sub basement of the Paris Opera House. The Paris Opera House being only two blocks from the river Siene did actually have five sub floors and an underground lake that was below the river level. Lon Chaney's extraordinary makeup for the character Erik was never to be improved through all of the other incarnations. And while Mary Philbin's performance was excellent Chaney's performance absolutely shined as the quintessential tortured soul-cum-villain of Gaston Leroux's novel. No complete movie collection should be without this film.
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The Phantom of the Opera: A Silent Phenomenon
Kinga8 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Phantom of the Opera was filmed in 1925 and is based on the Gaston Leroux novel of the same title. The film has been around for close to 90 years and is still widely known and watched today. It has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. It compiled wonderful actors and directors together to form an original masterpiece.

The director uses a feeling of suspense and anxiety throughout the entire movie when he disguises certain actions and faces to keep the audience interested. For example, a man at Box Five is only portrayed as a shadowy figure. Another light factor occurs when the Phantom is about to strike and the lights flicker on and off at the Opera House. This gives the viewer a foreshadowing of what's about to happen and also, it gives a bit of a taste of the Phantom's character and how he likes to make an entrance.

Consequently, the main characters played by Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin were well portrayed by the use of Gothic costumes and elaborate facial expressions. For instance, the Phantom hypnotizes Christine by using his enormous eyes when she gets closer to his home. This scene stresses the fact that the Phantom is not an ordinary individual and possesses dangerous talents, which Lon Chaney has no problem in emphasizing. Mary Philbin's shining moment occurs when Christine against all odds, chooses to meet with Raoul, her lover. This actually ends up endangering both of their lives. The actress freely goes back and forth between a frightened and a content facial expression throughout the film, which proves to add to Christine's personality.

Furthermore, Phantom of the Opera contains various Gothic elements, making it into a romantic horror. Even a small incidence of a black cat walking across the stage, portrays a sense of superstition and a supernatural presence. The red cape that the Phantom is wearing when he spies on Christine and Raoul is a reference to death, which can be thought of as a type of unreality as well.

Overall, I recommend this movie to anyone who is looking for an escape from their ordinary life into a Gothic romance. The film itself can be lengthy at times when no real action is occurring, but in a way, it adds to the suspense that the director is trying to develop. Even its score can be thought of as an artistic addition because it adds to the mood of the entire plot. I can honestly admit that what I expected from the film by just looking at the year that it was done, was nothing what it turned out to be. I enjoyed Phantom of the Opera as much as I would have enjoyed a movie with actual sound in it.
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My man Chaney in one of his classics
Polaris_DiB31 October 2005
The Phantom of the Opera is, simply put, a great story about evil and unrequited love. Such is precisely the stuff Lon Chaney seems to adore, always finding himself in roles of an ambiguous nature.

Whereas this film isn't quite as multifaceted as, say, the 2004 Phantom of the Opera, it still holds its mystery at a smaller, more harrowing level. Gone are the sympathies for the Opera Ghost, yet still his pain remains. All of it is contained in just one shot, the moment when Christine takes off his mask and both he and she recoil in the horror of the unveiling. It's enough to make the audience recoil too... even modern day ones used to make-up and even more. It's a testament to the power of the moment over the power of the image, and it sticks with you as you continue to watch the rest of the film.

Interesting to look at is it's similarities, rather than its differences, to our more contemporary work. For instance, the Bal Masque (Masquerade now) is in color... and it's obviously the inspiration for nearly all the mise-en-scene on the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage show and the Schumacher film.

The writing is very good, but since it's more about a style of horror, it contains much less sympathy or even character development. Christine Daae is, in fact, rather something of a wench. Nobody cares about Raoul. The Phantom is much more evil and much less tender. Still good, but not preferential to how the story has evolved now.

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Now, you shall see the evil spirit that makes my evil face...
simeon_flake2 June 2005
This movie is no doubt one of the all-time grand productions of the silent era--not to mention one of the more memorable, due in very large part to the talents of Lon Chaney Sr., who created one of the most memorable visages in all of filmdom as Erik the Phantom. But is "The Phantom of the Opera" a truly great movie? I would say parts of it are great, or at least memorable.

We all know about the "unmasking scene", which still packs a jolt 80 years after it was filmed. Erik's indignation as he points his accusing finger at the woman who violated his privacy, so to speak, turns to a mad sort of glee as he forces her to look upon his face ("feast your eyes--glut your soul on my accursed ugliness") and seemingly just as quickly he turns away from her, knowing now that Christine has seen what's under the mask, his love will go on unrequited. That Chaney can win sympathy for such a hideous man is a testament to his talent.

On the flipside, there's the sequence with the chandelier, that seems to take forever building up to & when it finally does come crashing down, it's all over too quickly. As the picture moves towards its climax, you may start to wonder how indeed Erik managed to stay hidden for so many years. Before the movie is over, it seems like all of Paris is beating down his door trying to get at him. Did Erik start marking his trapdoors with X's?

Overall, I might be inclined to call this more of a great spectacle than film--a "spectacle" however that can still entertain and provide more than a few indelible memories.
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In The Grand Manner
gftbiloxi1 May 2005
Lon Chaney's 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has always been more of a popular than a critical favorite, and this may account for the fact that it has never preserved as well as one might hope. Over the years dozens of companies have released versions of the film on VHS and DVD to the home market, and some have been quite bizarre. I have encountered more than one video tape release without any score at all; a visually impressive 1993 video release by Video Treasures had an incredibly unsuitable pseudo-rock score by Rick Wakeman of the band Yes; the usually expert Kino actually includes a number of superfluous scenes added in 1929 for a semi-sound re-release. So any purchase of this film is a very hit or miss affair, and I recommend that you borrow, rent, and seek the advice of friends before you actually purchase any particular copy.

That said, the silent version of THE PHANTOM is very much in the "grand manner"--which is precisely why audiences love it and critics tend to dismiss it. Everything about the film is larger than life just a bit campy. The sets are enormous and frequently bizarre, the costumes are outrageous, and the entire cast plays in a very grand manner: Chaney is very, very broad here, and his make-up is justly famous; Mary Philbin totters improbably with horror in virtually every scene; Arthur Edmund Carewe has some of the weirdest eye make-up you'll ever see on screen. Chandeliers crash, ballerinas twirl in terror, mirrors open, lakes drain, audiences panic, horses run away with carriages, peasants riot in the street, and there's even (in a good print) a very early color photography sequence.

It is all a TREMENDOUS amount of fun, and while I wouldn't class it with the truly great Chaney films (such as X--THE UNKNOWN, to name but one) it is still the best film version of the famous story to date. Of all the films made of the Leroux novel, this one is easily the best--and, interestingly, is really closer to the novel's spirit than later adaptations, which tend to romanticize the Phantom. A must have for any fan of silent film, and well worth the hunt for a really good print.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Great Visuals & A Terrific Movie
Snow Leopard28 November 2001
After all these years, the Lon Chaney silent version of "The Phantom of the Opera" is still a terrific movie that adds great visuals and details to the classic story. Without any of the advantages of later eras, it creates a vivid and remarkable world for the mysterious 'phantom' to live in. Chaney himself makes a great phantom, giving a memorable interpretation to his character's appearance and personality.

The settings perfectly match both the phantom and the story, and many of the distinctive sights remain with you after it is over. A lot of creativity and attention to detail must have gone into them, and scenes such as the Technicolor Bal Masque sequence had to have taken a lot of extra work, but it certainly pays off. Several of the scenes are particularly memorable in combining vivid settings with suspenseful events.

The many later versions of the story may have the advantage of modern techniques and resources, but no version shows more of an appreciation for the story's potential than the Chaney version does. Whether you like silent movies or horror movies or both, make sure to see this one.
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