Sunday, January 16, 2005

Movie Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

United States, 1925
Running Time: 1:47
Rated: No Rating (adult situations, violence)
Cast: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis, Snitz Edwards, Mary Fabian, Virginia Pearson

Director: Rupert Julian
Screenplay: Walter Anthony, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux
Silent with Musical Accompaniment

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Amid Metropolis and Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera is a quintessential example of a black-and-white, silent horror film. It wisely uses darkness in its favor, and its scares and suspense are just as startling as the standard blood-bathing butchery of today. Hands down, this version of The Phantom of the Opera is the form of this much-interpreted film to watch—partly because Lon Chaney himself makes it full of prominent scenes and forbidding shivers.

In the dank catacombs of the Paris Opera House, he lurks. With a face so hideous, a mask he wears. And, with a quaint mysteriousness, a cape he trails. He is: the Phantom of the Opera. Feared by all who hear his name, the Phantom (Lon Chaney), remains an ugly mystery who dwells five cellars beneath the ground floor. However, in all of his unsightly malice, the loathsome beast acquires honest emotions for one of the Opera’s chorus girls named Christine Daae (Mary Philbin).

In an effort to place Christine in the spotlight, he threatens the life of Carlotta (Mary Fabian), the current lead. When Carlotta refuses to succumb to the Phantom’s warnings, tragedy strikes; the lights flicker and the house chandelier plummets onto the front row of the audience—instilling more fear in everyone and confirming that the malevolent Phantom will stop at nothing to get his way.

In his lust, the Phantom, kidnaps Christine and brings her to his living-quarters—deep underneath the voices of the Opera House. Christine begins to favor the Phantom and his unfamiliarity over Vicomte Raoul de Chagney (Norman Kerry) – Christine’s past and present love – that is, until she unmasks the Phantom to find a face dreadful and deformed.

After having his face revealed to his love, the Phantom allows Mademoiselle Christine to return to the Opera House’s upper portions—under one condition: that she promises to never reunite with Raoul. Inevitably, Christine’s love for Raoul endures and the Phantom becomes even more enraged.

Much like the Beast from The Beauty and the Beast, the Phantom is human at heart and desires happiness—only the Phantom, unlike the Beast, is willing to kill to acquire love. His commitment runs deep. He is aroused by Christine’s simplicity and purity and pleads for her love—for he knows that it is only Christine’s love that shall redeem him.

The film’s only downfall is that it short-changes the audience with an abrupt ending. Most fans would welcome the opportunity to view the original ending that depicts the Phantom dying happily with a kiss from Christine, but that footage is lost forever. Instead, the classic ends in a climactic chase sequence to please the action-hounds in us all.

Even though The Phantom of the Opera is now more commonly known as one of the longest running shows on Broadway, in its roots, it is a horror story for the ages. As a result, whether it’s the 1929 restored version of the same film with vibrant splashes of color you come across, or the original 1925 black-and-white you locate, be sure to skip over all of the other jaded adaptations of the same title (including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s); stick with this model of a monster movie, and reap the benefits. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005