Phantom of the Opera (1925)

“I am human like other men ~ ~ I will not be cheated of my happiness!

A lonely phantom, Chaney, haunts a French opera house and takes an interest to a new singer, Christine (Philbin), in the Faust cast. He mentors her from the shadows and plots to separate her from her lover Raoul (Kerry). The phantom is clearly demonized by the Opera house staff and conditioned for hate by years of ridicule. Will the phantom be able to win the heart of Christine or will he live up to the myth that has become his reality? The Phantom of the Opera‘s romance focused themes, specifically tied to the “monster”, adds a dimension beyond other contemporary horror films.

Gaston Leroux’s 1910 Novel, “Phantom of the Opera”, does a great job of blending horror themes with those of gothic romance. By bringing this to the screen, director Rupert Julian and star Lon Chaney brought a different style horror to life on the silver screen. Most of the horror films I have seen around this time, i.e. Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Student of Prague, Nosferatu, have elements of romance, however, the romance is between two lead characters and the “monster” is after one, or both, for reasons unrelated to that romance. Here, the phantom is deliberately seeking romance and thus interjecting himself into the relationship of Catherine and Raoul in order to gain romance himself. His goal is not to kill in order to satisfy a prophecy, or for vengeance, or to extract life blood.

There is also a solid mystery plot throughout Phantom of the Opera. My imagination of what could happen made the story more mysterious towards the middle of the film. I thought that perhaps the Erik, the phantom, was more misunderstood than a real threat, without knowing the story fully before hand of course. The way that Erik’s voice is characterized as “angelic”, his reveal that people have treated him poorly due to his looks, and the fact that he has lived in solitude for so long, allowed me to expect a redeeming nature from him. A way for him to take the high ground, even if the opera staff and patrons would not.

The Phantom, Lon Chaney, watches Catherine and Raoul from a statue above.

Of course, that is not how the story plays out. Erik lets his jealousy run rampant and he murders staff, kidnaps Catherine (multiple times), traps Raoul in what appears to be a torture chamber, etc… The idea that he could have gone a different way made the story more entertaining. This could also have been heightened by the great performance by The man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney. In the end though, the mob captures him and beats him to death before dumping him in the river.

Phantom of the Opera has a darker, more grim, atmosphere than some of the other contemporary horror films I have seen. For example, when a body is found hanging in the opera or when the phantom drowns Raoul’s brother. These scenes are not particularly graphic or violent, especially when measured by today’s standards. However, it is noticeable when compared to films of the time.

Florine Papillon, played by Snitz Edwards, finds his brother hanging in the opera.

When I got to the mirrored torture room, I immediately thought that there would be a sequence similar to tropes seen in films to come, i.e. The Lady from Shanghai, Enter the Dragon, The Circus, or Conan the Barbarian, to name a few. Although, the mirrors ended up playing a much smaller role and instead just added to the lore of the Opera house’s history and to highlight the intentions of Erik.

Lon Chaney is known for his ability to transform his face into the roles and this is no exception. I have only seen a couple other Chaney films, The Unknown and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I will need to watch a few more to really see the “one thousand faces”.

The moment that the phantom is revealed for the first time.

The shot where his face is revealed for the first time is framed really well. The viewer is able to get a really good look at the noseless phantom.

There are two other minor interesting aspects of this that I wanted to mention. One, this is yet another film with Snitz Edwards. I can’t seem to watch an iconic film without seeing his face in the background. The other recent films I saw were, The Thief of Bagdad and Seven Chances. The second, is the music. It was nice to watch one of these old films and have the music be a cohesive, or at least a contributing, part to the story. It is typically the generic orchestral music, or some retroactive ambient music added decades later.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Directed by: Rupert Julian

Cinematography: Milton Bridenbecker, Virgil Miller, & Charles Van Enger

Based on the novel “Phantom of the Opera” by: Gaston Leroux

Edited by: Edward Curtiss, Maurice Pivar, & Gilmore Walker

Music by: Gaylord Carter (version I watched below)

Starring: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, & Snitz Edwards

Runtime: 1h 19m

Genre: Horror, Gothic, Romance

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

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