The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★

1929 silent re-release cut

The Phantom of the Opera is a fairly legendary silent film starring makeup maestro Lon Chaney. It's a bit of a precursor to the Universal Monsters series of horror films that would really kick off with Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. The film is based on a a 1910 novel which in turn inspired the musical and countless other screen adaptations.

The movie centers on Christine Daaé, an understudy in the Parisian Opera House. This opera house is haunted by a well-known phantom, who promises to make Christine a star. Through chaos and manipulation, the phantom, Erik, lures Christine to his underground lair.

What makes this memorable? Lon Chaney gives a larger than life performance as Erik, and he looks phenomenal. When he is unmasked for the first time, I screamed! I can't even imagine what audiences thought of that in 1925. Sometimes the film seems to purposely focus out of Erik's face however, which I don't understand. His grotesqueness is the highlight of the movie.

The phantom looks fantastic in color as well. The film features around 10 minutes of color footage in Technicolor Process 2. Erik, in his Red Death costume, howling on top of the opera house will be an image that stays with me. The rest of the print that I saw was tinted, which usually looked alright. A lot of the scenes taking place underground were not complemented by the purple tint. It pains me to say that, for purple is my favorite color, but I often found those scenes to be lacking in image quality that a more neutral color could've helped with.

The story itself is just okay. I don't much care for the supporting cast at all. A couple people are pure phantom fodder, barely featuring in one early scene just so Erik can indiscriminately kill them in the final act. Raoul and Inspector Ledoux are alright, but by the end it was silly all the traps they escaped. At that point Erik seemed less like a tragic monster and more like a maniacal James Bond villain, and I certainly preferred him more as the former. Also, there's one short scene where a "messenger from the shadows" tells the heroes to turn back; who the hell was that? The new managers are almost totally absent from the latter half of the film after playing a sizable role early on. I know the version I'm watching is about 10+ minutes shorter than the original, so perhaps some character development was excised there.

The sets are cool, and the costumes are great. The Carl Davis score on this version is lovely. There's a handful of awesome, iconic shots here. At other times, the camera is a bit too static and stage-like. In conclusion, this is a pretty standard film with a great monster, one of the first of it's kind. I would certainly seek out more Lon Chaney films in the future. If you can appreciate silent pictures, this is worth a watch.

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