The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★½

Raoul has a much creepier smile than any feature on The Phantom. The moment he flashes that thing, my sensors tell me something very bad is about to happen. He might think it's charming, that he has a Stockholm Syndrome smile which I believe he uses just as often to put people off. We all know there is an internationally recognized facial expression for "you'd better get away from me." He knows it too. And he chooses to use it on people who've been recently abducted.

Also: what's up with the ballerinas? They were twirling in terror. I saw it. You saw it. You can't deny it. Not all of them. More like 3 or 4. But they twirled when someone said they knew where The Phantom's hiding place was or when they shouted, "Look! It's his shadow!" Imagine what they would have done had they happened upon one of The Strangler's hanging victims. They would have fainted. A whole cavernous cellar room full of fainting ballerinas. Like a line of dominoes.

So: there are 2 versions of this on the Milestone / Image Entertainment DVD set that I own. I'd only ever seen the 94-minute 1929 reissue with different dialogue title screens and "easier to read" inserts re-writing all Christine and The Phantom's notes warning various characters. (Did Carlotta write one too at some point?) Today I decided to watch the 1925 107-minute version, which has no surviving original music arrangement. The 1929 version does and it also includes 1920's sound effects and a few ADR snippets, which for whatever reason play over dialogue screens... Somewhat defeating the purpose. The music on the 1925 version is extremely cheesy most of the time but I think I can safely say the 107-minute, all B&W version (the 1929 version color-tints the B&W frames and has a much sharper picture) is a better film experience. Despite the amount of times the music made me want to roll my eyes; I had the audio turned down much lower than I usually do on this viewing.

As for the film, since there are so many adaptations of the original story, I understand that some versions have The Phantom's love for Christine being more tragic and his monstrous-ness more of a symptom of his condition / deformity. That there's a decided humanity underneath it and he struggles between being human and being a monster. This incarnation clearly chooses the monster. Which I think makes for a less interesting story but pays off the menacing look of the opera house's very cool and atmospheric cellar. Which is vast and has that black water lake and everything. At 107 minutes, you know this film stretches out every monstrous aspect of the Phantom's character and after a short time, the film runs out of payoff for that. Frankenstein, for example, made better use of the torch-wielding lynch mob of locals because he was a genuine tragic figure. There's some campy stuff with a control panel of arthropods that bring about different deaths for anyone trapped in the Phantom's torture chamber. All of the features of the Phantom's stomping ground (it truly defines his character here more than the romance) which should have greater impact - his amazing heat lamps of doom (how he got that one set up I'd like to know) - are just tacked on at a moment's notice.

For a monster movie, it starts strong and doesn't exactly hold past the 70-minute mark.

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