Now, it’s time to delve into another classic film from my Mill Creek collections. This time, though, I’m going for a more accurate use of the word classic. One of the good things about these sets is, buried amongst all the low-budget crap are a few legitimate gems that are only in these things due to the fact that they are crappy transfers or less popular cuts of a film (in the case of this film, it is due to the studio failing to renew the rights, thus allowing it to pass into the public domain). But an awful transfer does nothing to lessen a classic, which is what this film has been described as. I don’t know, as this will be the first time I will have seen the film in its entirety. This time, I’m travelling all the way back to 1925, to visit with Mr Lon Chaney and his version of The Phantom Of The Opera.
The plot is one of those things that everyone just knows, since it has become a part of the pop culture mainstream. But, if you are one of the few who don’t know it, in a nutshell, an opera singer, Christine is bought up in the Paris Opera House after the death of her father. The Phantom (a disfigured musical genius) is “haunting” the Paris Opera House. He falls in love with Christine and kidnaps her after finding out that she loves another.
First coming to light as a serialised story in the early 1900’s, it was actually nothing remotely resembling a success until this film, and has remained popular ever since. In addition to multiple film versions of the story, it has also been the inspiration for many other stories including Phantom Of The Paradise, the highly successful stage adaptation and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Maskerade.
Right off the bat, yes – it is the silent version, so the soundtrack consists of nothing but classical pieces, which pleases me no end. And because it is the silent version, everyone is (as was the style at the time) basically miming, which is an art form lost to all but British pantomime.
Things I liked about this movie:
The music: As I said, given that the film is set in The Paris Opera House, the music would have to be great. And it was, using all manner of classical pieces.
Lon Chaney: This is his signature role for a reason. Yes, he is known for many other roles, but he brought it all to the table for his role as The Phantom. Of course, a “villain” would be nothing without a damsel in distress, so...
Mary Philbin: She conveyed such innocence and had such an expressive face, that it was a joy to watch her.
All the facial hair: Even though this was made in 1925, it’s still a tale that was written to have taken place 50 years prior. And facial hair was the rage in Paris in those days, so this film is a real treat for fans of the comedy moustache.
Awesome use of shadow play: One thing that a lot of films made at the time had, especially those with a German Expressionist bent, was really good use of shadows. Not just the use of shadow and light, but almost at times using the shadows of various characters to convey things that couldn’t be shown due to whatever reason.
The Bal Masque scene: In a black and white, silent movie, having the Bal Masque scene filmed in technicolor was a beautiful little aside. Granted, it was only a two colour process, but still, it helped the scene really pop.
Its success: Due to the success of the film, Universal Studios was inspired to make all manner of movies based on literary monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and more. So, we have The Phantom of The Opera to thank for all those classic monster movies. Sure, there were a few monster movies made before this, but we have Chaney to thank for allowing us to have people like Lugosi, Karloff, and even Chaney’s own son, Lon Jr.
Things I didn’t like about the movie:
Honestly, not much at all. And this is coming from someone who will freely admit that The Phantom Of The Opera is nowhere near one of my favourites, in any of its forms. It did drag a little in parts, but I’m sure that that comes down to my own personal taste as it pertains to the story – but, as I said, the score was awesome, so I had that to tide me over.
Overall, I can see why the film stands as a classic, if not for the story, then for the performances (primarily Chaney and Philbin), and the influence it had on the creation of the Golden Age of Monster Movies.