Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera (1925/1929)

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature on TCM is The Phantom of the Opera, a movie I actually haven't done a full-length post on before. It comes up overnight at 12:45 AM.

Lon Chaney Sr. plays the phantom, but more on that in a bit. The opera here is the Paris Opera, where there are rumors of a ghost. Young Christine (Mary Philbin), however, doesn't seem to care. She's an understudy trying to make her way up the ladder of success, with the help of a masked singing tutor. She's also got a boyfriend in Raoul (Norman Kerry). Eventually, Christine does become a success, and wants to learn more aboutg her tutor. So she follows him, discovering that he goes to the depths beneath the opera house, eventually following him to his lair several stories underground. It's at this point that she removes the mask and discovers he's horribly disfigured! Her tutor is the phantom!

Now, the Phantom doesn't want his secret revealed for obvious reasons, but he makes a deal with Christine: he'll release her if she vows never to see Raoul again. Stupid move on both their parts. He should know that Christine is going to want to see Raoul, and Christine should probably have figured that based on the Phantom's insane lodgings, she needs to be more careful than she's going to be. She meets Raoul again (naturally) at the Masked Ball and plans to run away with him -- but only after one more performance. That's the stupid move. The Phantom has overheard them, and needless to say he's pissed. So he kidnaps Christine in the middle of the performance!

I don't think a brief synopsis like the above can really do a movie like The Phantom of the Opera justice. The story is well done, especially Chaney's acting, since he was good at all these horror types. The cinematography is excellent. Some of the scenes were tinted, as was not uncommon during the silent era. Also, the Masked Ball sequence was done in two-strip Technicolor, which gives it a slightly eerie feel since the film stock always looks different to me from the standard black-and-white film used in movies of the day and because the colors aren't particularly accurate.

There have also been various prints of this movie out there. Apparently there was more than one cut done before the movie went into wide release at the end of 1925. But then talkies came about, and some scenes were re-shot to turn the film into a partial talkie; it's with these new scenes that TCM has generally shown the movie -- that's probably the print most commonly available, and the version I've seen. There are also a lot of different scores, since many silent movies didn't have specific music associated with them. That probably shouldn't be the case with The Phantom of the Opera since there is supposed to be opera music at the heart of the film, but no, there are various scores out there. But whatever version you see, it's a film that's well worth watching for the story, and because it's surprisingly lovely to look at.

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