The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
the phantom of the opera | rupert julian | gaston leroux | based on | novel | united states | silent film | arthur edmund carewe | gibson gowland | john st. polis | snitz edwards | mary fabian | virginia pearson | the phantom | lon chaney | mary philbin | norman kerry
Film: The Phantom of the Opera
Director: Rupert Julian
Writer: Gaston Leroux
Starring: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry
This was actually the second version of this story I saw. My sister showed me the one with Gerard Butler and I decided to check out its roots. I have a fascination with silent films so it was one that I sought out. This actually is probably my first time with seeing a Lon Chaney film as well. The synopsis is a mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer.
This kicks off informing us that the Paris Opera House is above a dungeon with catacombs where torture took place. It then gives us an idea of the shows that they put on here. Upstairs, two men are in the process of purchasing it and as they are concluding the transaction they reveal about the guest who sits in box 5. No one has seen his face and he’s called The Phantom. They laugh it off that they are doing this to scare them, but they check for themselves. There is indeed someone mysterious sitting there. They get spooked and leave, but then come back to see he’s gone.
After a performance, some of the dancers go backstage and see a mysterious figure. They can’t agree with how he looks and they seek out Simon Buquet (Gibson Gowland) who has seen The Phantom. He tells them what he looks like.
The opera being shown is Faust. Their lead singer is Carlotta (Mary Fabian). The Phantom has fallen in love with a young singer, Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and he wants her to be the lead. She is in love with Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry). His brother is with him the night of the performance Comte Philip de Chagny (John St. Polis). To interject, The Phantom sends a letter to Carlotta that she will not sing. Her mother, Virginia Pearson, comes to tell them that she will not be bullied. The Phantom warned bad things will happen if his wishes are not met.
Christine does sing that first night and she is a smashing success. Carlotta takes back over the next night, despite letters sent by The Phantom and that angers him. He does something that scares the whole theater, causing everyone to flee. In the panic, he takes Christine to his lair. She at first is intrigued by him, until she realizes he is just a man. He loves her and wants her to sing, but he has one rule, to not take off his mask. Raoul and Christine’s love does anger him so she has to make a choice. The problem is to The Phantom, there is only one decision.
Before giving this a rewatch, I should say that I’ve watched probably close to 10 different variations of this story. I was talking to my roommate before this last viewing and I had to say that it is really interesting how old the novel this is based on and how it still can be adapted. We both remember when the play came out in the early 90’s and I’ve even see that on stage while in London. It just has a tale that is still relevant with that fear of the unknown.
What is really interesting watching this with 2019 eyes is the toxic masculinity of The Phantom. At first everyone thinks he is a ghost. In reality he is a man who is in exile that knows all of the hidden passageways inside this old building so it seems like he’s a ghost. The Phantom is a tragic character. In this version, he looks like a monster. He has been shunned his whole life due to how he looks and it has made him bitter. The issue I have is that he believes that he ‘made’ Christine into the singer that she is and he wants to possess her, even though she loves Raoul. This is crazy that a movie that is close hundred years old has a social commentary that is relevant.
Something I’ve touched on in other reviews of versions of this film, I love the play they are doing Faust. It is kind of a meta look at the story that is being told in this actual movie. I’m sure you know what Faust is about if you’re reading this, but I love the idea of them doing a play about a man who sells his soul to the ‘devil’ in order to gain immortality. That is kind of what Christine does in taking the aid of The Phantom, but she isn’t ready for the consequences. It is really genius if you think about it.
Being this is an early film; I can’t judge its technical merits too hard. The version that I saw ran about 105 minutes or so and I do think that is too long. We are given a lot of shots of just things going on in the play on stage and I don’t think we necessarily need it. There wasn’t a ton of story driven films yet, so I think they were just filming everything they thought they need and it is kind of a documentary style feel as that was popular back then. I just think it makes this run a bit longer than it needs to be. The story itself though is interesting and I do like how it ends.
As for the acting, it is over the top, but it has to be. These are probably a lot of stage actors who transitioned to film. Chaney as the The Phantom is great. I’ll get to his look later, but he is just a legend of early cinema. Philbin is quite attractive for the era as well. Everyone else seemed to fit their roles for what was needed in a movie like this.
The effects are something else that is fine for the time period. It is black and white so that hides a lot. They didn’t really have a lot of the techniques that we do now or the technology even to make it happen. I do know that Chaney did his own make-up back then and I love the weird look he gave The Phantom. I had seen that before ever seeing the movie and I dug it. I had no issues there and I do think the movie is shot very well, relatively speaking.
The last thing to go over would be the soundtrack here. I want to know what the actual music that was playing during its original run as the music for the version I watched was fine, but it also didn’t add a lot to it either.
Now with that said, this being the first iteration of this story it is pretty solid. I think there is some social commentary here that is quite relevant today. There is also a somewhat meta feel to it with the play they are performing too. It does run a bit long, but I wouldn’t say that it ever gets really boring. It does linger on some things for a bit long though. A lot of that is probably just early filmmaking though. The look of The Phantom I really like and I’m pretty sure Chaney did that on his own. I’d really like to know if the soundtrack we had is the intended score and if it isn’t, I would like to hear that with the movie, but what we get definitely does work. This isn’t my favorite silent film, but it definitely is one that I find enjoyable. I’d say this film is silently above average overall.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10