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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.67%
Average: 5.56%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.78%

2 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Phantom of the Opera, The (1925)
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by Jay Seaver

"Well and truly deserves its reputation as a classic."
5 stars

SCREENED WITH LIVE ACCOMPANIMENT BY THE ALLOY ORCHESTRA: "The Phantom of the Opera" impressed me. That's not particularly hard to do, I admit - I like movies a great deal and tend to be generous in my appraisal if I like any specific feature. What struck me upon watching "Phantom", though, was that even though the film is eighty years old, I had of course seen stills of the title character, and the promotion for this restored print and live accompaniment boasted of what was to come, I still found reasons to sit up straight in my seat and make some noise in shock or delight when called for.

The story, of course, is familiar from multiple productions - Chirstine (Mary Philbin), a young opera singer, is tutored by Erik (Lon Chaney), a master who hides out of sight, the Paris Opera House's legendary phantom. The adoring Erik sabotages Christine's rival to win her a lead role, and eventually abducts his protegé into his realm of catacombs when it appears the surface world doesn't appreciate her beauty and talent, leading her more conventional beau Roaul (Norman Kerry) to give chase.

Of course, the first shocker is the makeup Lon Chaney designed and wore as the Phantom, a painful mask that distorts his face to resemble a bare skull. The basic design has been aped a great deal in the decades since, but seldom as well; the pulled-back nose and lips must have hurt like hell. Such a fine piece of work deserves a grand unveiling, and we're given that, as the character who had stayed in shadows and wore a mask has that disguise removed, with the lighting getting turned up just enough to make the image leap out at the audience. It's a great jump moment made no less exciting by the audience being able to see it a mile away.

Just as impressive is the film's use of color. Although primarily filmed in black and white, it uses every technique available in its day to get color on screen and uses it well. The print is tinted in many scenes, but not haphazardly, unlike many silent films which seem to be just trying to vary the visual presentation. Scenes taking place in the catacombs are green, giving them a candle-lit, stony look even if they were shot on a brightly lit sound stage. Other sequences have a blue or reddish cast, as appropriate. Then, just when the audience has gotten used to this system, the film switches to two-strip Technicolor for the Bal Masque, and all the reds and pinks in the decoration and ladies' dresses are suddenly vibrant. Later, we'll see the Phantom in a hand-colored red cape during a rooftop chase. All these different techniques could easily become gimmicks, but director Rupert Julian and his cinematographers are savvy enough to use them as tools, using color to build atmosphere.

Box 5, the new company formed by Alloy Orchestra Ken Winokur to restore and distribute silent films such as Phantom, has done a fine job with their first project. I was initially a bit underwhelmed by the image, given how prominently the restoration had been mentioned in the promotion, but soon found it to be impressive, especially when the Bal Masque sequence began - it looks like it could have been made very recently, so sharp is the picture, and the painstaking hand-coloring of the red bits, is very nice indeed. As is par for the course with silent pictures, there are many versions of the film; this one appears to be among the shorter ones, running 79 minutes at twenty-four frames per second, though it may include some of the footage included in the 1929 sound re-release (a credit lists Virginia Pearson as Carlotta's mother). The score performed by the Alloy Orchestra is up to their usual high standards; suitably eerie through much of the film, operatic and bombastic where called for, and exciting during the adventure sequences as Raoul and a soldier make their way through the booby-trapped tunnels. (My brother, who had never seen a silent movie with live accompaniment - heck, at 21, he may never have seen a silent movie - pronounced the experience very cool indeed)

All of this makes Phantom an impressive technical tour de force, and all that makeup/cinematography/music supports high-quality storytelling. Lon Chaney's Erik is memorable for more than his hideous visage; Chaney makes the character imposing and otherworldly long before we see his face, which an impressive display of acting almost entirely through body language. Mary Philbin is a bit more distressed than a modern damsel might be, perhaps, while the other primary male characters do tend to blend together a little. On the flip side, though, are plenty of amusing bit characters delivering the necessary exposition about the theater's ghost, making what could be a dry first act move along very well.

This story has been adapted a lot - Chaney's portrayal was not the first and I doubt that the recent musical feature will be the last version we see. I wouldn't be shocked, however, if this is still the definitive version, even after another eighty years.

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originally posted: 01/05/06 13:48:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

1/17/16 Alexis H When film was simpler and subtle art. After this very few remakes could match its quality f 5 stars
2/16/15 eywa the phantom of the shit 1 stars
10/28/10 Ryan J. Marshall A masterpiece of the silent era; a visually stunning black-and-white classic. 5 stars
10/02/10 Joey DeAngelis Along with Michael Crawford, Chaney is the best Phantom ever. A triumph! 5 stars
7/13/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess The best 'Phantom Of The Opera' movie 5 stars
6/19/10 art LON CHANEY is the BEST "PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" 4 stars
12/26/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Definitive Phantom of the opera. Never been topped. 5 stars
3/11/08 David Cohen No silly songs or self-pity here, this phantom is really creepy 5 stars
2/18/08 Pamela White creepy and full of suspense 5 stars
12/29/06 David Pollastrini Chany was way ahead of his time with the makeup 4 stars
10/31/06 Z Peterson Having seen the restored version, I was dumbstruck by this film's continuing cinematic powe 5 stars
8/23/06 jermaine lachica very good 4 stars
8/10/06 Dragon The Artist The best & truest depiction of them all, thank God its truest to the original story!!!! 5 stars
5/21/06 ashton tanner this movie was awsome i loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/05/06 Shawn Gadberry Interesting, important, classic, but...(yawn) slow and kinda dull. 3 stars
12/03/04 your worst goddamn nightmare This is a great old flick. I just don't like the pasted additions made over the long years! 5 stars
8/03/04 Sean Scanlan As wonderful as the one with Claude Rains 5 stars
5/09/04 Sean Scanlan A classc 5 stars
3/15/04 Rachael Rodriguez Norman Kerry was alot more than worth a look , he was SEXY!!! 5 stars
10/27/03 avid movie fan For anyone interested in movie history, a must see. 4 stars
2/12/03 k. hess fascinating 5 stars
2/10/03 Monster W. Kung Visually a masterpiece. Story-wise nothing special at all. Worthy for historical value. 4 stars
2/05/03 Charles Tatum Aside from the unmasking scene, pretty dull stuff 3 stars
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  15-Nov-1925 (NR)
  DVD: 09-Sep-2003


  02-Feb-1925 (PG)

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