Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The second of many film adaptations of Gaston Leroux's novel (the first being a 'lost' and mostly forgotten film, "The Phantom of the Opera" is mostly famous for Lon Chaney's very physical performance as the titular phantom, a hideously deformed man who lurks the halls of the Paris Opera House, circa 19th Century.

   The Phantom (or Erik, as he'd rather be called, though no one ever does) is obsessed with one singular goal, winning the love of the beautiful Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), an opera singer who he idolizes. Willing to do anything to make her a star and earn her affections, Erik pulls strings to make her a leading lady, but his obsession comes with deadly consequences.

    I'll be perfectly honest- although from my love of fictional loners, losers, and lunatics throughout the history of cinema I was expecting to sympathize with the Phantom (Lon Chaney,) it quickly becomes obvious what a difficult position he's put lovely Christine  in.

  Although 'The Phantom' is clever and passionate, he is also controlling, obsessive, jealous, quick to a anger, and a dominating presence in Christine's life- everything a woman wants in a man, obviously (sarcasm.) Also, it is easy to see how much Raoul (Norman Kerry,) Christine's handsome boyfriend, loves her and wants to be with her. However, it;s not hard to find tragedy in Phantom's plight.

   Apparently, at the time they were first showing this movie (1925,) ladies fainted when the Phantom's mask was first taken off, revealing his hideously deformed face, i.e. Lon Chaney's make-up job. Obviously, Chaney's make-up isn't nearly as scary or shocking today, and you can see pictures of Erik's face online and on the DVD cover, robbing it of the element of surprise.

    The things that really stand out in this movie are the performances (some people don't like Mary Philbin as an actress, but I disagree) and the chilling musical score. The element of adventure (with the trap doors and mirrors that open up into entryways) was fun- kind of like when I saw George C. Scott discover the secret entrance in Peter Medak's "The Changeling" for the first time.

   Christine is a typically weak silent-era female character- is it too much to ask for a bit of female badasserie in this time in film history? There's a very strange scene of slapstick involving a door in the floor that doesn't fit into a movie like this- it would be better off where it belongs, in a Chaplin silent comedy.

   "The Phantom of the Opera" has some psychological complexity uncommon in silent films and the cast performs admirably. It's isn't really a 'watch-again-and-again-and-enjoy' piece of entertainment, and, commonly for this era of film, is very outdated. I'll probably watch the remake sometime down the road, although I can't picture Gerard Butler as the Phantom. At least I'll probably enjoy the songs.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with most everything you wrote. Some of the shock at the reveal of the face is ruined.

    The musical version isn't bad. The thing that actually bothered me the most is that some of the songs are sung over each other simultaneously by various characters, so you don't get to really enjoy any one of them.


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