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The Phantom of Paris is a 1931 film directed by John S. Robertson, starring John Gilbert.

Gilbert plays Cheri-Bibi, a magician specializing in escape artist tricks. He is infatuated with Cecile, the upper-class daughter of M. Bourrelier, and she with him. Bourrelier is appalled at the thought of his high-born daughter marrying someone as common as a stage magician. Cecile is actually engaged to be married to a much more socially suitable husband, the Marquis du Touchais. However, it turns out that the Marquis has some secrets: first that he's got a mistress named Vera, and second, that he's a fortune hunter and cad.

Bourrelier refuses to let his daughter marry Cheri-Bibi, but when he finds out about Touchais' checkered past, he nixes that match too. Unfortunately for Bourrelier he doesn't tell anyone else about this before confronting Touchais. An enraged Touchais then murders him. Police inspector Couchaud, who doesn't particularly like Cheri-Bibi, makes some honest mistakes and pins the murder on him. Cheri-Bibi goes to prison under sentence of death, but escapes, and eventually sets out to clear his name.

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The Phantom of Paris was based on a novel called Chéri-Bibi et Cécily by Gaston Leroux, famous for The Phantom of the Opera. The title of this film is a Shout-Out to that book. Lon Chaney, star of the 1925 hit film version of The Phantom of the Opera, was slated to star in this movie as well before his sudden death from cancer in 1930.


Tropes:

  • Clark Kenting: Bibi doesn't look that much like Touchais, really, and he's also noticeably shorter. But somehow absolutely everyone, including both his wife and his mistress, are fooled.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Cheri-Bibi's second idea to clear his name, after Touchais croaks: steal away with Touchais's body, get plastic surgery to make himself look like Touchais, then come back pretending to be Touchais. Everyone buys it.
  • Door Closes Ending: Ends with Bibi and Cecile leaving the room and closing the door behind them, after Vera's been exposed and arrested.
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  • Eiffel Tower Effect: In the opening credits, which play out against a drawing of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris skyline.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Gunshots are heard outside. Vera is unpleasantly surprised to find Cheri-Bibi in her window, having apparently escaped from the police again. He badgers her until she says that she didn't kill Bourrelier, it was Touchais on his own. That's when Couchaud steps out from behind the curtain. It turns out that Couchaud decided to cut Bibi a break and give him one last chance to prove his innocence.
  • Escape Artist: Cheri-Bibi's specialty. In the opening scene he does a trick where he's handcuffed and thrown into a tank of water, only to escape. A French Houdini, basically. This also proves useful later when he pulls off a daring escape from prison.
  • Exact Words: Bibi is fond of this trope after returning in the guise of Touchais. When talking with Couchaud, who's trying to confirm Cheri-Bibi is dead, Bibi promises that he'll never see the face of Cheri-Bibi again—because of course he's had plastic surgery. When Touchais' mistress Vera is mystified by her lover's distant manner, Bibi says "My feeling for you are precisely the same as they've always been," and it's true, as he still doesn't like her.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: How Bibi escapes from his cell. Being the expert magician that he is, he stages a fake hanging. When the guard rushes into his cell, Bibi overpowers him.
  • High-Class Glass: Touchais wears one. It helps to establish him as an arrogant jerk.
  • Percussive Pickpocket: Cheri-Bibi does this for a parlor trick. When one loudmouth at the party doubts his skills, Bibi filches his cigarette case, politely offers it back, then steals it again.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Cecile and Vera are dressed this way whenever indoors.
  • Time Skip: Four years pass from Bibi's escape to the latter part of the movie. He's been hiding in his friend Herman's secret basement the whole time.
  • Translation Convention: Lampshaded. The film opens with a poster in French advertising Cheri-Bibi's show. We then see all the words on the poster change to English, and the film continues in English from there.
  • Uptown Girl: Bourrelier refuses to permit his blue blood daughter to marry a common stage performer.
  • The X of Y: The Phantom of Paris, a Shout-Out to The Phantom of the Opera.
  • You Are Number 6: The despair of Cheri-Bibi's arrival in jail is underlined when a gruff warden addresses him as "Prisoner number 30,968."
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