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Film / The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

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"You are in no peril as long as you do not touch my mask."
The Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 film directed by Rupert Julian, starring Lon Chaney as the Phantom, and one of the earliest entries in the Universal Horror line.

The Paris Opera House has come under new ownership. After the papers are signed, the old owners mention in a faux-casual aside that the new owners may hear of a ghost. In fact, the legend of the Phantom of the Opera is well known. A mysterious figure in cloak and hat is sometimes seen in Box Five. Joseph Bouquet, a stagehand, tells the terrified chorus girls of a "living skeleton" who lurks in the theater's depths.

Meanwhile, a nobleman named Raoul comes to see his old girlfriend, Christine, the understudy to prima donna Carlotta. Raoul wants Christine to leave the theater world and marry him, but she's reluctant. Part of the reason she's reluctant is the mysterious voice, coming from behind the walls, telling her that she will be the greatest opera singer ever. Soon after the new owners of the theater get a letter from the Phantom himself, saying that if they don't let Christine sing in the next production instead of Carlotta, they'll regret it...

This is the second film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera and the oldest to survive, a previous German version having since been lost. It is seen as one of the most faithful adaptations to the original book, and is the only one witnessed by Leroux himself, who attended the premiere two years before his death. It depicts the Phantom as tragic, but also murderous and criminally insane, and deformed from birth. It's also the most famous role of Lon Chaney's career. It's undisputedly the second most famous adaptation of the novel after the 1986 musical.

It has since fallen in the public domain and may be watched here.

It is grouped in the franchise of Universal Monster films along with its 1943 remake.

An unusual happening that surrounds the film is how its sound stage was apparently haunted by Lon Chaney's ghost long after his death in 1930.

Contains examples of:

  • Abominable Auditorium: As with the original novel, the Opera House in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is essentially the eponymous villain's personal playground, dotted with secret entrances and chambers allowing the resident opera ghost to spy on everyone.
  • Adaptational Wimp: While still the most faithful adaptation film overall, the silent film kickstarted the Franchise Original Sin of giving Christine Chickification turning her into a standard Damsel in Distress (barring the bit where she frees Raoul and the policemen from the trap). In the original novel Christine was ahead of her time being a Plucky Girl who was throughout the book actually the one protecting Raoul from the Phantom, rather than the other way around. The silent film like the future films and musical largely obliterates Christine‚Äôs overt brave heroine traits, in favour of making her simply a hysterical victim.
  • Beast and Beauty: Beautiful Christine and the deformed, insane Phantom.
  • Brandishment Bluff: When Erik is cornered by the mob, he appears to hold something in the air and brandishes it to hold them back, even turning to make those behind him retreat, then he laughs and shows an empty hand, prompting the mob to move in for the kill.
  • Captain Obvious: A weirdo in a mask and cape lures Christine to his underground lair. He plays her creepy organ music and shows her the coffin he sleeps in. After taking all this in Christine says "You—you are the Phantom!"
  • Compelling Voice: As in the novel, there is clearly something hypnotic about the Phantom's voice that compels Christine to obey. (He probably could have had sex with her if he'd kept talking instead of playing his creepy organ.)
  • Death Trap: The Phantom has a heat room that is used basically for boiling alive (this being a relic of the torture chambers used in pre-Revolutionary France), and another room that is a drowning pit where he can let in the water in the lake.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Phantom's unmasking is probably the most dramatic one, and one of the best ever examples of this trope. According to the IMDb, "The sight was said to have caused some patrons at the premiere to faint." Robert Bloch wrote about having seen this movie as a child. He didn't follow the plot much, and didn't get why the Phantom was wearing a mask. Then came the dramatic unmasking scene, and he slept the next ten years with lights on.
  • Drowning Pit: The Phantom lures Raoul and the policeman into one of these; they barely escape when Christine pulls the lever on the trap door.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: See Brandishment Bluff above.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: A Drowning Pit, a Sauna of Death, and a lake which apparently has pumps to allow the Phantom to control the water level.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: Like in the novel, the Phantom sabotages the opera chandelier to drop on the audience.
  • The Film of the Book: This version revises the ending and changes Christine from blonde to brunette but is otherwise the most faithful adaptation of the novel. It includes Raoul's brother, who is usually Adapted Out. It also originally included the Persian—he is shown wearing a fez—but in post-production he was turned into a French police detective. Since it was a silent movie, all they had to do was change the title cards. Chaney's deformed head resembles the "death's head" (skull) that the book describes, and is a deformity from birth as in the book, unlike most later adaptations in which it is an injury.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Perhaps the earliest well-known example of a movie getting an altered version. After being released silent in 1925, the film was given a sound re-release in 1930; about 60% of the footage was re-shot with sound, and the other 40% had sound dubbed over it. A third version of the movie called the Eastman House Print also exists, but nobody actually knows where it came from or why it exists.note  It's silent, but it uses footage from the sound version, and features a scene which looks like it was shot with sound but does not appear in the sound version at all. The Eastman House Print is, ironically, the most popular version of the movie due to its extremely high quality and completeness compared to the surviving materials from the other two versions.
  • Impairment Shot: Erik's face goes out of focus as he uses his hypnotic power (or whatever he's using, the film is vague) to get Christine to follow him to the boat.
  • Informed Attribute: Joseph Buquet describes the Phantom as having a huge hole in his face where the nose should be, but when the Phantom finally appears, he clearly does have a nose, albeit a horribly deformed one. Of course, Buquet may be exaggerating.
  • Jump Scare: The aforementioned Dramatic Unmask scene. Once unmasked, the Phantom stares RIGHT at the camera and jumps to his feet. As mentioned above, this was enough to make people faint during the film's premiere. (This is one of the shots that is different in the re-release and ironically the version often referred to as the classic original scene is usually not.)
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The Phantom resorts to this when denouncing Christine moments after the Dramatic Unmask.
  • Re-Cut: A sound version of this film was made in 1929 and released in 1930, with Mary Philbin (Christine) and Norman Kerry (Raoul) reprising their roles in talking scenes, and with other scenes being re-shot. Lon Chaney was under contract to MGM so his scenes were re-used with some voiceover added. The dialogue scenes have since been lost, but a silent version of this 1929-30 recut still survives.note  The original 1925 edition only exists in an inferior 16mm version, so most home video and presentations use the silent 1929-30 version, which, among other differences, has a different actress playing Carlotta (Virginia Peterson in 1925, Mary Fabian in 1929).
  • Reed Snorkel: How the Phantom kills Raoul's brother, by using a reed snorkel to sneak up to the brother's boat, before pulling him into the water and drowning him.
  • Sauna of Death: One of the traps that the Phantom leads Raoul and the policeman into. He lets them go when Christine begs him for their release.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The Phantom drugs the security guards before snatching Christine from the opera stage.
  • Splash of Color: Most of the movie is in black and white (usually presented with color tinting) but the Faust scenes and the masquerade were filmed in early, two-strip Technicolor. Also, for a scene of the Phantom lurking around on the roof, his robes were painstakingly colored red by hand using a complex stenciling method. The technicolor masquerade footage still exists, but the Faust and rooftop scenes only exist in black and white. Some home video versions feature a digital recreation of the rooftop's hand-colored effect.
  • Tragic Villain: Not to the same extent as his book counterpart or especially the Webber musical, but it's still there. Erik only really turned into the villainous Phantom because society treated him like absolute dirt.