THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
A review by Robert K. Klepper

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Universal Pictures
Directed by Rupert Julian
Assistant Director: Edward Sedgwick
Screenplay by Raymond Schrock, Elliott J. Clawson
From the 1911 novel by Gaston Leroux
Titles by Tom Reed
Photography by Virgil Miller, Milton Bridenbecker, Charles J. Van Enger
Art Direction by Charles D, Hall
Film Editor: Maurice Pivar
Running Time of Complete 1925 Road Show Edit: 89 minutes
Running Time of 1929 Re-Edit: 79 minutes
Star Rating: 



 

CAST: The Phantom of the Opera, Lon Chaney, Sr. (1883-1930); Christine Daae, Mary Philbin (1903-1993); Raoul de Chagney, Norman Kerry (1889-1956); Simon Buquet, Gibson Gowland (1887-1951); Carlotta, Mary Fabian; Carlotta's Mother, Virginia Pearson (1888-1958); Philippe de Chagney, John Sainpolis (1873-1946); Ledoux of the Secret Police, Arthur Edmund Carewe (1884-1937); Joseph Buquet, Bernard Siegel (18681940); Florine Papillon, Snitz Edwards (1862-1937); Mama Valerius, Edith Yorke (1867-1934); Prompter, Anton Vaverka (died 1937); La Sorelli, Olive Ann Alcorn; Manager, Cesare Gravina (1858-1954); M. Ricard, George B. Williams (1866-1931); M. Moncharmin, Bruce Covington; Faust, Edward Cecil (1878-1940); Valentin, John Miljan (1892-1960);  Mephistopheles, Alexander Bevani (1871-1938); Martha, Grace Marvin; Count Ruboff, Ward Crane (1890-1928); Orderly, Chester Conklin (1886-1971); Director of opera orchestra, William Tryoler; Prima Ballerina, Carla Laemmle.

   This is quite possibly the most popular film to come out of the silent era. Theatrical screenings are a yearly Halloween tradition in many larger cities to this day. Many people who are not generally familiar with silent films are familiar with The Phantom of the Opera. It is revived on cable TV on a regular basis, and is possibly one of the best selling silents on the video market.

   This version of The Phantom of the Opera, billed as "Universal's million dollar super jewel production" has frequently been regarded as one of the greatest American horror films of all time, and the very best of the many adaptations of Gaston Leroux's 1911 literary work. It should be, as the star, Lon Chaney, Sr. went through more physical pain and torture than any other actor in history to pull off his gruesome illusions, notably as the phantom.  What other"phantom" actor endured the pain and agony of having fishhooks jabbed into his cheeks and metal discs shoved up his nostrils?

   In addition to no pain being spared, no expense was spared, as is evident with the lavish reconstruction of the interior of the Paris Opera House. Some of the sets for this sequence were also used in the 1943 re-make with Claude Rains as well. Furthermore, filming many of the sequences in 2-strip Technicolour was outrageously expensive at the time. To this very day, the unmasking sequence has never been outdone or even come close to being equaled by any of the many Phantom remakes. This fact would blow a hole in the allegations propagated by some historians and critics that Mary Philbin was an incompetent actress. She was just as big a part in the success of this sequence as was Chaney and director Rupert Julian.

   Three major restoration efforts have been done on this film, each one trying to out-do the other. David Shepard of Kino Video did the first restoration for video, which was black and white with the Technicolour Bal Masque sequence, and which featured an excellent score by Gaylord Carter which is one of the best organ scores this reviewer has ever heard on a silent film. Shepard did a second restoration for Kino in 1995, this time with colour tinting, an orchestral score, as well as an operetta chorus in the opera sequences. Kevin Brownlow of England also did a restoration which featured an orchestral score by the great musician Carl Davis, and featured Chaney's cape hand coloured in red during the sequence in which he is on top of the Paris Opera House eavesdropping on Christine's conversation with Raoul.

   A "modernized" version of this film was done in 1990, with a rock score recorded by Rick Wakeman of the acclaimed musical group "Yes."  It was actually this version that was the first video version to be presented with colour tinting. The visual quality of this restoration was nice. It even had a fabulous introduction by 1950s horror star Christopher Lee, which was very good. But, the rock track simply was not appropriate for this film, and the music fought the action rather than enhanced it. Some of the non-vocal parts of the track were very well done. The first few minutes of the film are fine -- until the vocals and the electric guitar are introduced into the music score, which totally ruins the film. It seems that every time Wakeman shuts his mouth and puts up the guitar which allows one to get into the film, he insists on constantly interrupting the enjoyment. This "modernized" rock score version is worth seeing just to see
why it is morally reprehensible to try to "modernize" the silents with contemporary and hard rock scores.

   The history of The Phantom of the Opera is quite complicated. The original 1925 roadshow version was approximately 89 minutes in length. Virginia Pearson played the part of Carlotta in all segments of the 1925 version. In addition, each player is introduced by his/her own title card in this version. There are a few minutes of footage at the beginning showing more of the crowds arriving at the opera house, and a few other snippets of footage here and there which is not used in other versions of the film. In addition, the ending shows Raoul and Christine on their honeymoon, which is not shown in subsequent versions. This original 1925 version does still exist, and is available on video and laser disc, but the master prints are of poor quality. A company called the Niles Company acquired the last surviving 35 mm print of the complete, original version in the 1960s. The print was starting to decompose, and they hastily struck several 16 mm prints from the original nitrate print. The resulting prints were of poor quality, but at least this original version was preserved in some form and available for evaluation to satisfy our curiosity.

    In 1929, Universal Pictures re-released The Phantom of the Opera as a part-talking picture. Since Virginia Pearson was not an opera singer, her opera sequences were re-shot with a singer named Mary Fabian. Fabian became Carlotta, and Virainia Pearson became Carlotta's mother. When doing the 1929 re-edit, the producers forgot to make appropriate change in the final cast list, which still lists Pearson as Carlotta and omits Mary Fabian's name. The print was also slightly re-edited, and, in this author's opinion, some of the sequences were actually improved and made more exciting with this re-editing job. In 1929, this re-edited version was released in both silent and sound versions. No prints of the talking version are currently known to exist. However, the 1929 silent version is what has survived in superior quality prints, and it is this 1929 silent version that is primarily shown today. In the original version of the film, there were apparently several Technicolour sequences, which were not preserved in subsequent prints struck from it. None of the Technicolour sequences were known to have survived, until David Shepard re-discovered Technicolour footage on the one Bal Masque sequence, finally restoring at least some of the Technicolour footage.

   This is a great film to use when introducing your friends to silents and trying to get them hooked. It is a classic that every silent film collection, whether a personal collection, library collection, or video rental store collection, should have at least one copy of.

Reviewed by Robert K. Klepper
Copyright © 1997 by Robert K. Klepper.  All rights reserved.
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Article uploaded December 8, 1997 by Gilda Tabarez at Henning7@aol.com
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