Gaston Leroux’s famous story of the Phantom – who lives in the bowels of the Paris opera house, falls for a pretty singer and wreaks terrible revenge when she won’t play footsie – seems to have a strange effect on artists. Leroux went super-gothic – very pretty girl, monstrous beast, subterranean caverns, stygian doom, death by fire and water and so on. And everyone since has more or less kept up the melodramatic pace, right down to Andrew Lloyd Webber – ‘the phantom of the opera is there/Inside your mind’ cackle, twirl. This 1925 silent film is actually the best of the lot – it’s got Lon ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’ Chaney in it for a start. And there’s nothing decorous or abstract about his make-up – a grinning skull, a cavernous blowhole for a nose, eyes popping out of his face. Not pretty. Unlike our lovely heroine (Mary Philbin). And unlike the fabulous sets depicting the Opera House and the Phantom’s lair, shot in part in two-strip Technicolor – quite a sight in the silent era. Add to that a booming recording of Carl Davis’s reworked score, if you’re watching a recently restored print, and it’s quite a sound now as well.
The Phantom of the Opera – at Amazon this is the Milestone version, the best of many available right now.
For the BFI version with the Carl Davis score mentioned above (warning: it’s Region 2 and expensive if you live outside the UK) click here.
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© Steve Morrissey 2006