Hello and Hallo-welcome to our last Silent Saturday! After Lilly tackled 1922’s Nosferatu a couple of weeks ago, Andy decided to strike out on his own, and tackle 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera. You join him, as he rises nobly over medieval torture chambers, hidden dungeons, long forgotten.
Today’s Film Offering: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
I imagine many filmmakers, cinematographers, editors and makeup artists have moments where they want to create something truly iconic, really make an impact in film history. Imagine, then, making a reveal so shocking, so well-done, that it’s still effective 92 YEARS LATER.
Lon Chaney as the grotesque Erik is, for my money, one of the best makeup jobs, well, ever. And he did it himself!
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who don’t know the plot of this 1925 silent classic, or the 1911 French novel it’s based on (written by Gaston Leroux), the plot follows the young, innocent Christine at the Paris Opera house, her career and her engagement to the handsome young Raoul. But there is another interested party, her “angel of music” who speaks to her through the walls, encouraging her and ultimately knocking off her competition.
Of course, this is the titular Phantom: not a phantom at all, but a deformed musical genius obsessed with Christine – a terrifying legend among the stage crew and backup dancers, and an amusing anecdote to the new owners, at least until things start to go wrong.
Erik is a surprisingly relevant character in the modern world. His promotion of Christine gives him power over her, at least in his own head, and even horrifying moments, like when he drops an enormous chandelier into the crowded theatre are temper tantrums of a childlike mind, not the works of the genius mastermind he clearly thinks he is. Every single woman will have come across some idiot like this. I know I have, and I always think “there but for the grace of God…”
Of course, Christine rejects Erik, seeing as he’s, you know, hideous and kind of a douchecanoe, and plans to run away with Raoul. Erik, overhearing their plans, kidnaps Christine, and it’s up to Raoul and a man who’s been investigating Erik in the cellars (and been mistaken for the Phantom for that reason) to try to rescue her.
I’ve got to say, I was surprised by this one. 116 minutes is a long haul for a silent movie, but a cracking pace and plenty of humor kept me engaged. The humor also lulled me into a false sense of security – when the movie amped up, it caught me with my guard down, and I was genuinely creeped out at a few moments. And it did it without feeling tonally dissonant, which is incredibly difficult to pull off.
Case in point: the Phantom has been strangling people with something called a “Punjab Knot”; essentially a quick tightening noose. You forget about this, until Raoul’s companion in the cellar tells Raoul to keep his arm up by his head at all times, because a noose could drop at any moment and having an arm inside it could save his life. Sinister stuff, and not something modern horror movies do very well – it never comes close to happening to them, but this one observation had me yelling “Arm UP Raoul” every single time he dropped his guard.
So, in short, it’s really good. Certainly my favourite adaptation I’ve seen of the story (I read the novel as a teenager). Yes, including the musical, Lilly.