The Phantom of the Opera
- Rupert Julian
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Only after they have signed the proper documents to acquire the Opera House, the two new owners are informed by the previous ones that, “incidentally”, there’s talk of a “ghost” haunting the place. They dismiss the warning, but soon start suspecting it just might be true, not only because everyone’s talking about it but also because the Phantom starts manifesting himself. As it seems, he has become obsessed with a young singer, Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin), currently the understudy of a star called Carlotta (Mary Fabian). When he starts sending letters of blackmail to Carlotta’s mother and the Opera House’s administration, they start worrying. He wants Christine to play on stage and shine like she deserves. They don’t obey, and it’s then that the Phantom, and a chandelier, take center stage.
But Christine isn’t all that aware that the Phantom is just a man, and not just any man but that mysterious voice she’s been hearing through the walls of her room. She’s been tutored and supported, but now she’s the reason why people are getting hurt. The enchanting voice commands Christine to snub her lover, Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) and devote herself to the music and to her Master, namely himself. Then he gets so carried away that he invites her to his home, which she enters through a passage in her own room—one of the many paths the Phantom knows to perfection which allow him to move around freely.
So Christine meets the Phantom (Lon Chaney), the man behind a mask who is also responsible for the haunting and the disaster. She’s horrified, but he casts a spell on her through his charm and wit. He takes her far below to a place of old dungeons and torture chambers, connected via a black, forgotten river. That is his home, and he wants Christine to be his bride. She’s not too happy with the idea.
The way the film presents its story, first by giving us the perspective from the Opera House, where the Phantom is considered to be a mad spirit with great power and talent, and then by presenting us the man behind the legend, and the place where he lives, is a triumph in itself. As stated before, production values are top-notch, and it never even remotely occurred to me that what I was seeing was a set built miles away from Paris. It’s all so realistic and fantastic that it fits the story to a tee; in fact, it influenced the way it would be presented in its numerous further adaptations, making this the definitive film version of Leroux’s novel.
Chaney is beyond words as the Phantom, so much so that his name has become a synonym to this famous role despite the fact that he starred in countless films and played many famous “monsters” so memorably. He owns the film and commands the screen at every turn, behind the mask or showing his face. Designer of his own make-up, he created one of the immortal horror characters on film. There’s a lot of weight on the Phantom’s aspect, and it truly horrifies. Matter of fact, the scene where Christine unmasks him is a classic in itself and as terrifying as ever. No less effective is the “Bal Masque” scene where the Phantom appears dressed in red and wearing a skull mask, calling everyone’s attention. That scene and a few others are presented in two-color Technicolor for extra punch.
The minor quibble I had was the lack of development of the relationships between Christine and the Phantom; the love and respect she gets to feel for him, maybe out of pity, as presented by Leroux, are almost gone here. The Phantom is presented as a madman from the moment things start getting out of control, and I would’ve liked to see his transition more clearly. Other than that, this is first-rate entertainment from every possible point of view; a classic!
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