THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Director: Rupert Julian
Production: Universal Pictures; black and white, (some sequences filmed in 2-strip Technicolor), 35mm. silent; running time: about 94 minutes; length: 10 reels, 8464 feet. Filmed in Hollywood. Cost:
Presented by: Carl Laemmle; screenplay (adaptation): Raymond Schrock and Elliott J. Clawson, from the novel by Gaston Leroux; titles: Tom Reed; additional direction: Edward Sedgwick; photography: Virgil Miller, Milton Bridenbecker, and Charles Van Enger; editor: Maurice Pivar; production designers: Charles D. Hall, and Ben Carre.
Lon Chaney (
); Mary Philbin (
); Norman Kerry (
Raoul de Chagny
); Snitz Edwards (
); Gibson Gowland (
); John Sainpolis (
Philippe de Chagny
); Virginia Pearson (
); Arthur Edmond Carew (also Carewe) (
); Edith Yorke (
); Anton Vaverka (
); Bernard Siegel (
); Olive Ann Alcorn (
); Edward Cecil (
); Alexander Bevani (
); John Miljan (
); Grace Marvin (
); George Williams (
); Bruce Covington (
); Cesare Gravina (
); Ward Crane (
); Chester Conklin (
); William Tryoler (
Clemens, Carlos, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film , New York, 1967.
Anderson, Robert G., Faces, Forms, Films: The Artistry of Lon Chaney , South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1971.
Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.
Everson, William K., American Silent Film , New York, 1978.
Riley, Philip, editor, MagicImage Filmbooks Presents the Making of the Phantom of the Opera , Absecon, New Jersey, 1994.
Blake, Michael F., A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures , Lanham, 1995.
Blake, Michael F., The Films of Lon Chaney , Lanham, 1998.
Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times , 7 September 1925.
Mitchell, George, "Lon Chaney," in Films in Review (New York), December 1953.
Behlmer, Rudy, in Films in Review (New York), October 1962.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Lon Chaney: Man of a Thousand Faces," in Focus on Film (London), May-August 1970.
Viviani, C., "Lon Chaney; ou, La Politique de l'acteur," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1978.
Meth, S., "Reflections in a Cinema Eye: Lon Chaney," in Classic Film Collector (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1979.
Koszarski, R., "Career in Shadows," in Film History (London), vol. 3, no. 3, 1989.
MacQueen, S., " Phantom of the Opera— Part II," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1989.
Kindblom, M., "I begynnelsen var manniskan tre," in Filmhaftet (Uppsala, Sweden), December 1989.
Turner, George, "The Phantom's Lady Returns," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 71, no. 4, April 1990.
MacQueen, S., "The 1926 Phantom of the Opera ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 70, September 1989.
MacQueen, S., " Phantom of the Opera —Part II," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 70, October 1989.
Pitman, J., "Chaney Phantom of the Opera Tinted and With Music Track, to Join the Current Craze," in Variety (New York), vol. 337, 25/31 October 1989.
Weaver, T., "Silent Horror Classics: The Best of the Big Screen Shockers," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 25, February/March 1991.
Télérama (Paris), no. 2380, 23 August 1995.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 494, September 1995.
Blake, Michael F., "Lon Chaney's Phantom Turns 70," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 52, September-October 1995.
Blake, Michael F., "Lon Chaney Collection (1920–25)," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 52, September-October 1995.
Correspondence on the various scores for the film, by Clifford McCarty, in Cue Sheet (Hollywood), vol. 11, no. 4, October 1995.
Giddins, G., "The Mask," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 41, 23 January 1996.
* * *
There have been several versions of The Phantom of the Opera , but none has remained as close to the original novel by Gaston Leroux as does the Lon Chaney film. Admittedly the film stays faithful to the original work sometimes more as a result of what is not shown than what is; for example, whereas later screen versions offer fanciful explanations for the phantom's grotesque appearance, the Chaney feature makes no effort to explain why the phantom is the way he is— by default, presumably going along with Leroux's story that he was "born that way."
Encouraged by the praise and box-office rewards heaped on Chaney's previous Universal feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame , Carl Laemmle budgeted one million dollars for The Phantom of the Opera. Rupert Julian, a long-time Universal contract director who had made a career as an actor portraying Kaiser Wilhelm in various films, was assigned to direct, but he was replaced sometime during the shooting by Edward Sedgwick, a minor comedy director. (Apparently Julian and Chaney did not get along, the result of a disagreement about the phantom's characterization.) Universal promoted the film by using the rather obvious device of permitting no advance photographs of Chaney to be shown, thus assuring an excited and enthusiastic audience for the New York premiere on September 6, 1925. Critical reaction was somewhat mixed, but the feature proved a tremendous success at the box office.
It is perhaps unfortunate that The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are the most frequently revived and easily accessible of Chaney's silent features, for neither film allows the actor much excuse for dramatics. His make-up, of course, is superb, but here there is no evidence of the kind of emotional range that Chaney displays, for example, in Tell it to the Marines (1927). Also, his supporting players, Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, are singularly lacking in talent; Philbin, as the opera singer who unmasks the Phantom, is particularly weak.
The star of The Phantom of the Opera is not Chaney, but rather the magnificent sets of Charles D. Hall and Ben Carre, ranging from the awe-inspiring lobby and auditorium of the Paris Opera House to the eerie, subterranean home of the phantom. Equally impressive are the costumes, particularly the "Death" garment worn by Chaney in the Bal Masque sequence. This scene, together with the operatic numbers from Gounod's Faust , were filmed in two-strip Technicolor. The direction is weak, and the film is badly paced for a melodrama, although suspense is allowed to build, the result of Chaney's remaining masked until more than half-way through the film.
For a 1930 reissue of The Phantom , Universal filmed a number of dialogue sequences with Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, and added a singing voice—not that of Philbin—to the operatic numbers. At that time some ten minutes were also cut from the film.