-This review pertains to The Phantom of the Opera: The Ultimate Edition DVD-
Faithfully adapted from Gaston Leroux's mystery novel, the Universal Studios' film The Phantom of the Opera was released in 1925, showcasing the multi-talented Lon Chaney, who had two years earlier starred as Quasimodo in Universal's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In The Phantom of the Opera, Lon Chaney donned the mask of the tortured soul Erik, The Phantom. Joining Chaney in the cast was the beautiful young actress Mary Philbin as Christine Daae and Norman Kerry as the handsome Vicomte Raoul de Chagny.
The film was directed by the merely adequate Rupert Julian, who fashioned himself to be a master filmmaker but his unreasoning and demanding nature caused much toil during the making of the film. The Phantom of the Opera was rife with production troubles and conflict between cast and crew. However the end result was nothing short of a masterpiece, despite what critics of the time thought.
The reason for the film becoming an enduring classic was mainly Lon Chaney's performance and his remarkable makeup. Using little more than he could carry in an old tackle box, Chaney conjured a frightening persona. He skillfully created his most famous makeup with a combination of cotton and colodian, false teeth, and chemicals with which he dilated his pupils. Chaney also underwent the discomfort of having wires, which ran along the sides of his nose and were concealed by makeup, pull up his nose revealing his nostrils and giving him the appearance of having a skeletal face. His appearance and his performance would become iconic with filmgoers during the last years of the silent era, and still provides inspiration to many in the film industry today.
When the film was being marketed, Chaney ensured that the public would see no images of him in full makeup. This publicity stunt was extremely effective and when the film was released, audiences flocked to theatres wondering what the enigmatic Chaney would look like in his latest role. But nothing could prepare filmgoers for the shock of The Phantom's unmasking scene, which evoked cries of terror from audience members, who had never seen anything like it before. The film was adapted from the novel by two screenwriters, Elliot Clawson and Raymond Schrock. The screenplay is just as convoluted as the novel was. This doesn't affect the film's status as a classic or depreciate the overall value of entertainment. In fact, the pulpy story is delightful, even if a bit tame when compared to the standards set by today's horror films.
The story follows Christine Daae, a beautiful young singer at the Grand Paris Opera House, who becomes the obsession of Erik, the masked madman who lives deep in the catacombs beneath the opera house. Erik, who is best known by the title of The Phantom of the Opera or Opera Ghost for short, uses his genius to orchestrate the lives of all who reside in the opera house. When the opera house is sold to two new owners, The Phantom finds that his rules are being broken and he lashes out at those that dare to defy him. But no one can imagine the full wrath and fury of The Phantom, that is, until the appearance of the dashing young Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, who begins courting Christine. When The Phantom lures Christine to his cavernous lair, she unmasks him revealing a hideously deformed face. The Phantom becomes distraught, knowing that Christine could never grow to love a creature so monstrous in appearance as himself, and he lets her go. Before releasing her, The Phantom tells Christine that she now belongs to him and he warns her to never again see Raoul. During the celebratory Bal Masque de l'Opera, The Phantom intrudes dressed as The Red Death and he finds Christine and Raoul planning to run away together. The Phantom waits patiently before making his final move. Once again he abducts Christine, claiming that she is his possession. Raoul, panic-stricken, is shown the secret location of The Phantom's lair, but can he outwit... The Phantom of the Opera?
This 2-disc Ultimate Edition DVD is spectacular. The first disc includes the meticulously restored 1929 version of the film, along with two soundtracks and an audio commentary with film historian Scott MacQueen. The two soundtracks include the Carl Davis orchestral score and the soundtrack of the dubbed 1930 version with dialogue sequences. Also featured on the first disc are an extensive collection of image galleries, audio-only selections of dialogue that is not included in the restored version, and two theatrical trailers. The second disc includes the 1925 theatrical release of the film, along with a score by Jon Mirsalis, an interview with Carla Laemmle, an extract from the film Midstream, which features a portion of the opera Faust, and an audio-only interview with cinematographer Charles Van Enger. Though the 1929 version of The Phantom of the Opera has been gorgeously restored and color tinted, the 1925 version has not been restored and is scratchy, out of focus, and completely in black and white.
Image Entertainment's Ultimate Edition of The Phantom of the Opera is without doubt the best available DVD edition, however it does not quite live up to the promise of being the Ultimate Edition. Still, it's a must-have for Lon Chaney fans and connoisseurs of classic horror films.
**** out of **** The original "Phantom of the Opera" film adaptation reminds me ever-so greatly of what it means to be both dramatic and atmospheric. So many films forget to include the ingredients that the filmmakers put on display here, resulting in (most of the time) a ridiculous mess. This may be the only perfect or perhaps even proper adaptation of the 1910's novel, although I'm open to whatever future adaptations the story can inspire. However, nothing … more