At the Opera of Paris, a mysterious phantom threatens a famous lyric singer, Carlotta and thus forces her to give up her role (Marguerite in Faust) for unknown Christine Daae. Christine meets this phantom (a masked man) in the catacombs, where he lives. What's his goal ? What's his secret ? Written by
Rupert Julian fought constantly with the cast and crew. Julian and Lon Chaney were not on speaking terms for most of the production, and had to communicate through intermediaries. Norman Kerry actually charged at Julian while riding a horse, knocking him to the ground in front of a group of onlookers. See more »
(1929 cut) When the Phantom's alarm goes off, the sound of the chimes does not always match the striking of the device's "arms." See more »
Chaney is best known today for two roles: Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and Erik in "The Phantom of the Opera." The pair contrast the human response to physical deformity. While Quasimodo searches for kindness and acts to protect his home and loved ones, Erik shuns humanity and in his hatred and isolation becomes truly evil.
Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) is the understudy at the Paris Opera house, an ancient structure built over a network of torture chambers and interconnecting cellars. Rumors abound of a ghost or phantom who stalks the halls, and even rents his own box for the performances. With the help of this mysterious stranger, Daae becomes the lead diva.
Daae, apparently fine with her benefactor's use of extortion and mass murder to help her career, dumps her boyfriend Raoul (Norman Kerry) and follows the masked Phantom into the bowels of the opera house. She is, however, sensitive enough to collapse in a faint at the discovery that her benefactor is the legendary Phantom, and at his profession of love for her.
Awakening, she discovers herself in a lavish bedroom he has prepared for her, with her name engraved on a hand mirror. But upon snatching off the Phantom's mask, she realizes that he isn't Prince Charming after all, but hideously deformed, with a skull-like face.
The Phantom returns her to the opera, telling her that she must never see Raoul again. Upon reflection, however, Christine decides that looks and sanity are more important to her in a lover than she originally thought, and makes plans to meet Raoul at the annual masked ball. Raoul, neither particularly brave or smart, suggests that the two of them hightail it out of town. Christine, not one to run before her chance at the big time, suggests that they flee after the following evening's performance. Erik, of course, is listening in.
At that point Erik drops his nice-guy facade, hangs a stagehand who discovers his trap door, kidnaps Christine and flees into the cellars. He is hotly pursued by Raoul and a Secret Police inspector, who are followed by Raoul's brother, who is followed by angry mob led by the murdered stagehand's brother.
Erik, meanwhile, is trying to convince Christine of his capacity to reform ("No longer like a toad in these foul cellars will I secrete the venom of hatred -- for you shall bring me love!"). Alas, his plans to become a good husband are interrupted by the need to bump off a few of his pursuers, using elaborate boody traps and alarms throughout the dungeons.
The final minute of the movie is perhaps the best, with Erik's final gesture proving that his mental ability far outweighs that of anyone else in the film. He goes out in style, leaving the dim-witted Raoul and his amoral girlfriend to live happily ever after.
The two best things are Chaney's over-the-top performance as Erik and the spectacular sets. Chaney had a way of making any other actors in a film appear flat and lifeless, and this is no exception. The elaborate set of the opera house and the gothic appearance of the dungeons are still impressive, and the tinting and two-strip technicolor in the Bal Masque sequence look great.
"Phantom" is rousing horror/adventure, while "Hunchback" was a touching allegorical film. The latter is better and more serious, but "Phantom" is still some of the most fun it's possible to have before a movie screen.
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