THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
What is particularly noticeable is the way that director Rupert Julian keeps the character of the Phantom deliberately mysterious as opposed to other versions, which create too much sympathy and not enough mystery for the Phantom. For a good third of the film, The Phantom is not seen, only talked about and built up by half-seen shadows and fearful gossip among the dancers. Then when The Phantom is eventually seen, it is at first through an unnervingly frozen lifelike mask. The Phantoms face, once disclosed, is not something that is in itself scary (at least today there were reports of women fainting when it was revealed in the 1920s), nevertheless Rupert Julian does his best to make it so particularly the ingenious shot that shows the unveiling from the front as Mary Philbins hand sneaks up to unmask him from the back, with Lon Chaneys face going wide open is a startled silent shriek seen by the audience before he turns to face her.
The film has a genuinely epic quality particularly set-pieces like the cutting of the chandelier, which is seen falling down onto hundreds of screaming patrons. The masque with the Phantom appearing as a resplendent Red Death, a sequence that was shot afterwards and tinted red, is fabulous. The latter third of the film with its journey down into the cellars is almost a perfect screen evocation of the dark romance of a 19th Century Gothic novel, with images like the unconscious Mary Philbin being drawn along on the back of a white horse and the cellars revealed as an amazing procession of arched levels and underground lakes through which the Phantom rows on a gondola, while her long lace train trails across the floor and in the water.
The climactic scenes are the most wonderful evocation of the spirit of Louis Feuillade and the 19th Century potboiler ever put on screen. In fact, the 1925 The Phantom of the Opera is the only adaptation to take up this part of Gaston Lerouxs original narrative (and in so doing becomes the most accurate adaptation). There are fabulous scenes with the two heroes caught in mirrored heat traps and flooding cells, while the heroine has to make a choice whether to twist an ornamented spider or a scorpion to signify whether she wants to marry the Phantom and save her lover or not. Or the amazing scene where the Phantom takes a tube to breathe through and then enters the waters of the underground lake, disappearing until only the tip of the tube shows above the water, and heads off to drown de Chagnys brother.
The film also exists in differing version. Most of the ones seen today are from a print that was re-edited in 1929 to add sound. This version added a music score and had new scenes with opera singer Mary Fabian playing the part of Carlotta, as well as the colour scenes where The Phantom attends the masque as The Red Death, which were directed by Edward Sedgwick. Lon Chaney was not available for voice-over work and the role of The Phantom remains unspeaking.
The film has been remade several times: as the insipid Phantom of the Opera (1943) starring Claude Rains; Hammers The Phantom of the Opera (1962) starring Herbert Lom; Phantom of the Opera (1983), a tv movie starring Maximillian Schell; The Phantom of the Opera (1989), a slasher film starring Robert Englund, which involved time travel and had The Phantom selling his soul to The Devil; The Phantom of the Opera (1990), a quite reasonable tv mini-series starring Charles Dance; Dario Argentos The Phantom of the Opera (1998) starring Julian Sands; and the big budget version of the musical The Phantom of the Opera (2004) starring Gerard Butler. Other variations on the story are The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a satirical version that sets the story to rock music; a pornographic version Phantom (1998); Angel of Music (2008) about a modern reporter conducting an investigation into the truth of the story; Phantom of the Theatre (2016), a Chinese version that conducts some radically different takes on the story; and modernisations like The Phantom of Hollywood (tv movie, 1974), The Phantom of the Ritz (1988), Phantom of the Mall: Erics Revenge (1989) and a Disney Channel childrens tv movie The Phantom of the Megaplex (2000), which had the Phantom haunting respectively a movie studio, a movie theatre, a mall and a cinema multiplex, as well as the low-budget The Phantom of the Opera (2014) where the Phantoms spirit is disturbed by a reality tv crew; and the story even being given an uncredited relocation to another planet in the Doctor Who episode The Caves of Androzani (1984). The making of the film is also covered in Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces (2000), a documentary about the unique Chaney.
Full film available online here:-