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The Phantom of the Opera

Poster
Directed by Rupert Julian
Uncredited:
Lon Chaney
Ernst Laemmle
Edward Sedgwick
Produced by Carl Laemmle
Written by Novel:
Gaston Leroux
Uncredited:
Elliott J. Clawson
Raymond L. Schrock
Bernard McConville
Jasper Spearing
Richard Wallace
Walter Anthony
Tom Reed
Frank M. McCormack
Starring Lon Chaney
Mary Philbin
Norman Kerry
Arthur Edmund Carewe
Gibson Gowland
Cinematography Milton Bridenbecker
Virgil Miller
Charles Van Enger
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Maurice Pivar
Gilmore Walker
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) September 6, 1925 (1925-09-06)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles
Budget
Alternate Poster
Six-sheet poster for the original release.

The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 silent film adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel of the same title directed by Rupert Julian. The film featured Lon Chaney in the title role as the masked and facially deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the management to make the woman he loves a star. It is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

The film also features Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis and Snitz Edwards. The only surviving cast member is Carla Laemmle (born 1909), niece of producer Carl Laemmle, who played a small role as "prima ballerina" in the film when she was about 15.

The movie was adapted by Elliott J. Clawson, Frank M. McCormack (uncredited), Tom Reed (titles) and Raymond L. Schrock. It was directed by Rupert Julian, with supplemental direction by Edward Sedgwick, and Lon Chaney (unconfirmed).

Contents

Plot

The scenario presented is based on the general release version of 1925, which has additional scenes and sequences in different order than the existing reissue print (see below).

The film opens with the debut of the new season at the Paris Opera House, with a production of Gounod's Faust. Comte Philip de Chagny (John St. Polis) and his brother, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) are in attendance. Raoul attends only in the hope of hearing his sweetheart Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) sing. Christine, under the tuition of an unknown and mysterious coach, has made a sudden rise from the chorus to understudy of the prima donna. Raoul wishes for Christine to resign and marry him, but she refuses to let their relationship get in the way of her career.

At the height of the most prosperous season in the Opera's history, the management suddenly resign. As they leave, they tell the new managers of the Opera Ghost, a phantom who asks for opera box #5, among other things. The new managers laugh it off as a joke, but the old management leave troubled.

The managers go to Box 5 to see exactly who has taken it. The keeper of the box does not know who it is, as she has never seen his face. The two managers enter the box and are startled to see a shadowy figure seated. They run out of the box and compose themselves, but when they enter the box again, the person is gone.

After the performance, the ballet girls are disturbed by the sight of a mysterious man (Arthur Edmund Carewe), who dwells in the cellars. Arguing whether or not he is the Phantom, they decide to ask Joseph Bouqet, a stagehand who has actually seen the ghost's face. Bouquet describes a ghastly sight of a living skeleton to the girls, who are then startled by a shadow cast on the wall. The antics of stagehand Florine Papillon (Snitz Edwards) do not amuse Joseph's brother, Simon (Gibson Gowland), who chases him off.

Meanwhile, Mme. Carlotta (Virginia Pearson), the prima donna of the Paris Grand Opera, barges into the managers office enraged. She has received a letter from "The Phantom," demanding that Christine sing the role of Marguerite the following night, threatening dire consequences if his demands are not met.

In her next performance, Christine reaches her triumph during the finale and receives a standing ovation from the audience. When Raoul visits her in her dressing room, she pretends not to recognize him, because unbeknownst to the rest there, the Spirit is also there. Raoul spends the evening outside her door, and after the others have left, just as he is about to enter, he hears a man's voice within the room. He overhears the voice make his intentions to Christine: "Soon, Christine, this spirit will take form and will demand your love!" When Christine leaves her room alone, Raoul breaks in to find it empty.

Carlotta receives another discordant note from the Phantom. Once again, it demands that she take ill and let Christine have her part. The managers also get a note, reiterating that if Christine does not sing, they will present "Faust" in a house with a curse on it.

Erik, The Phantom (Lon Chaney) and Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin)

The following evening, despite the Phantom's warnings, a defiant Carlotta appears as Marguerite. At first, the performance goes well, but soon the Phantom's curse takes its effect, causing the great, crystal chandelier to fall down onto the audience. Christine runs to her dressing room and is entranced by a mysterious voice through a secret door behind the mirror , descending, in a dream-like sequence, semi-conscious on horseback by a winding staircase into the lower depths of the Opera. She is then taken by gondola over a subterranean lake by the masked Phantom into his lair. When the Phantom admits to who he is and his love for her, Christine faints and is carried into a suite fabricated for her comfort.

The next day, when she awakens, she finds a note from Erik, The Phantom. He tells her that she is free to go as she pleases, but that she must never look behind his mask. In the next room, the Phantom is playing his composition, "Don Juan Triumphant." It is the strangest and most weird music she has ever heard. Christine's curiosity gets the better of her and she sneaks up behind the Phantom. Christine tears off the Phantom's mask, revealing his hideously deformed face. Enraged, the Phantom makes his plans to hold her prisoner known. In an attempt to plead to him, he excuses her to visit her world one last time, with the condition that she never sees her lover again.

Released from the underground dungeon, Christine makes a rendezvous at the annual masked-ball, which is graced with the Phantom in the guise of the 'Red-Death' - from the Edgar Allan Poe tale of the same name. While on the roof, Christine tells Raoul everything. However, an unseen jealous Phantom perching on the statue of Apollo.

Raoul and Inspector Ledoux (the mystery man from the cellars) are then lured into the Phantom's underground death-trap when Christine is kidnapped while onstage.

Philippe is drowned by Erik when he goes looking for Raoul in the cellars of the Opera. The Phantom gives Christine a choice of two levers: one shaped like a scorpion and the other like a grasshopper. One will save her lover Raoul and the other will blow up the Opera! Christine picks the Scorpion-however it is a trick by the Phantom-it will "save" Raoul and Ledoux from being blown up-by drowning them! Christine begs the Phantom to save Raoul by promising him anything. At the last second the Phantom opens a trapdoor in his floor through which Raoul and Ledoux are saved. The Phantom attempts to flee with Christine in a stolen carriage. However, in the final sequence, while Raoul saves Christine, Erik/Phantom is pursued and killed by a mob on the streets of Paris who after beating him, throw him into the Seine River to finally drown.

In the original 1925 version there was a short scene showing Christine and Raoul on a honeymoon.

(An alternate ending features Christine giving the Phantom her ring, then departing with Raoul. The Phantom shrieks in pain and falls over dead, of a broken heart.)

Differences from the Novel

Although this particular adaptation is often considered perhaps the most faithful, it contains some significant plot differences to the Gaston Leroux Novel.

The character of Ledoux is not a mysterious Persian and is no longer a one time acquaintance of the Phantom. He is now a French Detective of the Secret Police. This character change was not originally scripted. It was a change made entirely during the title-card editing process. This is evidenced from the fact that Ledoux wears a somewhat Persian hat.

The Phantom no longer has a history of having studied in Persia. Rather, he is an escapee from Devil's Island, who is an expert in "the Black Arts."

The filmmakers initially intended on preserving the original ending of the novel, and filmed scenes where the Phantom dies of a broken heart after being kissed by Christine. Because of the preview audience's poor reaction, the studio decided to change the ending to a more exciting one. As a result, utility director Edward Sedgwick was hired to provide the climactic chase scene, with an alternate ending where the Phantom, after having saved Ledoux and Raoul, kidnaps Christine in Raoul's carriage. He is hunted down and cornered by an angry mob, beaten to death and thrown into the Seine.

Cast

Uncredited Cast

  • Bernard Siegel as Joseph Buquet
  • Edward Martindel as Comte Phillipe de Chagny (1930 redux)
  • Joseph Belmont as a stage manager
  • Alexander Bevani as Méphistophélès
  • Edward Cecil as Faust
  • Ruth Clifford as ballerina
  • Roy Coulson as the Jester
  • George Davis as The guard outside Christine's door
  • Madame Fiorenza as Madame Giry, keeper of the box
  • Cesare Gravina as a retiring manager
  • Bruce Covington as Monsieur Moncharmin
  • William Humphrey as Monsieur Debienne
  • George B Williams as Monsieur Ricard
  • Carla Laemmle as Prima Ballerina
  • Grace Marvin as Martha
  • John Miljan as Valéntin
  • Rolfe Sedan as an undetermined role
  • William Tracy as the Ratcatcher, the messenger from the shadows
  • Anton Vaverka as Prompter
  • Olive Ann Alcorn as La Sorelli (scenes cut)
  • Chester Conklin as Orderly (scenes cut)
  • Ward Crane as Count Ruboff (scenes cut)
  • Vola Vale as Christine's maid (scenes cut)
  • Edith Yorke as Mama Valerius (scenes cut)

Make-Up

Lon Chaney
in The Phantom of the Opera
Lon chaney sr.JPG ChaneyPhantomoftheOpera.jpg

Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, Lon Chaney was once again given the freedom to create his own make-up as the Phantom, a habit which became almost as famous as the films he starred in. Chaney painted his eye sockets black, giving a skull-like impression to them. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned that in place with wire, enlarging his nostrils with black paint, and putting a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom. Although nowhere near as elaborate as his make-up for Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it was no less painful, and no less effective either. When audiences first saw The Phantom of the Opera, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the scene where Christine pulls the concealing mask away, revealing his skull-like features to the audience (but not, for a few seconds, to Christine).

Chaney's appearance as the Phantom in the film has been the most accurate depiction of the title character, based on the description given in the novel, where Erik the Phantom is described as having a skull-like face with a few wisps of black hair on top of his head. As in the novel, Chaney's Phantom has a full facial deformity present since birth, as opposed to the partial facial disfigurement caused by acid or fire (depending on the adaptation) seen in later adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera.

It is in the appearance of the Phantom that Lon Chaney is most associated with in the mind of the public.

Production

Production started in late 1924 at Universal Studios and did not go smoothly. According to the Director of Photography, Charles Van Enger, throughout the production Chaney and the rest of the cast and crew had strained relations with the imperious director Rupert Julian. The first cut of the film was previewed in Los Angeles on January 7 and 26, 1925. The score was prepared by Joseph Carl Breil. No information survives as to what the score consisted of other than Universal's release, Presented with augmented concert orchestra, playing the score composed by J. Carl Briel, composer of music for "Birth of a Nation". The exact quote from the Opening Day full page ad in the Call Bulletin read: "Universal Weekly claimed a 60-piece orchestra. Moving Picture World reported that "The music from 'Faust' supplied the music [for the picture]." Due to poor reviews and reactions, the January release was pulled, and Julian was told to re-shoot most of the picture. Feeling that perhaps he was too good for the studio after replacing Erich Von Stroheim on The Merry-Go-Round (1924, which also starred Norman Kerry and Mary Philbin) he walked out.

Edward Sedgwick (later director of Buster Keaton's 1928 film The Cameraman) was then assigned by producer Carl Laemmle to re-shoot and redirect the bulk of the movie. Raymond L. Schrock and original screenwriter Elliot Clawson wrote new scenes at the request of Sedgewick. Most of these scenes depicted added subplots, with Chester Conklin and Vola Vale as comedic relief to the heroes and Ward Crane as the Russian, "Count Ruboff" dueling with Raoul for Christine's affection. This version was previewed in San Francisco on April 26, 1925 and did not do well at all. "The story drags to the point of nauseam", one reviewer stated.

The third and final version was the result of Universal hold-overs Maurice Pivar and Lois Weber, who edited the production down to nine reels. It debuted on September 6, 1925, at the Astor Theatre in New York City, and on October 17, 1925 in Hollywood, California. The score for the Astor opening was to be composed by Professor Gustav Hinrichs. Hinrich's score was not prepared in time, so instead, according to Universal Weekly, the premiere featured a score by Eugene Conte, composed mainly of "french airs" and the appropriate Faust cues. No expense was spared at the premiere; Universal even had a full organ installed at the Astor for the event. (As it was a legitimate house, the Astor theater used an orchestra, not an organ, for its music.) For all of the production problems, the film was a success at the box office, grossing over 2,000,000 USD.

In November 1929, after the successful introduction of sound pictures, Universal dubbed and re-shot a new cut of The Phantom of the Opera with the new Western Electric sound-on-disc process. Ernst Laemmle re-shot a little less than half of the picture in sound, while the remainder contained music and sound effects, with stock cues and original pieces by Sam A. Perry and David Broekman. Lon Chaney was at MGM, and by contract Universal could not dub his voice, so "third person" dialogue by the Phantom was looped over shots of his shadow (the voice-overs are uncredited, but are probably Universal regular, Phillip Smalley). Because Chaney's talkie debut was eagerly anticipated by filmgoers, the posters emphasized, "Lon Chaney's portrayal is a silent one!" The sound Phantom opened on February 16, 1930 and grossed another million dollars, then was stored away for future use, but has since vanished and is presently considered to be a lost film, although the soundtrack discs survive.

The success of The Phantom of the Opera inspired Universal to finance the production of a long string of horror films such as Dracula and its sequels, Frankenstein and its sequels, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy.[1] Many of the films are now considered studio classics.

Soundstage 28

According to Universal Studios, part of the set from the 1925 film has never been torn down and still stands. Inside soundstage 28, part of the opera house set continues to stand to the side where it was filmed some eight decades ago. Though it remains impressive, time has taken its toll and it is very rarely used. Urban legends claim the set remains because when workers have attempted to take it down in the past there have been fatal accidents, said to be caused by the ghost of Lon Chaney Sr.

Preservation

The famous unmasking scene which was said to have made theater patrons scream and faint in 1925. The 1930 version is on the left, the original 1925 version on the right.

The finest quality print of the film existing was struck from an original camera negative for George Eastman House in the early 1950s by Universal Pictures. The original 1925 version only survives in 16 mm "Show-At-Home" prints created by Universal for home movie use in the 1930s. There are several versions of these prints, but none is complete. All are off the original, domestic camera negative.

Because of the better quality of the Eastman House print, many home video releases have opted to use this as the basis of their transfers. This version has singer Mary Fabian in the role of "Carlotta". In the re-edited version, Virginia Pearson, who played "Carlotta" in the 1925 film, is credited and referred to as "Carlotta's Mother" instead. The majority of silent footage in the 1930 version is actually from a second camera, used to photograph the film for foreign markets and second negatives- careful examination of the two versions shows similar shots are slightly askew in composition. In 2009 Reelclassicdvd.com issued a special edition multi-disc DVD set which included a match-shot, side by side comparison between the two versions, editing the 1925 show-at-home print's narrative and continuity to match the Eastman House print.

For the 2003 Image Entertainment/Photoplay Productions two-disc DVD, the 1930 soundtrack has been re-edited in an attempt to fit the Eastman House print as best as possible. However, there are some problems with this attempt: There is no corresponding "man with lantern" sequence on the sound discs. While the purely silent "music and effect" reels seem to follow the discs fairly closely, the scenes with speech (which at one point constituted about 60% of the film) are generally shorter than their corresponding sequences on the discs. Also, since the sound discs were meant for a projection speed of 24 frames per second (the established speed for sound film), and the film on the DVD is presented at a slower frame rate (to reproduce natural speed), the soundtrack as edited has been altered to run slower. A sound reissue trailer included for the first time on the DVD runs at sound speed with the audio running at the correct pitch.

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Eastman House print mystery

No one knows for sure what the negative used to strike the Eastman House print was produced for, due to footage from the 1930 re-issue placed in it and its lack of wear or damage.

To add to the confusion, an opening prologue of a man with a lantern has been added, but there are no title cards or dialogue to substantiate it. It would seem that this shot was a talking sequence, but it shows up in the original 1925 version, this time truncated and with a different, close-up shot of the man with the lantern. To further confuse the issue of the 1930 re-issue, the opening title sequence, the lantern man, and the footage of Mary Fabian performing as Carlotta are photographed at 24 frames per second (sound speed). The lantern man sequence for the re-issue is therefore newer footage. The lantern man is likely Joseph Buquet, who was found hanged later in the movie. In the scenes of Ledoux and Raoul descending into Erik's lair, Ledoux mentions that the discovery of a trap door they used cost Joseph Buquet his life. In the lantern man scene, we see lantern man walking through what appears to be the canals in Erik's underground lair, shortly followed by a shadow which strongly resembled the shadow used for Erik in the movie. So, one could conclude that this textless scene is Joseph Buquet investigating the Phantom's lair after discovering the trap door Ledoux uses, being followed shortly thereafter by the Phantom, and presumably murdered by him offscreen.

While it was common practice to simultaneously shoot footage for prints designed for both domestic and foreign markets with multiple cameras, the film is possibly the only one to survive with footage of both versions available. Comparisons of both versions (in both black & white and color footage) yield:

  1. footage of most of the same scenes shot from slightly different angles
  2. different takes for similar scenes
  3. 24fps sound scenes replacing silent scene footage
  4. variations in many re-written dialogue and exposition cards in the same font

Several possibilities regarding the negative's origins are:

  1. It is an international version for foreign markets.
  2. It is a silent version for theaters not yet equipped with sound in 1930.
  3. it is a negative made for Universal Studio's reference.

International version

Two comparative frames of narrative titles from the 1930 sound reissue. The title on the left is from the Technicolor sequence, which survives in 35mm. On the right, a lost title card from a 16mm printdown, not sourced from the Eastman House version.

International versions were sound versions of films which the producing company did not feel were worth the expense of re-shooting in a foreign language. They were meant to cash in on the talkie craze; by 1930 anything with sound did well at the box-office while silent films were largely ignored by the public. These "international sound versions" were basically part-talkies and were largely silent except for musical sequences. Since the film included a synchronized music and a sound effect track, it could be advertised as a sound picture and could therefore capitalize on the talkie craze in foreign markets (instead of the more expensive method of actually re-filming talking sequences in foreign languages).

To make an international version, the studio would simply insert (on the soundtrack) music over any dialogue in the film and splice in some title cards (which would be replaced with the appropriate language of the country). Singing sequences were left intact as well as any sound sequences that did not involve speaking.

The surviving sound disks of The Phantom of the Opera belong to the domestic release 'and therefore do not synchronize with the dialogue portions of the film which have been abbreviated on the existing print. There is no record to substantiate what the "international version" of The Phantom was, nor is there any reference that it was even available. Furthermore, one negative was made for all of Europe and sent overseas. The negative was generally left there and the version that is now seen shows no signs of negative wear that would be consistent with that of a negative printed for a number of countries.

Silent version

During the transition to sound in 1930, it was not uncommon to see a silent and a sound version of a picture playing simultaneously (particularly from Universal, who kept a silent/sound policy longer than most studios). One speculation is that the Eastman House print is actually a silent version of the film made for theaters not yet equipped with sound.

However, according to trade journals of the time, only the sound version was available. The possibility is that Universal made a silent version from unused trims (the original negative was heavily worn, as seen by the Show-At-Home prints struck during this period), but decided not to do anything with it. Furthermore, by 1930 fewer exhibitors were booking totally silent films and this had forced all the major studios to add soundtracks and dialogue sequences to all of their major releases which had previously been intended for release as a silent picture. Studios did not spend much time or money in making silent versions, which were meant to be played in rural areas whose theaters could not yet afford the conversion to sound. Nevertheless, if the extant print is a silent version, it would explain why Universal still had it and also the lack of wear on the negative.

Studio print

Another possibility is that the print is a reference print for Universal's personal use. It would explain why outtakes from both the 1925 and 1930 version were used, would also explain the lack of wear on the negative itself, and would also explain why it was Universal's last surviving negative of the film. It is entirely possible that with the film re-classified as a "sound" film, it escaped Universal's purging of its silent film library.

Color preservation

The Bal Masqué scene was highlighted by its use of the Technicolor process.

According to the Harrison's Report, a trade journal, when the film was originally released, it contained 17 minutes of color footage. Technicolor's records show 497 feet of color footage. Judging from trade journals and reviews, all of the opera scenes of Faust, as well as the "Bal Masqué" scene were shot in Technicolor (then only a two-color system). Only the Bal Masqué scene survives in color. The Phantom's cape during the scene on the rooftop of the opera was colored red using the Handschiegl color process. This effect has been replicated in Photoplay Production/Kevin Brownlow's 1996 restoration by computer colorization.

As with many films of the time, black and white footage was tinted various colors to provide mood. These included amber for interiors, blue for night scenes, green for mysterious moods, red for fire and sunshine (yellow) for daylight exteriors.

Further information

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In the United States, the film is in the public domain due to Universal Pictures' failure to renew the copyright in 1953, and may be freely downloaded from the Internet Archive.It has been parodied by the 70's spoof film 'Phantom of the Paradise' and by the Terry Pratchett novel 'Maskerade'. This film was #52 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments The film was one of 400 films nominated to be on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition). The avant-garde jazz ensemble Club Foot Orchestra has written a new score for the film and performed it live in accompaniment to the film.

See also

References

  1. ^ The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, 1988 edition published by Dorset Press, New York.

External links


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