It’s hard to imagine a time before the 80s when there wasn’t a musical associated with this title, but the story is the same, and the film stands up as one of the great silent films as well as a great performance by Lon Chaney as Erik, also known as The Phantom.
Based on the original novel by Gaston Leroux the tale follows a young ingenue of the theater, Christine Daae, her lover Raoul, and the elusive figure known as the Phantom who haunts the levels of the opera.
The Phantom teaches and inspires Christine and helps her star to rise within the theater, and all he asks for in return is her devotion and love, which she is more than willing to give, shunning Raoul. That is until the Phantom makes the mistake of actually appearing to her and taking her below the stage to his underground lair proclaiming his love. Not an ideal first date by any standards.
Then he warns her that she must never remove his mask, and tells her that if she promises to share his love he will happily give her her freedom.
So the first thing she does… remove the mask…
At this point, you can feel a little bad for him. Poor guy, no social skills, judged by his looks.
To make sure we don’t fall into that box of caring for him too much, we learn from the officer of the secret police that he is an escaped convict who has a specialty in the dark arts!!
On returning to the surface, Christine contacts Raoul, saying they must see another again but must be cautious.
Things go sideways from there.
Lon Chaney turns in a great performance, and there is some comedic moments from the two hapless managers who buy the theater at the beginning of the film, before they realize their opera house is ‘haunted’, and I do believe that the makeup work for the Phantom were truly horrifying when first revealed, but for the film just couldn’t hold my attention for extended periods of time.
So while I can respect is a marker in cinematic horror history, this one isn’t necessarily the highest rated horror film on my list.
That puts to bed the last of the silent films that have been recommended to me from that handy little book. Now we are full out into the 30s and 40s, the heyday of the Universal monsters… and beyond…