THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)/THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943): A DOUBLE BILL OF GRUESOME, GRISLY AND GROTESQUE ‘UNIVERSAL PICTURES’ HORROR FILM REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. (1925) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY GASTON LEROUX. DIRECTED BY RUPERT JULIAN. PRODUCED BY CARL LAEMMLE.
STARRING LON CHANEY, MARY PHILBIN, NORMAN KERRY, ARTHUR EDMUND CAREWE AND CARLA LAEMMLE.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. (1943) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY GASTON LEROUX. DIRECTED BY ARTHUR LUBIN. PRODUCED BY GEORGE WAGGNER.
STARRING CLAUDE RAINS, NELSON EDDY, SUSANNA FOSTER, EDGAR BARRIER AND MILES MANDER.
The 1925 film version of this creepy tale by Gaston Leroux is the first time the story was committed to celluloid and it’s widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, and certainly the best of the silent era. There’s something about a silent film that has the power to make a scary story even more frightening for the viewer, I always think.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is the story of a horribly deformed and disfigured man, whom it must be said the world has used most cruelly, who lives a solitary existence in the caverns deep down below the Paris Opera House in the early years of the twentieth century.
He covers his ugliness with a mask and, although no-one is supposed to know that he is there, the theatre staff are all uncomfortably conscious of an illicit presence in the opera house whom they have termed ‘the opera ghost.’
This ‘ghost’ falls in love with a beautiful and talented young opera singer called Christine, whose talent he wants to nurture and whose beauty he wishes to possess. He kidnaps this lovely but understandably terrified lady and takes her to his underground lair to live with him forever.
To say that she doesn’t exactly respond with: ‘Eeeeh, this is crackin,’ love, ‘ave you got a drawer where I can keep me smalls?’ is something of an understatement…
Above ground, Christine’s rather proactive lovers (Raoul the nobleman in the 1925 version and Anatole the baritone and Raoul the policeman in the 1943 film) have no intention of letting such an attractive and charming prize slip through their fingers.
The Phantom’s underground hidey-hole is about to become inconveniently overrun by irate beaux and, where there are irate beaux, can an angry, torch-wielding mob be far behind? Unfortunately for old Mask-Face, I very much fear that they cannot…
Lon Chaney (1883-1930) does a job of unparalleled excellence as Erik the Phantom in the 1925 silent movie. Everyone knows by now that he did his own make-up for the film, and it’s generally regarded even to this day to be one of the finest make-up jobs in film history.
Rumours abound about how much physical pain he put himself through to look the part but, regardless which bits are true and which are merely legends passed down by word of mouth, the fact remains that he did a wonderful job.
The ‘reveal’ of his hideously disfigured face is one of the scariest and most iconic scenes ever to be seen in any horror film ever. I can well imagine the women in the cinema audiences that year screaming, swooning and reaching for the smelling salts when his plug-ugly boat-race is uncovered by the dopey Christine who, let’s face it, had had about a million stern warnings not to, as it were, go there…!
The film as a whole is utterly magnificent. Everything, from the crashing of the massive opera chandelier to our first sighting of Erik’s underground lake and the coffin he sleeps in (yes, sleeps in!), to the wonderfully scary organ music he plays in the shadowy apartments in which he is doing little more than living in his own tomb, all combine to both unsettle the viewer and blow his/her mind with the stunning effects and scenery he/she is witnessing.
When Erik spectacularly appears at the Masked Ball as the Red Death, I defy you not to feel icy shivers from beyond the grave running up and down your spine…
There’s nothing negative I can say about this film. The first time I ever watched it was very late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning after a few glasses of wine and it was the most brilliantly surreal viewing experience I can ever remember having.
I’ve tried many times to recreate that experience but, even though the film will easily stand up to a million subsequent viewings, it would appear that that first time was a mind-blowing one-time offer…!
The 1943 film version is equally wonderful, but in a different way. It’s not remotely scary, it has to be said, plus it’s a musical version, if you please, which may annoy some people, but it’s still a terrific story well told.
The full-colour sets and scenery and costumes are absolutely fabulous, darlings, and the songs sung by Nelson Eddy are a joy to listen to. He’s extremely handsome as well, by the way, in his role as Christine’s would-be lover, Anatole.
There’s a running gag in the film involving Christine’s lovers. Anatole clashes, frequently and hilariously, with Raoul, the copper investigating the sinister Phantom-related goings-on in the Paris Opera House, over which of them is going to be Christine’s beau.
Christine, a sweet and pretty vision of loveliness in her beautiful dresses with her golden hair in saucy ringlets, is a naughty little minx who plays ’em both off against each other and greatly encourages their joint woo-ing of her. The little hussy…! A good spanking, applied by either or even both beaux-in-waiting, might not have gone amiss under the circumstances.
It’s the marvellous Claude Rains as the Phantom, however, who steals the show. He plays Erique Claudin, a violinist at the Opera House who loses his job and a valued concerto he’s written (and pretty much his lodgings as well) all in the same short space of time.
Add to this a tray of acid in the kisser and an enforced move to the underground caverns beneath the Opera House and you just might have yourself the worst run of luck since Adam and Eve decided that their diet was lacking fruit, haha. After that, Erique’s free to devote himself to stalking Christine full-time, but he’s got a lotta competition. Christine’s a popular lady…
Claude Rains had already become part of the UNIVERSAL PICTURE family of monsters when he’d starred in THE INVISIBLE MAN about a decade earlier. His excellent performance as the Phantom in this Oscar-winning, commercially successful version of Gaston Leroux’s tale guaranteed him a second and well-deserved place in that particular Hall of Fame.
There’s one thing I always found funny, not to mention a tad incongruous, about the Lon Chaney version. Whose idea was it to bring a horse down to the underground caverns? It’s not like the Phantom, poor guy, ever really went anywhere. Why did he need transport?
Even when the horse carries his beloved Christine to the tomb that Erik intends to be her home for the rest of her life, all that the horse is really doing is getting her there slightly earlier. They’ve literally got the rest of their lives to hang out in the cave. Seems to me like walking there under their own steam might have killed a bit of time for the pair, who no doubt have a lot of boring times ahead of them in the bowels of the Opera House:
Erik: ‘What shall we do today, dear? Shall we take a walk around the cave after dinner?’
Christine: ‘We did that yesterday, why don’t you ever take me out on the lake any more?’
Erik, protesting: ‘We did that the other week, dear, when your mother came, remember?’
Christine, bursting into tears: ‘And that’s another thing. You’ve never liked my mother…!’
Erik, punching the wall of the cave in frustration: ‘Well, maybe if she didn’t keep calling me fucking Quasimodo every time she fucking lays eyes on me…!’
Oh, happy days, folks. Happy days indeed…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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