The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 silent film directed by Rupert Julian adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel of the same title. 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). )
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 and his brother, the Viscount 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 resigns. 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 of Faust, 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. Papillon's antics do not amuse Joseph's brother, Simon (Gibson Gowland), who chases him off.
In the cellars of the Opera House, during a dress rehearsal, the corps de ballet scurry around after having caught a glimpse of the Phantom. Florine Papillon (Snitz Edwards), a stage hand, follows them reluctantly, shuddering at the thought of a ghost.
Meanwhile, Madame 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 Christine's dressing room, an angelic voice calls to her from beyond the wall. He announces to her that she will sing Marguerite in Faust and that all of Paris will worship her, but that she must forget all worldly things and think only of her master.
The following day, in a garden near the Opera House, Christine and Raoul meet. Christine explains to Raoul that he must forget her and that her master has told her that she must devote her life to her art. Raoul baffled, Christine explains that the Spirit of Music that her father had promised would visit her has materialized and given her the gift of song, and although she has never seen him, she must obey him. Thinking that it is someone playing a joke on her, Raoul laughs and offends Christine, who runs off.
In her next performance, Christine reaches her triumph during the finale and receives a standing ovation from the audience. Exhausted, she faints on stage. 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.
Madame 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.
The same day, the mysterious man from the cellars visits the Prefect of Police in an attempt to keep Madame Carlotta from singing. "For the present, my identity must remain a secret," he tells the Prefect.
The following evening, in spite of every warning, Carlotta appears as Marguerite. At first, the performance goes well, but soon the Phantom's curse takes its effect, causing the great, glass chandelier to crash down onto the audience. After taking over the leading role from Carlotta, who has now taken ill, Christine is entranced by a mysterious voice through a secret door behind the mirror in her dressing room, 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. Unable to resist any further, Christine sneaks up behind the Phantom and tears off his mask, thus revealing his hideous deformity. 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 ultimatum that she never sees her lover again.
Released from the underground dungeon, Christine makes a rendezvous with Raoul on the Opera roof, observed, however, by an unseen jealous Phantom perching on a statue. A masked-ball at the Opera is then graced with the Phantom in the guise of the 'Red-Death' - from the Edgar Allan Poe tale of the same name.
Raoul and inspector Ledoux are then lured into the Phantom's underground death-trap as he kidnaps Christine. However, in the final sequence, he is pursued and killed by a mob on the streets of Paris.
(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.)
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 pulled his eyeballs out from their sockets with thin wires, so that his eyes appeared to bulge out and their sockets became very deep. He then kept his eyes in their bulged-out position with wires and 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.
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 Franscico 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 Theater 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 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 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). Posters exclaimed, "Lon Chaney's portrayal is a silent one!" The sound Phantom grossed another million dollars, and 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. Many of the films are now considered studio classics.
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 1929 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.
For the 2003 Image Entertainment/Photoplay Productions two-disc DVD, the surviving 1929 reissue 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 approximately 18 frames per second, the soundtrack runs painfully slowly. A sound reissue trailer included for the first time on the DVD runs at sound speed with the audio running at the correct pitch.
No one knows for sure what the negative used to strike the Eastman House print was produced for, due to footage from the 1929 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 1929 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 a re-shoot.
While it was common practise 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:
Several possibilities regarding the negative's origins are:
International versions were cheap 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 1929 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 were meant to 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 belong to the domestic sound version of the film 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.
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 1929 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.
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.
While a good picture reference, Phillip J. Riley's 1999 book MagicImage: The Phantom of the Opera (Magic Image, 1999) is riddled with errors, including the statement that the famous unmasking scene was shot in color. However, in the same book, the script is printed and is marked "Chaney says no color". Furthermore, no mention of color is listed in the continuities for the films.