Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reviews From a Modest Movie Buff (The Phantom of the Opera - 1925)

The first movie review in the history of this blog had to go to something special, and thanks to YouTube, a newly repaired computer, and some really bad insomnia I got to watch this one at last!

This was the original silent movie, released in 1925 and starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin. I think at this point everyone and his grandmother knows the story of the Phantom, so I won't bore you with an overview.Girl takes singing lessons from masked, disfigured genius; masked, disfigured genius abducts girl and takes her to an underground lair; girl unmasks disfigured genius and it all goes downhill from there.

So, time to get to my review.

Lon Chaney was unbe-LIEVE-able! His performance really did it for me. He could convey more with one simple gesture than most actors can do with an entire script, and even with his face hidden and no dialogue to speak of (pardon the pun), I could really feel his emotions. Also, the man was totally hardcore. He did his own makeup for the disfigurement, using fishhooks and wire to manipulate his features. How many people are willing to go that far for a role, exactly? It makes you wonder how many guys would play the Phantom in the musical if they had to go through that every night! I think he was even creepier with the mask on, to be honest. Without it, I got more of a sense of his humanity and his madness. His emotion in the unmasking scene was incredible.

Mary Philbin as Christine was beautiful, but she overdid it on the acting, going melodramatic as often as she did. Norman Kerry made for a very dapper Raoul de Chagny, but as most Raouls turn out, he didn't seem like more than part of the scenery. Arthur Edmund Carewe as Ledoux was infinitely sinister, despite his being one of the good guys. I think it might have been the Tim-Burton style makeup...all that black eyeliner didn't make him seem too cheery.

This stayed pretty faithful to the book except for the ending, which I hear was re-shot three times to make the test audiences happy. A fan of the musical can also spot all the details that influenced the stage show, like the ballet that opens the movie and the Phantom's Red Death costume. It's black and white, of course, but the masked ball sequence was filmed in color, and it just looked wonderful!

When this was first released, the horror genre was just getting off the ground, making Phantom one of the first scary movies in history. And it was eerie enough I got chills while watching it, so I can believe the stories of people screaming and fainting in the theaters, especially at their first glimpse of Chaney's deformity. This was my first silent movie, so it took some time to get used to the style, but I really enjoyed it.

Quick note: I watched this on YouTube, and I've since learned it's a mistake to do that. It doesn't have a proper score, just the same bits of music playing over and over again. It got repetitive and boring really fast and didn't fit the scenes at all. (Who in the world wants to hear something that merry during the scorpion/grasshopper scene?) I hear the ultimate edition DVD is the way to go, so I'll have to invest in that one of these days.

This version won't replace Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical for me, but it was still a really great movie and a must for phans.

That's it for now, peeps!

Your pal,

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