One of the most famous horror movies of all time, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA still manages to frighten after more than 60 years. The legendary Lon Chaney is magnificent as Erik, the horribly disfigured maniac composer known only as the "Phantom," who takes an interest in Christine (Mary
Philbin), an understudy at the Paris Opera. Hidden in secret passages, he coaches her, perfecting her art until she is a star. Then he forces the company's leading soprano to step down by unleashing a series of horrors, including sending an enormous chandelier crashing down on the audience during
a performance. Eventually the masked Phantom lures Christine to his subterranean lair, where he professes his love for her. He also agrees to let her return to the stage on the condition that she break off her relationship with Raoul (Norman Kerry). Christine agrees, but once she is free rushes to
her lover, and they make plans to flee to England following her performance. The Phantom overhears them, however, and kidnaps Christine. As he sits and plays his huge pipe organ, curiosity overwhelms Christine and she creeps up behind the Phantom and pulls off his mask, revealing the terrible
skull-like visage beneath. Eventually, Raoul and a mysterious foreign agent set out to capture the Phantom, as does an enraged mob led by the brother of one of the Phantom's victims.
A much stronger film than THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA further cemented Chaney's reputation as a superstar and made Universal synonymous with horror. From the point of view of the studio's management, however, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was horrific in more ways than
one, taking more than two years to reach the theaters after its initial completion in 1923. When it was originally previewed in California, critics told Carl Laemmle that he would have a turkey on his hands unless he offset the scary aspects with plenty of comedy relief, so the studio head brought
in Chester Conklin from the Sennett lot and additional footage was shot. These additions, however, necessitated a new set of titles, and the expensive Walter Anthony was hired to provide them. When the picture, which Universal hoped would achieve "prestige" status, was then screened in San
Francisco, the consensus was that it had some wonderful moments but failed to make sense. So the whole production was turned over to a new staff of title writers and editors who really tore it apart. Out came the comedy, as well as a whole subplot involving Ward Crane and a lot of sword play,
until finally studio execs felt they had their "big picture." With its play of light and shadow, its secret passageways, masked ball (filmed in two-strip Technicolor), and the still-chilling unmasking scene, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA deserves its revered place in horror film history.
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- Review: One of the most famous horror movies of all time, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA still manages to frighten after more than 60 years. The legendary Lon Chaney is magnificent as Erik, the horribly disfigured maniac composer known only as the "Phantom," who takes a… (more)
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