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Phantom of the Opera, The (1925, Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin)

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Variety described this classic silent as ‘probably the greatest inducement to nightmare that has yet been screened.’ Showing here in a full, restored print, with two-colour Technicolor and hand-coloured sections for the dramatic masked ball and the Phantom’s eavesdropping on his protégé Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), the film is accompanied by a special score written and conducted by Carl Davis.

The film gave Lon Chaney his finest role as the hideously deformed Erik, a demented musician who haunts the caverns underneath the Paris Opera House and embarks on a reign of terror to ensure Christine, who he adores, becomes the opera’s star. The highlight of the film is the scene where the masked Phantom kidnaps her and takes her to his sanctum. As he sits playing the organ, she unmasks him, one of the screen’s greatest horror moments.

Chaney went to extraordinary lengths to achieve his look, distorting his cheekbones with celluloid discs and cotton wool in his mouth, distending his nostrils with metal clips, using clips to draw back his mouth and reveal rotting teeth, and using chemicals to make his pupils dilate and eyes bulge. And, drawing on his early life, where he had to communicate to his deaf/mute parents by mime, he brings to the role a performance of power rarely seen, making this the definitive version of the film, since copied but never surpassed.

production details
USA | 103 minutes | 1925

Director: Rupert Julian (uncredited: Edward Sedgewick, Lon Chaney)
Writers: Elliott J Clawson, Raymond Schrock from Gaston Leroux’s novel

cast
Lon Chaney as Erik, The Phantom
Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé
Norman Kerry as Vicomte Raoul de Chagny
Arthur Edmund Carewe as Ledoux
John St. Polis as Comte Philip de Chagny
Virginia Pearson as Carlotta
Gibson Gowland as Simon Buquet
Snitz Edwards as Florine Papillon
Chester Conklin as Orderly (uncredited)
Carla Laemmle as Prima Ballerina (uncredited)