“Sanctuary of song lovers, The Paris Opera House, rising nobly over medieval torture chambers, hidden dungeons, long forgotten…”
Seemingly tailor-made for the medium of silent cinema, “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” (“The Phantom Of The Opera”), Gaston Leroux’s then relatively unknown 1910 novel, was envisioned by Hollywood’s Universal Studios as a lavishly conceived and funded thriller, termed their annual “Super Jewel” production for 1925. But, alas, its creation ended up being hobbled and undermined by personality conflicts, differences of artistic opinion, and arguably uninspired staging. And the result became one of the more notoriously troubled productions of the silent cinema era, with a tortured history of retakes and edits yielding no one “pure” or “official” version of the film (although, all told, there are five good contenders).
Bringing the Phantom to life was Lon Chaney, fancifully known in the silent cinema era as “The Man Of A Thousand Faces”. Rising above the mediocrity of the performances surrounding him, his masterful performance, arguably the salvation of the film, successfully adds the character of Erik, the eponymous Phantom, to his legendary and well-established stable of lovelorn, physically deformed characters. And at the revelation of yet another of the masterful makeups for which he was famous, that of a death’s head, a grotesque parody of a human face turned inside out, movie house audiences of the time reportedly screamed with horror and shock.
The result emerged a classic, and it ended up being the most faithful cinematic adaptation of Leroux’s novel, and one without which it is doubtful that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical adaptation would ever have been attempted.
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