Monday, August 12, 2013

In A Silent Way: A Night At The Opera

Like many of you readers, I grew up on a diet of Famous Monsters Of Filmland. In the 1960’s that periodical burned into my brain, countless, fascinating images from the great horror films of the past. One area that frustrated me was it's presentation of the films of the silent era. I read of how great Lon Chaney was but viewing these classics was impossible at the time. Sure TV brought us a wealth of the great Universal horror run of the 30's and 40's, but no channel allotted time for silent films. Occasionally I might see a scene or two but not an entire film. So it was with great anticipation that I finally viewed the 1925 presentation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. 

In the great opera house of Paris as series of deaths begin occurring. The mystery stubbornly remains unresolved and rumors abound that a malevolent ghost haunts the great theatre. These reports are only partially true; the house is bedeviled by an insane musical genius called Erik. He knows the inner workings of the theatre by virtue of having been part of it’s construction. The phantom falls in love with the voice of the fledging member of the troupe, Christine and he abducts her to give her special training. When she betrays his trust Erik sets out on a spree of mayhem.

I was astounded at how well done the production was. The set direction and costume design alone made it look like a million bucks. The lead’s Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin, live up to their lofty reputations by giving stellar performances. Even more surprising was the realization that I had misunderstood the films most iconic scene. I had always thought that the famous unmasking sequence was the climax of the movie, when in fact it appears about midway in. The story itself was vastly entertaining and the ending could have launched a sequel, as we never do see the recovery of Erik's corpse. Could he have escaped? This work is well deserving of it’s status as a classic.


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