Film Review: Phantom of the Opera 1925
S P Oldham
I just watched another of the films listed in Wednesday Lee Friday’s ’15 Black and White Horror Movies That Are Scary as Hell,’ posted on ScreenRant on 2oth August 2016. Find it here: https://screenrant.com/scariest-black-and-white-horror-movies-ever-all-time/
Today, I watched the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry.
The opening scene is very dark in a literal sense. Bearing in mind the age of the film, its quality now lends to the atmosphere, in which we first see a man bearing a lantern, peering in what looks like caves but is actually below-stage. We also get our first shadowy glimpse of the phantom. It is of course a clever device, setting the story in an opera hall which has been built over medieval dungeons and torture chambers. What a fantastic setting for a spooky story!
At first, I found the way that the ballet dancers continued to dance even when they were off-stage in the film very annoying, until it occurred to me that, this being a silent film, dance was being used as a means to communicate to me, the viewer. In that sense, the girls expressed their agitation and excitement at having seen the phantom via this means.
I appreciated how the characters and the acting are rather restrained, not over-the-top theatrical as many films from this era seem to be. Lots of the facial expressions made me wish I could hear the actors talking, their physical acting being good. In all honesty though, I found this film hard-going, not because of its content but because of its age and style. A little unfair of me, given that I knew it was made almost a hundred years ago, and I knew it to be a silent film, but true nonetheless.
Just like Frankenstein, this film, despite being set in an opera house, also culminates in the ‘angry mob,’ complete with burning torches, running through the streets of Paris in pursuit of the Phantom. He is fleeing in horse and carriage, our heroine his hapless victim laying captive within.
There is a nice little moment near the end of the film when the Phantom, surrounded on all sides at the banks of the Seine, holds up his clenched fist. The motion is enough to stop the baying crowds on both sides. The Phantom unclenches his hand, revealing there is nothing in it, laughing at the people. To me, this was a clever little device to illustrate how easy it is to control the masses via fear, ignorance and bravado.
I am not quite sure why one or two of the mob jump into the river at the end, as there was no apparent reason for this. Perhaps it was meant to convey the number of people assembled in the small space, them being pushed into the river accidentally, but it looks very much like they simply jumped in. Perhaps it was communication via dance or otherwise, but it looks, now, to be rather unnecessary and even a bit silly. They beat the Phantom to death on this small platform before throwing him into the dark water. Then suddenly, it is Finis; the end. Another abrupt halt to what has been a lengthy story.
Scary as hell? No, though I can well understand that it might have been at the time of its original release.