Film Review: Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The 1925 film version of The Phantom of the Opera is a film which, I think gets the Phantom himself much better than some of the later interpretations of the story. It gets the horrific side of the Phantom right, without over romanticising him.

Attention in particular has to be paid to Lon Chaney Sr.’s makeup as The Phantom. His version of the Phantom is a much more horrific figure, making his desire to remain hidden much more comprehensible, and it helps make the revulsion characters have against him make more sense, compared to the more iconic look which is a half-face mask with a cosmetic blemish underneath. The only adaptation that really comes close, in terms of horror, is the Hammer version of the story, but that version is less atmospheric.

That said, the film does reign in his more murderous impulses. In this version of the story, the only really murderous act the Phantom engages in is the dropping of the Grand Chandelier, which is one of the iconic set pieces of the story, but while he threatens a lot of secret murder, we don’t get that many other major accidents (none of the near-miss sandbags during rehearsal that are also an iconic part of the story.)

It’s weird looking at this in the context of modern filmmaking. You can tell where the budget went and where the shortcomings are. The money went into big elaborate set designs and complicated stagings, but the suspense of several sequences, and the omission of some of the scenes that build up the Phantom’s darker side are cut as a result. By comparison, with a modern film, the budgetary limitations would be leveraged away from the spectacle, and instead in favor of the suspense – more of the Phantom in the rafters, more secret murder (or attempted murder) during rehearsal, or backstage, less on the thousands of extras.

I definitely think this is a worthwhile film to watch in context of the history of cinema and cinematic adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, but I don’t know if it’s the most compelling adaptation of the story.