Release Date: January 7th, 1925 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney (uncredited), Ernst Laemmle (uncredited), Edward Sedgwick (uncredited)
Written by: all uncredited: Walter Anthony, Elliott J. Clawson, Bernard McConville, Frank M. McCormack, Tom Reed, Raymond L. Schrock, Jasper Spearing, Richard Wallace
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Gustav Hinrichs
Cast: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin
Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes, 101 Minutes (original cut), 92 Minutes (1995 cut), 107 Minutes (DVD cut), 106 Minutes (Ontario cut), 95 Minutes (1929 re-release)
“If I am the Phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.” – The Phantom
This is one of the best films under the Universal Monsters banner even if fans of those classic monster movies don’t consider it a part of that oeuvre. However, it was made by Universal and helped kick off the fantastic horror output of the studio.
The Phantom of the Opera would be remade and reimagined a few decades later with Claude Rains and that’s the version most closely associated with Universal’s other monster flicks but without this silent era classic and the stellar performance by Lon Chaney Sr., the studio may have never gotten there.
Plus, this is the superior version of the story and honestly, it’s still the best Phantom of the Opera movie ever made. Again, I have to give credit to Chaney. Without him, this wouldn’t have been nearly the same picture.
Chaney is a master of silent era horror and a lot of that has to do with how he crafted his own monster makeup mixed with his physical performance, as he didn’t have sound and dialogue to rely on. Chaney is able to convey great emotion, even if his face is greatly obscured or disfigured.
Additionally, the tone of this picture is perfect and the world the Phantom lives in feels alive but stuffed with a brooding, haunting atmosphere.
For its time, this is well shot with good cinematography, impressive effects and sets that had to have been a real challenge to craft. The scenes where the water level changes show the level of care that went into producing this movie.
The opulent settings of the opera house and the world above the sewers exists in stark contrast with one another but it makes this such a visual feast that its hard not to be mesmerized by the picture’s imagery.
Overall, this is a damn good motion picture and one of Chaney’s best, if not the best. It’s the strong foundation that the Universal Monsters franchise was built on top of. Honestly, this is the Iron Man of its day.
Pairs well with: other silent horror films, specifically those starring Lon Chaney Sr.