Wednesday, December 8, 2010

#124. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

DVD Synopsis: The majestic Paris Opera House rises high above the catacombs, the long forgotten dungeons and torture chambers of the city of Paris. Lon Chaney gives his greatest performance as the Phantom, the vengeful composer who wears a mask to hide his hideous deformed face. His love for a young prima donna takes a sinister turn when he abducts her and carries her away to his lair in the depths of the catacombs. The unmasking of the Phantom is one of the most chilling and unforgettable moments in motion picture history.

Much has been written over the years on the physical appearance of Lon Chaney’s Phantom, and rightly so. Thanks to his handiwork with a makeup kit (Chaney himself was responsible for creating the Phantom's appearance), the actor provided the cinema with one of its earliest notable monsters, and when we first see the creature’s face, its deformity is an absolute shock. As was the norm with many of Lon Chaney’s on-screen characterizations, however, the Phantom proved more than the sum of his makeup. In fact, it’s only through Chaney’s incredible performance that we discover the true nature of the hideous Phantom, whose dark personality proves the perfect match for his ghoulish features. 

In one harrowing scene, the singer Christine (Mary Philbin), the object of the Phantom's desires, is walking on the roof of the Opera House with Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry).  In love with one another, Christine and Raoul are discussing their plan to leave Paris together that very night. Unbeknownst to them, the Phantom has eavesdropped on their conversation, and what he hears causes him to cry out in a rage. The deep, troubling emotions Chaney exhibits in this scene are enough to send a chill right up your spine. While the Phantom’s physical appearance shocks us, its the psychotic outbursts such as this one that truly fill us with dread.

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