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The Phantom of the Opera (February 7, 1930)

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Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera

Released February 7, 1930: Carlotta is forced to give up her starring role in the Paris Opera because of a shadowy phantom that hides in the catacombs below.

Directed by Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle and Edward Sedgwick

The Actors: Lon Chaney (Erik, the Phantom), Mary Philbin (Christine Daae), Norman Kerry (Vicomte Raoul de Chagny), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Ledoux), Gibson Gowland (Simon Buquet), John St. Polis (Comte Philip de Chagny), Snitz Edwards (Florine Papillon), Mary Fabian (Carlotta), Virginia Pearson (Carlotta's mother), Olive Ann Alcorn (La Sorelli), Joseph Belmont (Stage Manager), Alexander Bevani (Mephistopheles), Earl Gordon Bostwick (bit part), Ruth Clifford (Ballerina), Chester Conklin (orderly), Roy Coulson (the Jester), Bruce Covington (M. Moncharmin), Ward Crane (Count Ruboff), George Davis (guard at Christine's door), Madame Fiorenza (Mme. Giry, keeper of the box), Cesare Gravina (the manager), William Humphrey (M. Debienne), Carla Laemmle (Prima Ballerina), Edward Martindel (Comte Philip de Chagny in the 1929 re-edit), Grace Marvin (Martha), John Miljan (Valentin), Bernard Siegel (Joseph Buquet), William Tracy (Ratcatcher, and messenger from the shadows), William Tyroler (Orchestra Director of the Opera), Vola Vale (Ballerina), Anton Vaverka (prompter), George B. Williams (M. Ricard), Edith Yorke (Mama Valerius).


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In the early days of cinema movies were like newspapers, very disposable. After a movie had its run in the theaters, it was tossed aside and forgotten. That is why so many of the surviving copies of early movies are in terrible shape - very few people even bothered to keep any recording of them, and only well-worn copies lying around in attics and cellars have survived. In 1925 Universal Studios produced a blockbuster silent movie version of Gaston Leroux's famous novel, and it was such a success that four years later they did something unheard of - they made some minor changes to the movie and released it again, premiering in New York City on February 7, to rousing audiences. This version is the 1929 re-edit, obtained from the UCLA film and television archives. You can also see the original 1925 edit here: The Phantom of the Opera, 1925

The Paris Opera is having its best season ever, but the owners suddenly sell to a new owner, amid fears of a murderous mysterious phantom that haunts the Opera House, and watches the opera from balcony box number 5. A mysterious stranger is seen in box 5 that can enter and leave the box without anyone seeing him pass. One day the prima ballerina, Carlotta, receives a note from the Phantom that threatens her with severe consequences unless she resigns and allows Christina to take her place in the Opera. Although she is enraged and promises to appear in the Opera as usual, on the night of the performance, she is mysteriously taken ill, and Christina takes her place. Christina is a huge hit, and after her performance she hears the voice of the Phantom in her dressing room. He wants her to dump her lover Raoul, and give her affections only to the Phantom, and in return he will guarantee her success. But Carlotta vows she will return, even though the Phantom has promised to curse the theater if she returns. On the night of Carlotta's next performance, the huge crystal chandelier falls and kills many in the audience. Christina runs to her dressing room and hears the voice of the Phantom, and she goes in a dream-like sequence behind the mirror where she finds a stairway to the cellars and meets the masked Phantom. After fainting, she awakens in a room with a note from the Phantom, telling her that she may return to the world she knows, then pledging his love to her, but warning her to never remove his mask. She hears him in the next room playing the large pipe organ, and with great curiosity goes in and pulls away his mask, revealing his deformed face. The angry Phantom decides to hold her prisoner in the opera cellars forever, but Christina convinces him to let her visit her world one more time, and the Phantom agrees, with certain conditions. She must never see her lover Raoul again. Of course, Christina does plan to see Raoul again, at the annual masked ball, but the Phantom is also at the ball, in desguise, and hears her telling Raoul everything.

The Phantom later lures both Raoul and Inspector Ledoux to his underground world where he puts them into a death trap. Meanwhile, as Christine is performing on stage, a trap door opens and she drops suddenly into the underground world of the Phantom. He shows her two levers, ons shaped like a scorpion, and the other shaped like a grasshopper. He tells her that one lever will save Raoul, and one lever will blow up the Opera House and them with it. When Christina chooses to save Raoul by pulling the scorpion lever, they are 'saved' from being blown up by being drowned. Christina pleads with the Phantom to not let Raoul drown, and at the last moment the Phantom opens a trap door and saves Raoul and Inspector Ledoux. Then, as the Phantom tries to escape with Christina in a carriage, Raoul chases them and saves Christina, and an angry mob kills the Phantom by throwing him into the Seine river to drown.

Mr. Chaney applied his makeup himself, and no one was allowed to see him in his horrible makeup until filming was under way. The performance of Lon Chaney was so intense, it provided both him and his son a lifetime of acting roles as deformed, monsterous characters. Talk about type-casting!