The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Director: Rupert Julian
In 1922, Carl Laemmie, the President of Universal Pictures, was on vacation in France when he met Gaston Leroux working in the French cinema industry. Leroux gave Laemmie a copy of his novel, The Phantom of the Opera, which Laemmie read and then immediately decided to buy the film rights.
Perhaps appropriately, the production of the film was a disaster from the start. Rupert Julian was on bad terms with much of the cast. Lon Chaney played the Phantom and devised his own frightening make-up, for his well-known scene of unmasking that shocked and terrified audiences. The first cut of the film was previewed in Los Angeles and met poor reviews, thus Julian was instructed to re-shoot much of the film. Following this episode, he promptly walked out of the project. It was then taken up by a pair of directors who tried to re-shoot and edit the film to be a romantic comedy, but this was booed out of theaters, and finally a nine reel edit was attempted and failed. The sound-stage built for the film was left standing, reused by other projects until 2014 when it was demolished. It was stage 28 at Universal Studios. Laemmie’s daugher, Carla, played one of the ballerinas in the Faustian dance scenes at the outset.
The Phantom of the Opera, stays true to the book for the most part. It tells the tale of a recently sold Opera House in France that is plagued by a phantom who wishes to control the plays being performed. When things do not go according to plan, strange things start to happen to the set and the audience. Eventually, the Phantom kidnaps one of the main actresses and the men chase him through the catacombs of the Opera House, and through a series of torturous devices until they are nearly killed and the Phantom is hunted down by a mob and thrown to drown in the Seine, while the actress escapes.
Although it is an important film in the history of cinema, The Phantom of the Opera. is of poor quality. It is redeemed only by a few scenes using unique shadow effects, and, of course, the famously terrifying unmasking scene of the Phantom.