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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

UNMASKING "THE PHANTOM"

A friend lent me the deluxe DVD edition of the 1925 "The Phantom of the Opera" starring Lon Chaney. Or was it 1926? Or 1929? Or 1930?

I never knew this movie had such a checkered history. The "Phantom" expert who provided the commentary said there is no "one" version of "Phantom of the Opera," but that the film has five "pedigrees."

Scenes were re-shot to appease preview audiences; subplots were added and subtracted; the Phantom's manner of death was changed (from heart attack on the organ bench to fleeing angry villagers through the streets of Paris); Chaney was called back to Universal to shoot additional scenes after defecting to MGM; and on and on. All of this was aggravated by the film's re-release four years later with recorded dialogue, music and synchronized sound effects. An unidentified (and rather hammy) actor even spoke for Chaney's Phantom!

Try as I might, I couldn't keep the whole story straight. To accomplish this, I figure you would have to own this two-disc set (which I plan to do) and then revisit it periodically until it finally enters your bloodstream. That is, if you care enough, which I do.

To me, the unmasking scene in the original "Phantom of the Opera" is THE scariest moment in any the horror film. Though "Phantom" is by no means the earliest horror film -- it was preceded by Chaney's own "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923), "Nosferatu" (1922), "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), John Barrymore's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), Thomas Edison's "Frankenstein" (1910) and any number of others -- I still think of the unmasking scene as THE seminal moment in the horror film. I put it up there with "Rock Around the Clock" (the first rock 'n' roll song), "Action Comics" No. 1 (the first superhero comic book) and other milestones that have changed our culture forever.

2 Comments:

Blogger wstroby said...

It's interesting. We sometimes think of previews and resulting reshoots as being a modern phenomenon - and an artistically questionable one at that. But apparently Universal was in such a panic over the bad reception to the first PHANTOM previews that they rewrote and reshot like crazy. One thing that's true of all the versions though, is that while the Chaney moments are magical, the rest of the film is a bit of a muddle.

12:51 AM, February 02, 2007  
Anonymous philbin fanatic said...

Yeah, but Mary Philbin is a fine little philly, even in the non-Chaney scenes.

11:14 PM, February 19, 2007  

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