William K. Everson (American
Silent Film, Oxford University Press, 1978)
"Only 'The Phantom of the Opera,' with its classic unmasking scene, a masterpiece of manipulative editing, really succeeded (and still does!) in actually scaring the audience and that because the revelation had to be a purely visual one. Moreover, Lon Chaney's make-up was so grotesque as to equal, if not surpass, anything that the audience might have anticipated or imagined. This is something that cannot be said for the two sound remakes, where the finally unmasked Phantom's face was a decided letdown from audience expectations."
Robert G. Anderson (Faces,
Forms, Films The Artistry of Lon Chaney, Castle Books,
"Chaney moved through his scenes with the swiftness and ethereal quality of the fantasy he portrayed and lent to his characterization that elements of bizarre terror that the role and story called for. He was a real part of the seemingly unreal subterranean domain
"His disguise was so perfect that he was totally unidentifiable as Lon Chaney. The only clues to his identify were the unmistakable use of his expressive hands and the movements of his body. Many of his gestures and postures were exaggerated but only to the extent they were in keeping with the macabre settings in which he was placed.
"The film is still an effective one, even when viewed by today's more sophisticated audience. It tells its story and presents its characters as it was intended. The unmasking scene is still as dramatic as it was when first shown. Erik's dismay and anger at the young woman's curiosity is much like Lohengrin's disappointment at Elsa's persistence in learning his identify. This act of distrust speeds up the fateful outcome."
Richard Koszarski (An
Evening's Entertainment - The Age of the Silent Feature Picture,
1915-1928, University of California Press, 1990)
"His most famous film, 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), does show Chaney at his best. Completely hidden behind a brilliant death's head makeup, Chaney stalks the passages of an elegantly designed Paris Opera largely the creation of Opera veteran Ben Carré. Despite the efforts of two mediocre directors, Rupert Julian and Edward Sedgwick, the film manages to express much of the eerie texture o the original Gaston Leroux novel. With the chandelier sequence thrown away, and an unsatisfying chase at the end, only the authority of Chaney's performance holds the production together. Furiously pounding his pipe organ, or staring madly at Mary Philbin with eyes of fire, Chaney becomes a gargoyle unmatched in twenties cinema."
Joe Franklin (Classics
of the Silent Screen, The Citadel Press, 1959)
"'The Phantom of the Opera' was certainly one of the most spectacularly successful of all (the films of 1925), and one of Lon Chaney's most successful vehicles. As a piece of expertly contrived hokum, the film couldn't miss. With that plot, those wonderful settings, (key scenes had the added novelty of Technicolor), and the superb performance of Chaney, no director could have turned out a dull picture.
". . . The unmasking scene is a brilliant horror episode imitated many times . . . Many of the scenes in he grim caverns under the Paris Opera have very real beauty and dramatic power in their composition, evoking genuine images of terror . . .
" . . . there can be no complaint about the excitement the film does generate, even through it is the excitement of the melodramatic serial rather than that of the subtly-contrived mystery. It is rousing melodramatic fare, reaching a lively climax with the heroes trapped in sundry torture chambers, and their fates in the hands of heroine. . .
"Unsubtle though it may be, the 1925 'Phantom of the Opera' offered and still offers far more excitement than the tame thrills evoked by the re-make of the early '40's, which contained far more opera than phantom."
Michael F. Blake (A Thousand
Faces Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures,
The Vestal Press, Ltd., 1995)
"'Phantom of the Opera' contains all the elements needed for what should have been a marvelous picture. Instead, we are left with a mediocre melodrama that holds up today solely due to Chaney's riveting performance. The picture lacks syle and the lighting fails to create the necessary mysterious mood. Universal clearly proved its lack of leadership by assigning a second-rate director to the production, one who failed to grasph the fact that they had a genuine thriller on their hands. The female lead, mary Philbin, delivers the most glaringly inferior performance in the the film; her broad and overdramatic gestures are what current audiencs think all acting was like in silent pictures. This lack of a strong and supportive peformacne by the leading lady weakens the entire picture. Norman Kerry, as Raoul, is reduced to a stereotypical leading man and, with the numerous additions and deletions made tin the picture, he is left with little upon which to build his role. Only Arthur Edmund Carewe (playing Leroux), Gibson Gowland (as Simon Buquet), and Snitz Edwards (as Florine Papillon) wer able to breathe life into their performances.
"Equally disappointing is the presentation of the crashing of the great chandelier. Other than some flickering lights form the chandelier, there is absolutely no build-up of suspense prior to the big moment. . . However, the chase at the end of the picture, directed by Edward Sedwick, does manage ot build suspsense just before the climatic death of the Phantom. As for the unmasking scene, one can't help but speculate that Chaney may have had a forceful hand in directing it especially if he felt that Julian wasn't grasping the emotional impact."
". . . Chaney's performance was what people came to see. It's hard to imagine another actor who could have played this role with equal amounts of fearsomeness and pathos as did Chaney. Had he followed Julian's inept direction, the Phantom would never have gained an ounce of sympathy from the audience. Yet Chaney was perceptive enough to understand the character and to obtain a proper blend of terror and empathy."
Jerry Vermilye (The Films
of the Twenties, The Citadel Press, 1985)
"Apart from Chaney's self-styled, skull-like monster visage, which makes the celebrated unmasking scene the picture's highlight, this is not so much an actor's film as a director's vehicle. Director Rupert Julian cleverly arranges both Chaney and Mary Philbin to face the camera as she furtively slips off the mask so that we see the horror before she does. Philbin passes through the film looking attractive and suitably frightened, but Norman Kerry is wooden and uninvolved as her male counterpart. Director Julian fleshes out the melodrama with an eerie atmosphere and a powerful visual sense, highlighted by such scenes as the Phantom's sudden Red Death appearance among the uneasy guests at a bal masque and his subsequent appearance perched atop a gargoyle on the Opera's roof where Christine is enjoying a secret rendezvous with Raoul. ."
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