Phantom of the Opera (1925, Rupert Julian)

When I think of silent horror, one of the first names that comes to mind is Rupert Julian, director of Phantom of the Opera, The Cat Creeps and Midnight Madness. Hahaha, I’m kidding of course, nobody has ever heard of Rupert Julian. But he’s still made quite a cool movie here, with Feuilladian booby traps and secret passages, the great Lon Chaney in his most famous makeup/mask, and some ill color tricks (tinting, hand-coloring and 2-strip technicolor) restored by a tech crew associated with the Alloy Orchestra, who accompanied Phantom at the Rome Film Festival.

Apparently we saw a rare version of this – most existing copies are of the 1929 reedit with added sound scenes. Great atmosphere and sets, lots of cool shadows. Best part is a masked ball, the Phantom’s only public appearance – masked, of course, so nobody realizes it’s him until later. He’s draped in a bright red cape, which looks shocking in a 1920’s film, standing on a statue while the heroes stand below talking about him, thinking themselves alone.

After seeing the musical version, I was surprised that the phantom here gets no sympathy. He’s an outright monster, killing and kidnapping, with no back-story and just the tiniest bit of humanity. He obsesses on understudy Christine, forcing her to leave her boyfriend Raoul and come to his subterranean lair. Raoul finally comes storming down followed by a torch-waving mob, only to get stupidly caught in traps until the Phantom, stupidly fooled by the usually quite stupid Christine, frees Raoul then gets chased into the river by the mob. Yes it’s a movie without much depth of character, but it gets the job done. Katy liked it too, and I got to briefly talk with Roger Miller about silent movies, so I figure it was worth the trip for both of us.

This came out the same year as three other Lon Chaney movies (including The Unholy Three), and before almost any other horror movie I’ve heard of (Nosferatu, and I guess you could count Haxan). Male hero Raoul was played by Norman Kerry, who also co-starred with Lon Chaney in Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Unknown, although he shares almost no scenes with Chaney in this one. Extremely gullible love interest Christine was Mary Philbin, who had worked with Julian and Kerry in Merry-Go-Round and would later star in The Man Who Laughs. The vaguely Lon Chaney-looking Arthur Edmund Carewe (later of Doctor X, The Cat and the Canary) played Ledoux, a suspicious character who turns out to be a secret agent and helps Raoul at the end. Edward Sedgwick, director of a 1920 American version of Fantomas (sadly lost), and director of the early sound-era Buster Keaton pictures which ruined Buster’s reputation, took over for Julian towards the end of the production.

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