Lon Chaney, star of Universal’s classic 1925 production of Gaston Leroux’s lurid gothic tale, remains cinema’s most memorable and mesmerizing Phantom. “A former Universal stock player, Chaney was a sensation in Universal’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and two years later The Phantom of the Opera confirmed him as the silent era’s leading interpreter of horror roles. As Erik, the deformed ‘Phantom’ who lurks in catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, Chaney conceived a legendary, grotesque character, famously employing wire hooks and other effects to give his face a pinched, skull-like quality that terrified 1925 audiences. A master of pantomime, Chaney played effectively to the story’s over-ripe air of Grand Guignol, surreptitiously offering vocal instruction to a young opera understudy (Mary Philbin) from behind a wall, then spiriting her away to his underground lair in the vain hope of winning her love” (UCLA Film and Television Archive). The sets, costumes, and Chaney’s incredible makeup are stand-outs; the direction is credited to silent-era veteran Rupert Julian, who was replaced at some point during the troubled production. (Two years earlier, Julian had taken over direction of the lavish Viennese romance Merry-Go-Round after Erich von Stroheim was fired by Universal’s Irving Thalberg). B&W, 35mm, silent. 76 mins.
"Creates beneath the opera one of the most grotesque places in the cinema, and Chaney's performance transforms an absurd character into a haunting one."Chicago Sun Times | full review
"A pinnacle of the Hollywood fantastic."Village Voice | full review