The Phantom of the Opera – (1925; b/w silent except for music and singing with one colorized scene at the Bal Masque; based on Gaston Leroux’s novel) As the new owners take possession of the opera house they laugh off rumors of a ghost’s haunting the establishment. A letter arrives instructing them to replace their prima donna Carlotta with her understudy Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) to sing the role of Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s opera Faust. Taking the place of Carlotta, who is suddenly ill, Christine’s performance is spectacularly successful. Her lover Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) asks her to marry him, but she tells him: “I can never leave the opera. You must forget love.”
The Phantom (Lon Chaney), who has given her the gift of song but whom she has never seen, tells her to “think only of your career and your master,” warning her never to see Raoul again. Writing to Raoul she breaks off their romance. Meanwhile, Carlotta defies the Phantom and his curse, taking the stage in the lead role: the chandelier crashes onto the audience. The Phantom beckons Christine to pass through her mirror; he takes her down five levels, across a black lake, into his private chambers, formerly a torture chamber where he had been held during the second French revolution. Here he tells her that his name once was Erik before the abuses of men made him hate humanity; he sleeps in a coffin. An ember of “good aroused by purity” he trusts will save him from evil through his love for Christine.
Do not touch the mask, he cautions Christine, but when she awakes from a slumber of nightmares and hears him playing his Don Juan Triumph on the organ, she stealthily removes his mask, revealing a ghastly face and his terrible anger at her failing to obey his injunction. However, after her pleading for forgiveness, he releases her to return to her singing but threatens her and her lover with death if she sees Raoul again. Christine swears to obey but then corresponds with Raoul to meet her at the annual Bal Masque de l’ Opera. Costumed as Red Death, Erik rebukes the boisterous merrymakers and then on the roof overhears Christine begging Raoul to save her from “a monster – a loathsome beast” as they make plans to flee together for England after the evening performance. The backstage hand Joseph Buquet, who had caught a glimpse of the Phantom and described him, is found hanged; his brother vows revenge. The Phantom interrupts the opera and recaptures Christine.
Ledoux of the French secret police has been investigating the strange goings-on in the opera house and offers to lead Raoul to the Phantom’s lair. He advises the vicomte to keep his hand up at eye level to protect against the coil of the strangler’s noose. “You have spurned the spirit that made you great,” Erik chides Christine for her repeated betrayals. Raoul’s brother Comte Philip de Chagny descends to the underground lake where the Phantom drowns him. Raoul and Ledoux find themselves in a torture chamber of a furnace and mirrors. Once again Erik offers Christine a choice of becoming his bride or sacrificing her lover. Joseph’s brother with a mob bearing torches (a scene that would be familiar again in Frankenstein) descend into the bowels of the opera house. In this version the Phantom is not portrayed as worthy of our sympathy or admiration, even though Christine’s repeated disloyalty seems unfairly rewarded.
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