How fortunate for Mary Philbin that in her portrayal of fledgling opera singer Christine Baaé, she is not under the technical requirements to convincingly render the voice of an operatic diva, as per the evidence onscreen, the capacity to compliment her role with more than an embarrassing assortment of swoons, cringes and teetering impressions of drunken whirlagigs seems quite beyond her capabilities.
Rupert Julian’s 1925 film of Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera”, its first cinematic translation, is known primarily as a vehicle for Lon Chaney’s extraordinary make-up transformation and an impressively effective unmasking scene. And that’s all. There’s a good reason for a general lack of similar excitement over the remaining aspects of the films, as quite simply as either a successful adaptation of the novel, or as an example of a grandiose spectacle with hints of mystery and the Grand Guignol, the film is a disappointing rendering to all but the most melodramatically inclined. Rather than using the novel as a springboard for a psychologically rich tale of isolation and dependence (think Svengali and Trilby by way of a Harlequin romance version of Poe), we get a catalog of craftsmanship courtesy of the Universal production design department; all immensity of Opera House and shadowy, would-be sinister cellars and sewer passages, but without the requisite directorial vision nor developed characterizations to make these imposing settings come alive.
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