The deed to the illustrious Paris Opera House has just changed hands with a key piece of knowledge going undisclosed: the menacing presence of the titular character (Lon Chaney), who resides in the building's catacombs where he once was tortured and disfigured and patronizes the career of his beloved understudy (Mary Philbin) from his reserved and undisturbed balcony seat. For me, Carl Laemmle's presentation of Victor Hugo's often recycled novel is all about the Phantom's unmasking, both the protracted tension leading up to the moment and the moment itself, an abrupt, jarring closeup of Chaney's hideous, contorted, and heavily made up visage. Chaney's performing highlights the film, especially during a floridly colored ballroom scene followed by a rooftop sequence where he watches over his adored and her ineffectual lover. The Phantom of the Opera isn't necessarily chilling or scary but it provides a nice throwback alternative to those only familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular musical interpretation.
*** 1/2 out of ****