Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, John St. Polis, Snitz Edwards
Written by: Elliot Clawson, Raymond Schrock, from the novel by Gaston Leroux
Directed by: Rupert Julian
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 78
Date: 09/06/1925

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Organ Grinder

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Halloween: my favorite time of year. For whatever reason, I still get a charge from the warm autumn air, the smell of pumpkins and cheap rubber costumes. Plus, it's time to sit down with piles and piles of horror and suspense movies on DVD, beginning with the wondrous two-disc set of The Phantom of The Opera: The Ultimate Edition (1925) starring the indefatigable Lon Chaney in his most famous role.

Sporting his trademark ghoulish face, achieved through mysterious eye drops and a gizmo to pull his nose back, Chaney haunts the opera hall and chases after the lovely Mary Philbin. It's not the best Chaney film -- it has slow, convoluted stretches -- but it occasionally bursts into life with its peculiar atmosphere, and it helped establish Chaney's screen persona as the freakish, forever jilted lover. Chaney's famous unmasking scene is something you'll never forget as long as you live.

It's definitely a minor story, in the grand scheme of things, but it has considerable power, as witnessed by its continued popularity across the century. Rupert Julien gets credit for directing this lavish Universal production, though Edward Sedgwick, Ernst Laemmle, and Chaney himself reportedly helped.

In 2003, Image Entertainment released a great two-disc DVD set, which included the original 1925 version, and a beautiful, but shorter, 1929 restored re-release version with sound effects, a color sequence, two musical scores, and an expert commentary track. In 2011 Image has released the Blu-Ray edition, but instead of a re-tread, they have put an enormous amount of work into a new package.

The movie has been remastered once more, at the more appropriate 24 frames per second, making for a running time of 78 minutes and generally picking up the pace of this sometimes slow-moving picture. The Alloy Orchestra provides a score for this gorgeous new version, and the high-def picture quality is pristine; it looks like a film print. The other 1929 version is here as well (at 20 frames per second) with a new, entertaining and scholarly commentary track by Dr. Jon Mirsalis. The original 1925 version is too battered and low quality (mastered from a 16mm copy) for a proper remaster, and so it's presented here in regular, DVD quality resolution.

Other extras include an interview with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau, still galleries, a film script, a trailer, and a reproduction of the souvenir program.

It continues: in 2015, Kino Lorber released yet another Blu-ray edition, a two-disc set. It has apparently been tweaked in minor ways from the 2011 version, but appears to contain all the same versions of the film and all the same extras, plus a few new ones.

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