Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera

That's kind of a feminine looking Phantom...

I don't know about you, but I spent my Halloween at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo seeing the 1925 silent version of The Phantom of the Opera starring the amazing Lon Chaney. The theater itself is amazing and beautiful and I will definitely be going back to see another film there. I also should note that most of the other people in the audience looked like they were around when the movie first premiered. Just saying. 

Anyway, I have a few opinions on this film and I thought I had shared them on here before, but I was getting it confused with another Chaney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 

So, the version we watched was the 1925 version and it had not been remastered, which is great from a historical standpoint, but it a bit of a struggle to watch. The film was blurry and the title cards were hard to read and the notes the characters exchanged between each other? Impossible to read. Like I said, as a silent film enthusiast, I had to appreciate the film for what it was, but I would definitely have preferred a 'cleaned up' version.


Right off the bat, I will tell you that I am not a fan of Mary Philbin's performance in this film. From the first time I saw it I was just not impressed. In my opinion, I think she overacts and not in the standard silent film fashion either. I'm talking, above and beyond that! Her performance just takes me out of the drama happening on the screen and I just don't care for it. I was thinking during the movie of who I would have liked to have seen playing Christine instead of Mary Philbin and Martha Mansfield first came to mind. I think judging by her performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that she would have been great in this film...and then I remembered that she died two years before it was made. Another tragic reminder of what could have been. So, who else could have done it? Mary Miles Minter? Mae Marsh? Mary Brian? Who do you think?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I love Lon's performance. I mean, I am a bit biased because I would watch him do shadow puppets for an hour and still be impressed. Lon Chaney was one in a million, there will never be another like him. When people ask me why I love silent films, Lon's acting and dedication to his roles is one of the things I mention for why I love them so much. That much dedication to your art and that much time, effort, and talent is something to be admired, no matter who you are. 

One of the things I noticed about his performance while watching it again was how much Lon acted with his hands. His face may be hidden behind a mask, but his emotions are channeling through his hands superbly. It got me thinking about his childhood and how he was raised by two deaf parents and how that growing up I am sure he learned how to be expressive and communicate with his hands. I was delighted to see that this was also noted in the Trivia section for the movie on 

Something that surprised me when I first saw the film years ago was my reaction to first seeing the Phantom's face revealed. I had seen pictures of Lon Chaney as the Phantom many times, but there is something about seeing it on the big screen in a dark theater with an organ pounding out music that just amplifies the effect. The first time I saw it, I jumped back in my seat. It definitely makes me believe the stories of audience members fainting and screaming at the sight of his face when the movie first premiered. That just goes to show you how great a job Lon did on his make up and how it still has the ability to shock audiences ninety years later. 

Another favorite part of the film were the ballerinas. I thought it was so cute that when they were frightened and talking about the Phantom a few of them would jump and spin and it just make them look like little fairies. I tried to make out some faces because I knew I would should be able to recognize a few, but because of the film quality it was impossible. When I went home I read that actresses Ruth Clifford, Vola Vale, and Carla Laemmle all had roles as ballerinas in the film. In fact, Carla was the oldest surviving cast member from the film until her death in 2014. 

It was a treat to see Virginia Pearson in the film as well. I know Virginia was one of the top vamps of the silent screen, but I am sorry, she just always looks so nice in pictures! Anyway, Virginia plays the role of Carlotta, the opera diva and she plays it very well. Carlotta doesn't have much screen time but she makes the most of the time she does have. For me, Virginia displayed the perfect amount of overacting to make it over the top but still believable. 

Reportedly director Rupert Julian was not popular among the cast and crew. Apparently he and Chaney really did NOT get along to the point where they had to speak through intermediaries if they were forced to communicate with one another. Also, actor Norman Kerry once charged at Julian on horseback after the two had an argument. And once during filming, Julian stormed off set and was away so long that the scenes being shot that day were directed by Edward Sedgwick, who unfortunately did not receive any credit for his work during Julian's snit fit. 


Aside from Chaney's performance and the epic nature of the film, another aspect that makes this film so special are the technicolor scenes included in the middle of the film. For about 20 minutes the opera house and the attendees of the masquerade ball are in full color and it really is breathtaking. We are so used to watching silent films in black and white and seeing our favorite stars only in black and white so being able to see them in color really is amazing. It helps make them more real somehow and less mythological. At least, that is how I see it. Apparently there was another scene that was also colorized but only the masquerade ball scenes still survive. 

Speaking of breathtaking, how about the famous opera house that the film takes place in? The set remained standing in Stage 28 and was used in tons of other films. I was thinking about having to make a trip to see it, but sadly I read (and saw pictures) confirming that Stage 28 was demolished in September 2014 in order to make room for an amusement park ride...which...I just can't. It was rumored that the reason the set remained standing for so long was because the ghost of Lon Chaney haunted it and refused to allow anyone to destroy it. Guess he finally gave up the ghost!

The opera house set on Stage 28 
As I said earlier, the version that we screened was released in 1925. However, the film was re-released in 1929 with some major/minor changes. At first, the studio was just going to make a sequel, but I can't imagine what the hell that would have been like. Thankfully, the idea was tossed out and a re-issue of the 1925 film was put into the works. This new picture would contain sound, and new scenes with new actors (Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry did return). The Phantom is given a few lines in the film but they are voiced by another actor. Chaney had no part in the remake due to being under contract with another studio at the time. The film was just as popular and did very well at the box office. Sadly, the film is considered lost. The soundtrack used for the talking scenes do survive though, so there's that!

"I am the Phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so. If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me." ~~ The Phantom

Friday, November 13, 2015


So, I have a half finished entry on The Phantom of the Opera that I need to get back to working on. However, I have been quite distracted lately and under a bit (read: A LOT) of stress. My younger sister had a hemorrhagic stroke last week and it has been...quite the week. She is back home in Michigan, thankfully home resting and doing much better. I, however, am out here in California and can't do much to help which has been stressful on my end. I am going home next weekend for Thanksgiving so I am sure that will provide reassurance. Just have to hang on til then.

I will hopefully finish the Phantom entry over the weekend, but, until then I wanted to at least give you something! This is my dedication to my sister and to all the sisters of the silent film era.


Peggy and Lassie Lou Ahern

Peggy and Lassie Lou Ahern

Helene and Dolores Costello

Dolores and Helene Costello

Helene and Dolores Costello

Dolores and Helene Costello

Dolores and Helene Costello

Marion, Reine, and Rosemary Davies 

Alice and Marceline Day

Alice and Marceline Day

Marceline and Alice Day

Vivan and Rosetta Duncan

Vivian and Rosetta Duncan

Rosetta and Vivian Duncan

Mary and Doris Eaton

Pearl, Mary, and Doris Eaton

Viola Dana and Shirley Mason

Shirley Mason and Viola Dana (as Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino)

Viola Dana and Shirley Mason

Shirley Mason, Edna Flugrath, and Viola Dana

Betty and Evelyn Francisco

Dorothy and Lillian Gish

Lillian and Dorothy Gish

Katherine and Jane Lee

Violet and Claire Mersereau
Molly O'Day and Sally O'Neil

Molly O'Day and Sally O'Neil

Sally O'Neil and Molly O'Day

Lottie and Mary Pickford

Constance and Norma Talmadge

Norma and Constance Talmadge

Norma and Constance Talmadge

Constance and Norma Talmadge

Constance and Norma Talmadge

Adamae and Alberta Vaughn

Adamae and Alberta Vaughn

Lulu and Anna May Wong

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November Birthdays!

New month means new stars! 

I was going to do an entry about The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney that I saw last night but then I remembered that it's the first of the month and I have to post the monthly birthday entry. So, the movie write up with becoming shortly. I could have sworn that I had already covered it before, but apparently not. I definitely need a place to talk about how much I love Lon Chaney and how I am not a fan of Mary Philbin's performance (sorry, Mary!) Also, I can't wait to show pictures of the amazing theater I saw the film at in El Segundo. Such a great Halloween!

Take a look at who we have celebrating birthdays this month! Lots of great stars! Enjoy!

Laura LaPlante ~ November 1, 1904

Claire McDowell ~ November 2, 1877

Alice Brady ~ November 2, 1892

Mabel Julienne Scott ~ November 2, 1892

Ford Sterling ~ November 3, 1883

Judson Melford ~ November 3, 1900

Dulcie Cooper ~ November 3, 1903

Will Rogers ~ November 4, 1879

Gaby Deslys ~ November 4, 1881

Malcolm Sebastian ~ November 4, 1923

Baby Marie Osborne ~ November 5, 1911

Natalie Joyce ~ November 6, 1902

June Marlowe ~ November 6, 1903

Lucille LaVerne ~ November 7, 1872

King Baggot ~ November 7, 1879

Miriam Cooper ~ November 7, 1891

Leatrice Joy ~ November 7, 1893

Virginia Bradford ~ November 7, 1899

Mona Maris ~ November 7, 1903

Alice Day ~ November 7, 1905

Ethel Clayton ~ November 8, 1882

Marie Prevost ~ November 8, 1898

Adamae Vaughn ~ November 8, 1905

Marie Dressler ~ November 9, 1868

Edna May Oliver ~ November 9, 1883

Gertrude Astor ~ November 9, 1889

Snub Pollard ~ November 9, 1889

Mae Marsh ~ November 9, 1894

Winifred Westover ~ November 9, 1899

Marvel Rea ~ November 9, 1901

Myrtle Lind ~ November 9, 1901

Mabel Normand ~ November 10, 1895

Olga Grey ~ November 10, 1896

Beverly Bayne ~ November 11, 1894

Gwen Lee ~ November 12, 1904

Nita Naldi ~ November 13, 1894

Gertrude Olmstead ~ November 13, 1897

Evelyn Nelson ~ November 13, 1899

Seena Owen ~ November 14, 1894

Louise Huff ~ November 14, 1895

Louise Brooks ~ November 14, 1906

Naomi Childers ~ November 15, 1892

Madeline and Marion Fairbanks ~ November 15, 1900

Coy Watson ~ November 16, 1912

Wanda Treumann ~ November 17, 1889

Edna Murphy ~ November 17, 1899

Betty Bronson ~ November 17, 1906

Marguerite Namara ~ November 19, 1888

June Caprice ~ November 19, 1895

Patricia Avery ~ November 19, 1902

Nancy Carroll ~ November 19, 1903

Rod La Rocque ~ November 20, 1898

Grace Darmond ~ November 20, 1898

Trixie Friganza ~ November 21, 1871

Corinne Griffith ~ November 21, 1894

Jobyna Ralston ~ November 21, 1899

Alice Calhoun ~ November 21, 1900

Florence Barker ~ November 22, 1891

Rosetta Duncan ~ November 23, 1894

Ruth Etting ~ November 23, 1896

Ethlyne Clair ~ November 23, 1904

Priscilla Moran ~ November 23, 1917

Fern Andra ~ November 24, 1893

Dagmar Godowsky ~ November 24, 1897

Priscilla Dean ~ November 25, 1896

Helene Chadwick ~ November 25, 1897

Vera Reynolds ~ November 25, 1899

Margaret Livingston ~ November 25, 1900

Charles Emmett Mack ~ November 25, 1900

Lou Tellegen ~ November 26, 1881

Hughie Mack ~ November 26, 1884

Mildred Harris ~ November 29, 1901

Jacqueline Logan ~ November 30, 1901