Beneath the Paris streets are a series of tunnels and catacombs, and beneath the opera house lives a man known as the phantom (Lon Chaney). He has lurked in the background for some time, but when he sees his heart's desire, Christine, he emerges and wreaks havoc on the opera house if they do not make her the star. Opposition arises.
The film's quality, for its time period, is very impressive, far greater than the "Hunchback" film just a few years prior. Everything is crisp and clean, very much a modern film, though with a lack of sound. I saw this on the big screen with live organ accompaniment, the only real way to see a silent film. The music is phenomenal and only heightened the greatness of this classic.
One must also point out the architecture. I am unclear where this was filmed, but the underground arches and tunnels were beautiful, Gothic and looming. At times I found myself distracted from the action to admire the craftsmanship of the background. I am curious about this.
Lon Chaney's makeup in this one is celebrated, and with good reason: this is probably his best disguise. Again, in "Hunchback", he was good but somewhat silly. Here he is creepy, ugly and indeed terrifying. Some have written of the intense process Chaney put into this look, and I have no doubt of these tales... he looks as disfigured as a man could look without real facial destruction.
Chaney is praised by all, from the claim that this is "the star's best vehicle" by Howard Maxford, to the thought that this was "one of Chaney's most impressive acting jobs" by Mike Mayo. I am at no liberty to disagree. The way the man uses body language and his hands to portray emotion (since he cannot speak in a silent film) is incredible -- and not just here. Anyone who wants to see Chaney's skill should check out "The Unknown", where he was an armless knife thrower.
As I said above, the only way to see this film is on the big screen with live organ accompaniment. However, since this is not possible for most people, I suggest the next best thing: the Blu-ray from Image Entertainment. This disc is unbelievable, with three versions of the film to watch, three unique scores to listen to... and even an audio commentary from movie historian (and Lon Chaney biographer) Jon Mirsalis. I listened to it, and even if you think you know all there could be to know about this film... you will learn from Mirsalis. All fans of horror or classic cinema must, must, must own this disc.