For Reel

The Phantom of Paris (1931)
August 3, 2015, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John S. Robertson
3.5 Stars
The Phantom of ParisLon Chaney’s life was tragically cut short due to throat and lung cancer in the late summer of 1930. It was such an unexpected, rapid decline that MGM had four projects in the works for the star at the time of his death. One of these was The Phantom of Paris (critics agree that the title was meant to capitalize on the fame of The Phantom of the Opera, Chaney’s most famous role), a revenge melodrama that would star another silent star beginning to explore talkies, John Gilbert. The rumors regarding Gilbert’s failure to translate to sound film are often discredited, and this role makes a good case of his considerable presence and poise. His voice–which Louis B. Mayer promoted as high-pitched and nasally–is caustic and forceful, met well by a character motivated by anger. Gilbert plays a Houdini-like magician named Cheri-Bibi, who is framed for murder and seeks to clear his name by posing as the real killer. Gilbert transitions memorably from the cocksure, elegant escape artist in the first act, to a man driven by hatred (in one instance, he is framed within a fireplace in such a way that the fire consumes the foreground, suggesting his rage and passion), and finally to his performance as the unpleasant nobleman.

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