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Phantom of the Opera (1925)

NOTE: This commentary is only available on the Milestone/Image 2-Disc Set for this film. Two versions of the film are included in the set: a poor-quality print sourced from an altered Universal "Show at Home" 16 mm print, and a restoration of a previous restoration, in 1950, of the 1929 international print, which is subtly different from the 1925 version in many ways. MacQueen's commentary accompanies this latter cut.

Commentaries on this disc:

Commentary 1: Film historian Scott MacQueen Rating:7.2/10 (4 votes) [graph]Login to vote or review
Reviewed by Brian Thibodeau on June 3rd, 2004:Find all reviews by Brian Thibodeau
When they’re prepared properly, commentaries by historians, while not immune to a certain level of breathless fawning, narration or geeky fact-spouting, are generally the most informative tracks for film fans available on the format. Here, MacQueen offers up an excellent companion commentary to his sterling work on the 1942 remake (which was part of the original Universal Monsters DVD series, ultimately replaced by the Legacy Collection releases in 2004).

Though historian commentaries generally lack the informal atmosphere of cast/crew tracks of contemporary films, they inevitably make up for it with it a goldmine of well-researched history and ephemera and this track, running with the beautfifully preserved 1929 interntaional Print of the film, is no exception. Like fellow historians Tom Weaver, David J. Skal and Rudy Behlmer (all of whom provided exemplary and informative tracks in the Universal Monster series), MacQueen is indeed well-researched and, like all these orators, almosts sounds hard-pressed to fit all of his information into the alotted 96-minute running time of the film, pouring out facts and anecdotes at breakneck speed. This method, thankfully, results in virtually no dead air, little need for narration (unless it relates to one of the production stories) and ultimately a very satisfying track.

In addition to explaining how the 1929 version survived the ages, where new footage shot in 1929 was inserted, and how the 16 mm “Show at Home” print contained on the other disc is significantly different (the famed “unmasking” sequence, he shows, is in this international version compiled of footage taken from Milton Brittenbecker’s second camera, thus each scene is just slightly offset to better effect from the 1925 edition, which used the first camera negative), MacQueen provides a nice overview of original author Gaston Lereux, discusses the ban imposed on the film in England (largely to stick it to Americans and their oppressive marketing tactics), and frequently addresses the unanimously awful critical reception the film received upon its initial release (indeed, quite harsh in view of the film’s avowed “classic” status today).

MacQueen was also fortunate to have interviewed lead actress Mary Philbin in 1989 (the sound version of this film virtually killed her career) and relates the sad tale of her broken engagement to Universal producer (and future successful agent) Paul Koner, a Czecholslovakian Jew her Irish Catholic parents forbid her to marry. Consequently, she never married and, upon learning of Koner’s death in 1989, expressed a lifetime of regret when she found out her original love letters were found in his office desk.

All in all, a fantastically informative track that makes one wish historians were consulted more often, preferably to complement or outright replace aging cast and crew members who frequently prove unreliable in their recollections, or critics, who are often prone to subjective analysis of themes and construction.