Description

    The Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1925). One Sheet (27" X 41").
    In 1923, Universal Pictures President Carl Laemmle made a decision that would not only set the course for his studio in the coming decades, but also make cinematic history. He essentially created the modern horror film with his production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Laemmle knew that the obvious star to appear as the misshapen lead could be none other than Lon Chaney. Known as a master of make-up, Chaney would be the only actor who could bring novelist Victor Hugo's tragic Quasimodo to life on the screen. The film was a major sensation, going on to become Universal's biggest money-maker up to that time. Due to its incredible popularity, Laemmle kept the film in continuous release for the next two years. By 1924, Laemmle was already looking for another sensation along the lines of The Hunchback. He turned to the classics again, and this time, found Gaston Leroux's novel, The Phantom of the Opera. The story concerned a horribly disfigured musician/composer, Erik, who falls in love with a rising diva in the Paris Opera Christine (Mary Philbin). His tutelage of her soon turns to obsession and Erik kidnaps her to become his bride. To portray the disfigured composer, Carl Laemmle turned once again to the only man who could play the role: Lon Chaney. Laemmle knew that with Chaney, he would have another major hit on his hands. Chaney, known as "the Man of a Thousand Faces", was given total control to create the make-up for his soon-to-be legendary character. He created a lasting masterpiece when he transformed himself into Erik the Phantom, by making his face appear as a living skull. He used thin wire to make his eyes bulge and to enlarge his nostrils. He also applied jagged teeth to his mouth and dark make-up around the eyes to complete the effect. The make-up was kept a complete secret from the public and wasn't revealed until the World Premiere of the picture. The night was in early 1925 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco and in attendance were the films lead's: Chaney, Philbin, and Norman Kerry (Raoul), and the film's directors, Rupert Julian and Edward Sedgwick. It was a celebrated event that brought major dignitaries and Hollywood's elite to the city. Although the film initially met with mixed reviews, it seemed that Universal could have a major hit. To insure the success of his picture, Laemmle ordered retakes under the direction of Sedgwick and had Technicolor sequences added to the film. The picture had another premiere at the Astor Theatre in New York City on September 6, 1925. To say the least, the film was a smash sensation. The Phantom of the Opera includes one of the scariest moments ever filmed when Christine approached the Phantom and tore the mask from his face. The resulting exposure of Chaney's face (and make-up) reportedly sent women screaming from the theater and fainting in the aisles. The scene has been imitated many times and in many films over the years, but the impact of this singular cinematic moment can't be overstated. Over the years, the film attained legendary status and solidified Universal's position in the coming horror genre. Universal Pictures considered this film to be so important, that the studio has preserved a portion of the original opera house set on Soundstage 28, where it stands to this day. It could be argued that without the success of The Phantom of the Opera, Universal might have abandoned the horror genre and Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and a host of other Universal Horror films might never have been made. Universal went all out in the creation of publicity material to advertise their production. No fewer than eight different one sheet posters were created for the film, yet only two of those depict the Phantom. Two of the eight one sheets were simple white titles against a black background. Two more posters featured the film's two romantic leads, (Raoul) Norman Kerry and (Christine) Mary Philbin. Another two tried to capture a hint of the film's mystery and menace: the first by showing a shadowy violinist terrorizing the film's Opera cast, and the second by showing a masked patron in a box seat while the theatre stage burns below him. It has been argued that this poster does depict the Phantom. However, since the Phantom never appears like this in the movie, the argument is irrelevant. The final two one sheets depict Lon Chaney as Erik the Phantom. One shows him atop the Paris Opera House after the Bal Masque sequence. The Phantom's red cape swirls around him and he covers his face as he listens to Christine and Raoul's plans to escape his control. Although this poster is quite spectacular, it is clearly an artist's interpretation of Chaney as the Phantom since it neither looks like Chaney, nor features him wearing the skull mask as he did in this scene from the film. In the creation of eight posters for this legendary classic of horror, Universal made only a single one sheet that accurately captured Lon Chaney as his greatest creation, Erik - The Phantom of the Opera. As Raoul (Kerry) searches for the kidnapped Christine (Philbin), the Phantom swims beneath the waters of the catacombs awaiting his chance to eliminate his rival for Christine's affections. The poster shows Chaney unmasked and in make-up and, even though his face is slightly obscured by the river's currents, there is no doubt that this is Chaney as the Phantom. Many collectors feel that this is one of the most spectacular posters created for any of the classic Universal Horror films. To date, there are only four copies known to exist. One is in the archive at Universal Studios and another two are in private collections. This one sheet is currently the only copy available and may remain so for years to come. The interior of this poster is fantastic with no fading whatsoever. There are some very minor color touchups to the fold lines and the lower centerpoint in the "P" of Opera. The poster had a few one inch wrinkles in the background and those have had some color pencil touch ups as well. The borders have been airbrushed, primarily to repair a few minor tears, tiny edge chips and a light horizontal crease in the top and bottom borders. All of these issues have been dealt with by very professional restoration so that the poster has a very clean appearance. Provenance; From the Collection of Nicolas Cage. Fine/Very Fine on Paper.




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