The Phantom of the Opera is a melodrama in the great French tradition, full of theatrical flourishes; it seems to have been written with the cinema in mind, although it was not until 1913 that any of Leroux’s works reached the screen. Oddly enough, although a dozen of Leroux’s novels were filmed in France during his lifetime, it was left to Hollywood to produce a version of The Phantom of the Opera in 1925, with Lon Chaney in the lead.
Making the most of the scenes where the phantom appears as the Red Death and the scene where Christine first snatches away the mask, the silent film became a classic. It was remade several times, most effectively in 1943, with Claude Rains in the lead. These film versions gave the phantom a more powerful motive than Leroux had, transforming him into an ambiguously tragic figure. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical, first staged in 1987, followed suit and provided quasi-operatic music to match.
The film and stage versions deemphasize the subplot in which Firmin and Moncharmin try to thwart the Ghost, although they do exploit its comic aspects for the sake of light relief. In the book, the Ghost’s ability to make things disappear (including himself) is so frequently invoked as to become tedious, and few readers can be surprised by the eventual revelation that it was all done with mirrors and trapdoors. Leroux had built his career on the presentation of seemingly impossible events that...
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