I have some incredible ‘new’ information to share about the 1916 German silent Phantom movie! The same forum poster who found and translated the brief trade-magazine synopsis that I posted about here a few months ago recently discovered an Austrian film publication with a far more detailed summary!
Here’s the poster’s translation of the above article, from the May 14th, 1916 issue of Kinematographische Rundschau. (Also shown above: advance advertisements for the movie, from Neueste Nachrichten von Philipp & Pressburger, December 3rd and 10th, 1916—according to the poster, though the movie was screened once in Austria in mid-1916, it wasn’t given full distribution in that country until February of the following year.)
The Phantom of the Opera
Drama in 4 acts
Script by Ernst Matray.
(Exclusive distributor [for Austria]: Philipp & Pressburger)
This effective film possesses a certain originality as a result of its fantastic and mysterious subject, for which there is ultimately a rational explanation. Of particular note are the superb images shot – in accordance with the mysterious subject matter – using gloomy lighting, which prove extremely impressive.
Faust is scheduled for performance today at the big opera house. However, the establishment’s director receives a letter signed only ‘Phantom,’ advising him that, if the singer Carlotta should become indisposed, then Christine ought to take her place. The communication leaves the director with an uneasy feeling, as all previous prophecies by this spectre of the premises have come true – and indeed, he soon holds a letter from Carlotta in his hands, informing him that she is unable to perform. He rushes to Christine and begs her to take on the role, something she is only too pleased to do. Her appearance proves an unrivalled success. In a semi-conscious state, the singer makes her way to her dressing room, but the doctor who is called explains that her nerves are merely overwrought. Count Raoul Chagny, a keen friend of Christine, waits outside her dressing room for the doctor’s departure, and is bemused to hear a man’s voice in the dressing room after the doctor has left. After Christine has also left, he sneaks into the dressing room, but nobody is there. At the post-performance party, Christine is introduced to Dagora [sic], a Persian who is the opera’s oldest regular patron. Raoul is also present at the party, and takes Christine home in his car. When he asks whose voice he had heard in her dressing room, she winces and pleads with him not to question her about this now – promising instead to explain all to him later. Raoul declares himself satisfied with this, and hopes to pay Christine a visit the following afternoon. The next day, however, he learns from Christine’s mother that she has gone away at short notice. His unease increases that evening, when a friend tells him he’s repeatedly seen Christine being driven about in a stranger’s carriage recently. After stepping out for a breath of fresh air at his friend’s suggestion, Raoul sees Christine with his own eyes, in the company of a gentleman in a passing carriage; he cries out, whereupon the stranger impels the horses to gallop, and the carriage is soon out of sight. The following day, Raoul receives a written invitation from Christine to meet him in the reception room of the opera house – and this time she turns up promptly at the appointed hour. However, she swiftly whisks him away from the realm of trapdoors and stage flaps, and up to the highest point on the building’s roof, so that they will not be eavesdropped on. Here she begins to relate her tale: one day in her dressing room, she heard wonderful singing that seemed to be coming through the wall, and a voice then said, ‘I want to teach you, if you will dedicate yourself to me!’ From that day forth she continued to hear the disembodied voice, and she made great progress with her singing, making possible her recent great success. But while hearing the voice in her dressing room anew, the large mirror on the wall had suddenly slid upwards, and she had found herself drawn into a dark room, where a masked man stood before her. In shock, she fainted; and when she came round again, she was in the deepest underground recesses of the opera house. The masked man stood opposite her and said that no harm would befall her – but that she should never ask him to remove his mask. He disappeared into a sideroom, and suddenly she could hear the familiar wonderful singing once again. Entering the room, she saw the masked man seated at an organ. The urge to behold the stranger’s face overwhelmed her, and she tore off his mask. Horrified, she recoiled as a skull – the Phantom of the Opera – grinned back at her. ‘Now you can see my hideous ugliness,’ he cried out, beside himself, ‘and now you shall flee from me as all people do. But I love you and never want to let you go. Promise me you’ll stay with me!’ She decided to feign sympathy toward him in order to secure her freedom. It moved him to the core to have another human being look at his face, and she in turn felt genuine compassion for him also. He promised to allow her to leave for now, if only she would return to him again. She gave him her word, and so he brought her up to the surface realm – but tomorrow was the date that she’d promised to return to him always. Raoul told her that, following tomorrow’s performance, he’d take her far away to safety. But the Phantom had eavesdropped on their every word, and during the following day’s performance, the auditorium suddenly went dark – with the lights coming back on to reveal that Christine had vanished. Great agitation filled the opera house, with the lighting technician immediately discovered to have been chloroformed in the electrical room. The Persian thereupon approached Raoul, telling him, ‘this is the Phantom’s work – but I can lead you to her!’ And so he led Raoul down into the underground section of the building, until the pair reached the Phantom’s dwelling place. However, the Phantom had watched their approach, and now set a mechanism in operation that caused the two to drop into a small room. So long as Christine continues with her vehement refusal to be his, the Phantom keeps on raising the temperature of a special furnace – causing the walls of the room in which the two men are sealed to begin to glow red-hot. After much searching, the Persian locates a spring-loaded mechanism, and by pushing against it, he succeeds in creating an opening through which the two men can escape. They hurry to find Christine. A faulty pressure switch in the boiler room heating the furnace causes an explosion, in which the Phantom perishes. Finally, the Persian explains that the Phantom had been the original designer of the opera house who, shunned and spurned by people on account of his ugliness, holed up here – consumed with hatred at a fate that left him abandoned by the world. (x)
Though it’s a long-shot that a surviving copy of the film itself will ever turn up, I don’t think it’s too extreme to hope that, if we’re really lucky, a promo image or two will be found someday, and we’ll be able to at least get an idea of what the film might have *looked* like. I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed!