January 27, 2005

With all the buzz going on about Phantom of the Opera

Instead of just reviewing a movie this time around, I thought I'd point out an excellent DVD for cinema fans.

The disk is a triple feature under the title Horror Classics, volume 1. Released by Navarre video, it falls under their Reel Values label. I got my copy at Suncoast Video for around ten bucks.

So what's so special about this DVD with the mundane name?

On it are three silent classics: Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, and Metropolis. My review for each of these movies is simple: See them, and be prepared to be wowed!

I talked a little bit about Nosferatu here:

My only complaint is that the Americanized version I have changed the names of the characters, making the story more familiar yet taking away from the original intent (for instance: Graf Orlok was changed to Count Dracula and Profesor Bulwer became Dr. Van Helsing).

There's more to the story. According to some accounts, when Bram Stoker's Dracula was first put on sale for movie rights, among the first buyers was F. W. Murnau, who was one of the most famous German directors at the time. Soon after beginning production of the film, they got the word that they had been scammed and that the widow of Bram Stoker refused to allow them to use the name and specific storyline of Dracula. To get around the problem, Murnau changed the name Dracula to Count Orlok, Harker became Hutter and Van Helsing became Professor Bulwer. Instead of London, the story is set in Bremen.

When Nosferatu premiered, the widow Stoker brought legal action against the studio and Murnau. In 1925 a German court ordered all prints of the film to be destroyed. Fortunately, several prints of the film survived.

Another interesting fact from the movie is that very little of it was shot on a movie set, almost the entire thing was shot on locations in Eastern Europe. The castle? Real. City street in Bremen? Real. The authenticity shines through.

Next on the DVD is Phantom of the Opera, the classic starring Lon Chaney (Rocket Jones bio here). As so often happens, the recent Broadway play and movie productions change the original plotline to suit "modern" audiences, and in my opinion the changes greatly lessen the impact of the original.

Not that any version of Phantom has been completely true to the novel by Gaston Leroux. Even this first version required the creation of a new ending when audiences hated the final scenes as first filmed.

The first time you see the Phantom's real face is among this list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments, although the entire scene of the masqued ball is chilling.

Finally, there is Metropolis. Filled with amazing performances and incredible special effects (in 1927!), the cast was enormous and the expense of creating this masterpiece almost bankrupted the studio.

According to the director himself (Fritz Lang, who also did the classic Frau im Mond), the film as originally conceived wasn't seen for decades because several important filmed sequences were lost.

The lead actress, Brigitte Helm, was an early movie star. When she had to turn down one role it was given to newcomer Marlene Dietrich. Ms. Helm made her final film in 1935, after which she retired to Switzerland. She was so disgusted by Adolph Hitler and his takeover of the German film industry that she refused to talk about her career or the subject ever again.

This film influenced many SciFi films to come, including such diverse efforts as Star Wars, Blade Runner and Dr. Strangelove.

I'll repeat myself. These are must-see films, and this DVD is a wonderful value.

Posted by: Ted at 08:43 PM | category: Cult Flicks
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1 You forgot to mention all the rats in Nosferatu. There's a lot to be said about those three movies--guess I'll have to find time for a post of my own.

Posted by: Victor at January 29, 2005 10:33 AM (etHvD)

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