Monster of the Day #42

The first great American film monster, realized by the man who was both America’s first great horror actor and its first great horror make-up artist.  The scene at the end where Eric has a jape at his destroyers’ expense in the face of certain death is a great moment.

  • BeckoningChasm

    Indeed, whenever I think of this film, I remember that moment.

    I saw this some years back in a theater with a live organ accompaniment. It was a fantastic experience.

  • David Fullam

    Now that is classic!

  • P Stroud

    Henry Waxman!

  • Rock Baker

    With all the Jack Pierces and Bud Westmores and Paul Blaisdells that shaped my love of monster movies I sometimes forget just what Chaney could pull off years before they came onto the scene. He had the makers of The Man With A Thousand Faces stumped as to how to recreate those faces (no doubt complicated even further by the fact that Chaney and Cagney had very differently shaped faces). It’s a shame Chaney died so early in the Sound Era.

  • Re: Chaney and Cagney: Not to mention that I very seriously doubt that Cagney would have put up with the extremely painful appliances Chaney used.

  • Rock Baker

    Word is, and I obviously can’t confirm this, that the painful nature of Chaney’s appliances were exagerated greatly by studio press. Knowing how publicity men operate, I have to imagine this isn’t entirely untrue.

    Cagney was a song and dance man from the stage, much like Chaney. I can’t say if he’d have endured the Chaney make-ups or not, but I’m sure the studio would’ve nixed the idea for fear of hurting one of Hollywood’s biggest stars!

  • Of course I grew up with this guy’s image plastered all over FMOF and the other rags I read, but I didn’t see him in action till I was in college, and I was amazed by just how hideous he is in person. It’s astounding, and the fact that it is plainly him, not an appliance, is terrifying.

    Though I do wonder about this being the first “American” monster, seeing as Erik’s a Persian or something living in Paris based on a French book.

  • zombiewhacker

    It’s noteworthy how iconic two of Chaney’s creations were, Quasimodo and this one in particular. Almost eighty years later his Phantom remains one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable.

    How many people today would recognize Herbert Lom or Claude Rains in similar getup right off the bat?

  • Rock Baker

    You could argue the Rains Phantom is nearly as iconic. If you’ll recall, the Aurora model kit combined elements of both versions. True, the face was Chaney’s, and that may be why he remains The Phantom. Most every other Phantom just had some burns on his face, Chaney’s face had been reduced to a skull, more or less.

  • John Nowak

    It’s also an excellent example of suggestion.

    The Phantom has no nose. I’m pretty sure this is from the book. In the film, the ballerinas early on comment on how the Phantom has no nose.

    When he is first unmasked, the camera is placed to foreshorten Cheney’s nose. The next shot is carefully set up to do the same thing — Cheney keeps his head rigidly still.

    You can see Cheney’s nose in some shots, like the one here, but simply by repeating that he had no nose and adding that to the stunning reveal no doubt had audiences convinced that he had no nose.

  • GalaxyJane

    One of my all-time favorites. In fact, even before I saw this today I was thinking about pulling out the DVD to show the kids this weekend. They were very excited a few weeks ago when I showed them the far inferior, but also much shorter (4 and 8 year old attention spans, y’know) Edison Frankenstine.

    My youngest has all the Universal monsters by name since he was 2 from the pictures in the family room. and he’d probably be excited until he had to wait for the Phantom’s appearance.

    I was lucky enough to get to see this in a 1920s movie palace with live organ accompaniment. It was a fantastic experience and I’d love to get another chance. Unfortunately the Byrd suspended their midnight movie series a few years back due to low attendance.

  • sandra

    TCM has shown a few of Lon Chaney Srs’ movies on their Silent Cinema Sundays and I can see why he was a big star, quite aside from his makeup skills: not young, not handsome, but a powerful actor. I’ve not another Chaney monster for you: the shark-toothed vampire from his lost film, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Its ironic that the image has lasted even though the movie hasn’t. If it had, it would probably be a disappointment, as they used the same plot in the sound version, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. It isn’t very good, but, again, the vampire woman played by Carol Borland has become a horror icon.