Hollywood Gothique
The Vault

Friday Cat Blogging: The Phantom of the Opera

It’s been awhile since we did any cat blogging here, so now is as good a time as any to revive the popular Internet tradition. However, at Hollywood Gothique, unlike other weblogs, you get not an endless exhibition of photos of my cats; instead, you get glimpses of kitties appearing in famous fantasy films, mystery movies, horror-thrillers, and sci-fi cinema. Some of the cats feature prominently in the films; others make only cameo appearance. This week’s example, from the 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, falls into the later category…

The kitty in question makes an appearance a few scenes into the picture, after the opera house’s previous owners have just sold the business and warned the new owners that they may hear rumors of an “Opera Ghost.” While a performance unfolds on stage, we see ballerinas and stage hands behind the curtains, nervously looking over their shoulders and jumping at shadows, fearing an appearance by the legendary monster. One of the false scares comes courtesy of this black cat, who scuttles harmlessly downstairs.

The cat returns briefly in one other shot but plays no real role in the film. We presume the creature is a behind-the-scenes mascot for the opera troupe, but that is never stated outright. Or perhaps his presence was originally intended to be more practical: later in the film, while our heroes are searching the subterranean chambers for Erik the Phantom (played by silent screen great Lon Chaney) they encounter another mysteirous denizen of the lower depths, a solitary many in the dark, his face illuminated by a lamp that makes him look like a ghost. He’s actually supposed to be a rat catcher, leading one to imagine that the cat might be kept to perform similar services behind the curtain.

In any event, this silent adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel remains the best sceen version of the tale; although it is undeniably dated and creaky in parts, the sets and atmosphere are excellent, and Chaney is great in the title role. His makeup is fantastic, and the famous unmasking scene sitll packs a punch – more better than the flubbed revelation in the 2004 version based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.