The Phantom of Paris ★★½

Magician and escape artist John Gilbert loves Leila Hyams. She has been engaged to Ian Keith but no longer cares for him. During a party at Hyams’ home, she becomes engaged to Gilbert. When Gilbert informs her father, C. Aubrey Smith, of the engagement, they quarrel. Later that evening, Keith kills Smith. Gilbert is accused, tried, and sentenced to death for the murder. Hyams, unsure of Gilbert’s innocence, marries Keith. Gilbert escapes jail and hides out at the shop of his childhood friend and mentor, Jean Hersholt. After four years, Gilbert learns that Keith is dying and goes to get the truth from him before it is too late. Keith confesses to Gilbert but dies before anyone else can be summoned to hear his confession. Gilbert steals Keith’s body. A doctor friend of Gilbert changes his features to make him look like Keith, and the body is hidden. After six months, Gilbert, disguised as Keith, returns to Hyams. He learns that she did not love Keith who was feared by everyone in the house, except for his live-in mistress, Natalie Moorhead. Gilbert tricks the mistress into confessing her knowledge of the murder. Gilbert is exonerated, and he and Hyams are reunited.

This plodding film has a complex, implausible, old fashioned plot. By the time he made this movie, John Gilbert’s position as a major star had evaporated, and his films were minor productions by his studio, MGM. His performance is good, although he has a tendency to overact the dramatic scenes. He looks handsome, and his smile is still winning. However, Gilbert’s voice, deep, nasal, and slightly hoarse, is ill suited to his romantic portrayal.

Based on the Chéri-Bibi novels (1913-1921) by Gaston Leroux, author of The Phantom of the Opera (1910).