Today in Movie History: November 15

The original silent version of The Phantom of the Opera is actually quite a flawed film in many ways. Poor scene direction, shoddy camera placement and the like put a damper on what should have been something incredible. Luckily, that’s not the purpose of the exercise and all those flaws fade to insignificance the moment Lon Cheney’s haunted, terrifying Phantom takes the screen. The film opened today in 1925.

It’s times like these when we need the Marx Brothers more than ever, and today saw the release of one of their very best: A Night at the Opera, which sets the boys loose on an ocean liner and similar fancy-schmancy locales and lets them do their thing. In a world as crazy as ours has become, the insanity on display here feels like a welcome tonic. It opened today in 1935.

The Harry Potter franchise was already off to a roaring start when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets emerged to cement what eventually became one of the signature film franchises of the early 21st century. Chris Columbus returned for a second round behind the camera, but — with the basics of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe already laid out in the first film — he had more room to play here. It remains one of the better films in the saga, and showed some of us skeptics that this was more than just another fantasy series. It opened 15 years ago today in 2002.

I will never claim to be a fan of The English Patient — you give Fargo back its Best Picture Oscar right now! — but Anthony Minghella certainly found an interesting story to help counterbalance his usually turgid and self-important directorial style. It’s one of those films that ages well, but never feels quite as good as everyone keeps telling you. It opened today in 1996.

We’ll close with The Lord of the Rings… not Peter Jackson’s justly celebrated trilogy, but the ambitious animated feature from Ralph Bakshi. It’s hobbled by a shortened running time and the fact that it stops abruptly at the end of The Two Towers, but while it remains a failure, it’s a fascinating failure to be sure. And the late John Hurt’s voice work as Aragorn is well worth celebrating. It opened today in 1978.



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