Fantomas (1964)

Article 3469 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2011
Posting Date: 2-12-2011
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Featuring Jean Marais, Louis de Funes, Mylene Demongeot
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Supervillain pastiche

A supervillain known as Fantomas tries to foil a couple of foes: the police inspector who is trying to catch him and the reporter who doesn’t believe in his existence.

With one exception (the second episode of the Louis Feuillade serial), my every attempt to see a movie about Fantomas has been marred by the fact that I was unable to get hold of a print in English (either dubbed or subtitled), so you can imagine my happiness when I started seeing the English subtitles on this one. Still, my joy was quickly muted by my realization that the light humorous touches were turning out to be very heavy indeed, and it finally dawned on me that instead of a clever crime thriller, I was being treated instead to an action comedy. Fantomas is nowhere near as brilliant this time around as he was in previous versions, but then, he doesn’t need to be; the character of Inspector Juve has been reduced to that of a bungling blowhard, which is useful for the sake of the comedy but disappointing for someone hoping for more clever thrills. Somehow, I suppose it’s fitting that the movie’s last quarter is largely an extended chase sequence using various vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trains, helicopters, even a submarine). It has occasional good laughs in it, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the shift of tone from earlier Fantomas movies. Jean Marais plays both the reporter and Fantomas, who is never seen as he looks and is always in disguise; of course, he disguises as the reporter at one point. The movie spawned two sequels, though given the ending here, that’s no surprise; it was obviously intended to be a franchise. The fantastic content is a little bit higher, however, than in other versions of the story; Fantomas is also a scientific genius, as he uses artificial skin to help him create his convincing masks, and his default disguise makes him look something like a space alien.


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