Louis Feuillade’s first serial film series, Fantômas, was a huge success in France. Based on the novel of the same name, Fantômas is a crime series that follows the titular character as he steals, robs, kills, escapes prison, and evades police.
It is interesting how the story follows the bad guy as the protagonist. That is not something you typically see in a successful film or story. The cat and mouse aspect is not unusual, but I feel like the story is typically focused on the detective a little more. The fact that so much of the story is placed on the shoulders of Fantômas is interesting. It would be one thing if he was a more redeeming character, but he is a ruthless manipulator.
The episodes stay engaging and fast paced and all end on a cliffhanger. It is clear why they were so appealing and popular as they are engaging as I watch them today. It feels like watching something a kin to a bond movie, obviously it is not on the same level as the movies 50 years later, but it has that feel.
Part 1 – Fantômas I: À l’ombre de la guillotine (Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine)
The first part feels more stage-like with indoor sets and filters to help change the lighting in between rooms. The story is well paced with interesting twists and turns. It is less focused on action and more focused on orchestrated manipulation. Fantômas himself is mostly behind the scenes. His complicit mistress, played by Renée Carl, is able to pay a guard, Nibet (Naudier) to, unknowingly, let Fantômas escape.
Part 2 – Fantômas II: Juve contre Fantômas (Juve vs. Fantômas)
In part two of the series, we see Feuillade decided to take the camera outside more and film most of it on location. It has a more authentic and modern feel by having so many shots in the streets, on trains, going in and out of buildings. The second part is definitely more of an action film than the first one. It is primarily a chase sequence with gunfights and buildings exploding.
Part 3 – Fantômas III: Le Mort Qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse)
The third part reverts back a bit and has the feel of the first in that it is not an action chase sequence for most of the film, like part 2. Fantômas commits a murder and then frames Jacques Dollon. With Juve dead from the ending of the last episode, Fandor takes the lead on the investigation and continues to seek out the elusive Fantômas. Little do we know, both Fantômas and Juve are hiding in plain sight as the story unfolds around them. As usual, Fantômas escapes in the final minutes.
Part 4 – Fantômas IV: Fantômas contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs. Fantômas)
Part four starts with the public thinking that Juve is unable to catch Fantômas, because he is Fantômas. This leads to Juve being put in prison while Fantômas continues to roam free. Fantômas even sets Juve up for murder while Juve is still in prison with the help of Nibet, who just gets deeper and deeper in with Fantômas and Lady Beltham.
Part 5 – Fantômas V: Le Faux Magistrat (The False Magistrate)
The final part focuses on and follows Fantômas for most of the film. It begins with Fantômas serving life in prison for murder. However, his gang is still committing crimes. Juve decides to break Fantômas out of prison so that his men can track him to his gang and they can wipe them out for good. Fantômas gives them the slip and ends up taking the identity of a magistrate. Fantômas uses his new identity to murder and blackmail those around him.
There is a really interesting sequence where two members of Fantômas’ gang are tasked with retrieving jewels from within a bell atop a church tower. The bell is suspended high above the ground, so one member must hold a ladder while the other climbs. The shot going up is a vertical tracking shot that follows the gang member as he climbs. When he gets to the top the other gang member crosses him and leaves him up there. A few days later a funeral is taking place in the church and the ringing of the bell sends jewelry and blood down upon the mourning.
Fandor and Juve eventually catch up with Fantômas and arrest him. Unbeknownst to them, Fantômas was one step ahead and informed the warden, while pretending to be the magistrate, that Juve would be pretending to be Fantômas and that he should be released at midnight. Thus ending the series with Fantômas free.
Directed by: Louis Feuillade
Cinematography: Georges Guérin
Screenplay by: Louis Feuillade
Based on the novel Fantômas by: Marcel Allain & Pierre Souvestre
Editing By: Georges Guérin
Starring: René Navarre, Edmund Breon, Renée Carl, Georges Melchior, and Naudier.
Runtime: 5h 36m
Episode 1 – 53m
Episode 2 – 1h 1m
Episode 3 – 1h 34m
Episode 4 – 59m
Episode 5 – 1h 9m
Genre: Crime, Drama, Serial
Distributed by: Gaumont Film Company
Link to Episodes Below:
Episode 1 – Fantômas – In the Shadow of the Guillotine
Episode 2 – Juve vs. Fantômas
Part 3 – The Murderous Corpse
Part 4 – Fantômas vs. Fantômas
Part 5 – The False Magistrate