Fantômas was originally first created in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. He appeared in some 43 stories over a period of about 50 years. He is one of the most famous fictional characters in France. He’s appeared in multiple movie, television, and comic-book adaptations and has influenced countless works in the century since he first appeared on the page. In the 1960s, a trilogy of films was released starring Jean Marais as Fantômas and directed by André Hunebelle. They were France’s answer to the success of the James Bond films. Kino Lorber has just released the trilogy in a nice Blu-ray set.
The original stories were straightforward crime tales with Fantômas as a sadistic and elusive criminal who is a master of disguise and a sociopathic killer. The films take a much lighter tone mixing both the action and over-the-top spy tone of the Bond films with a touch of the Bond parodies like the Flint films or even Austin Powers. It is also in these films where Fantômas first wears his now iconic blue mask, which he wears when not being disguised as someone else.
The first film, simply titled Fantômas, finds the master criminal upset with Fandor (also played by Jean Marais), a journalist who has just written an insulting, completely fake interview with Fantômas. Fandor along with his girlfriend Hélène (Mylène Demongeot) are kidnapped and taken to Fantômas’s stylish underground lair (complete with an organ that plays every time someone enters or leaves). Fantômas explains that he plans to use Fandor’s brain for an experiment but first he must discredit the journalist by making a perfect mask of his face and committing several crimes in broad daylight.
On the case is Commissioner Juve (Los de Funès), a bumbling idiot who makes Inspector Clouseau look like Hercule Poirot. What follows is a series of loosely knit adventures full of gags and over acting. It is all very silly and a whole lot of fun. It ends in a long chase scene that goes from cars to a train to a horse on a train to a helicopter and finally a submarine.
In Fantômas Unleashed, the masked criminal kidnaps Professor Marchand (Jean Marais playing yet another character), whom he plans to use to develop a super weapon to rule the world. When Fandor learns of the kidnapping plot, he disguises himself as Professor Machand so that Fantômas will kidnap him instead and hopefully enable him to stop Fantômas and his evil plan. This also enables us to have a scene in which Fandor dresses up like Marchand who will then be attacked by Fantômas, all three of which are being played by Marais. And this just scratches the surface of the silliness of this film.
It is the weakest of the three films with an even slighter plot than the first one and with Commissioner Juve being even more ridiculous then he previously was. It does contain some really goofy gadgets, whch spoof similar ones in the Bond films. This includes Juve having a fake arm so that he can use his real arm to carry a weapon in the case that he is forced to hold his hands up by some crininal, and an exploding cigar. They all work about as well as you'd imagine. It ends with a big skydiving stunt, which was the first time a scene of that type had ever been filmed in a big-screen format.
As the name implies, Fantômas vs Scotland Yard takes place in Scotland at a castle in the highlands. Fantômas has decided to extort money from the richest people in the world by making them sign a contract stating they will pay him a high tax and if they don’t, he will kill them (well, first he will send them several demand letters with tacked on late fees, but then he will kill them). Juve, Fandoms, and Hélène all come to the castle to protect Lord Edward MacRashley (Jean-Roger Caussimon).
The castle is supposedly haunted, which gives us several entertaining scenes in which Juve thinks he sees dead men in his room, only to find them gone after he sounds the alarm sending everyone into his room to investigate. Of course, it is Fantômas playing tricks on him in order to make everyone think Juve has gone mad. Its finale includes enough fighter jets to make up the Air Force of a small country and a rocket ship that bursts out of the castle walls.
Mostly, it is back to the formula that made the first film in this trilogy so much fun. It works well enough but having binge watched all three films, I was more than ready to give it a rest. I think these films are better served if you spread them out a bit.
Kino Lorber presents all three films with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p transfer. The only extras is an audio commentary on the first film with film historian Tim Lucas and trailers for all three films.
The Fantômas films are very silly and quite a bit of fun. They all drag a little in the middle and the jokes grow tired if you watch them back to back to back. But mostly, they are enjoyable light comedies and come recommended for fans of 1960s spy flicks and who enjoy the more goof side of James Bond.