Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

FANTOMAS (1964)

FANTOMAS (1964). Director: Andre Hunebelle.

"I have committed most of most of my crimes wearing the faces of my victims."

Inspector Juve (Louis de Funes) is determined to catch the master criminal and murderer, Fantomas (Jean Marais). Reporter Fandor (also played by Marais) thinks that Famtomas doesn't really exist and writes a phony interview with the man. This angers the real Fantomas, who not only kidnaps Fandor, but uses a life-like mask of his face to commit his crimes, such as an incredible jewel robbery where there are dozens of guards and guests all over the place. Then he uses the mask (made of something resembling real skin, which Fantomas has created) of Inspector Juve, who is arrested as Fantomas! This all leads to a merry chase with both Juve and Fandor frantically pursuing the arch-fiend as he tries to make it to his waiting submarine. Fantomas is inspired by French novels of the sociopathic criminal, Fantomas, but the tone of this movie, following the cue of the James Bond movies, is much lighter, and eventually approaches parody (unlike the Bond films). Inspector Juve's antics make him begin to resemble Inspector Clouseau, but Funes is good in the role (although not as good as Herbert Lom as Clouseau's nemesis in the films with Peter Sellers) and there are a few genuinely amusing sequences, such as when a whole room of witnesses puts together an identikit photo of "Fantomas" and it looks just like Juve, to his horror. In his true guise, Fantomas wears a blue mask that disguises his features, and his underground headquarters is full of arches and macabre touches (just like a Bond villain). Mylene Demongeot is cast as Fandor's fiancee, Helene, a photographer who gets into the action on more than one occasion but who is still mostly decorative. as is Marie-Helene Arnaud as Lady Beltham, an associate and lover of Fantomas'. The action scenes that comprise the last quarter of the film are never on the same thrilling level as the best of the Bonds, and a scene when Fandor's brakes fail seems to go on forever. More Fantomas features followed.

Verdict: Passable sixties version of durable French villain. **1/2.

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