Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Fantomas

The False Magistrate (1914)

Fantomas_1916A master criminal is helped to escape from prison by the very man who has been hunting him down and then uses his powers of disguise to become a respectable representative of law and order while his foe languishes behind bars. This final installment in the famed serial by Louis Feuillade is an exercise in reversals, deception, and brilliantly tortured logic.

At the beginning of the movie, Fantômas is incarcerated in a Belgian prison at Louvain, but that doesn’t stop his gang from robbing a Marquis who tries to sell his wife’s jewels. The gang gets away with the jewels and the proposed payment, an amount totaling 500,000 francs. Juve is convinced that Fantômas will remain a menace until he is caught by the French police and executed for his crimes, so he hatches a plan to help Fantômas escape! He visits Belgium in the guise of an Austrian inspector of prisons and smuggles in a prison guard’s uniform for him to wear, then takes his place while Fantômas lets himself out of the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Murderous Corpse (1913)

Murderous CorpseHere at the end of October, I’ve chosen to return to the series I started out with to close out this year’s discussion of the history of horror film. While Fantômas may not meet a strict definition of “horror movie,” the crime serial undeniably influenced the imagery and methods of later horror directors, and titles like “The Murderous Corpse” certainly evoke the conventions of the later genre.

Murderous Corpse1The movie begins by catching us up on the series, telling us that Fantômas (played by René Navarre) destroyed the villa in which he had been hiding, hoping to kill those who were pursuing him, but, of course, the heroic Fandor (Georges Melchior) escaped with minor injuries, from which he recovers in the hospital. Juve (Edmund Breon) is missing and presumed dead. We see a criminal gang at work smuggling, and then Fantômas murders a baroness, cleverly framing the artist Dollon (André Luguet) for the crime. Dollon is mysteriously murdered in prison, but not before the police make a big production of taking his fingerprints and other physical data. Fantômas, with the help of a bribed guard, then removes the body from the prison. This makes it all the more baffling when the dead man’s fingerprints are found at other crime sites! In Juve’s absence, Fandor continues to investigate on his own, while a mysterious lowlife named Cranajour seems to take an odd interest in him, all the while working with the gang of Mother Toulouche, who is clearly in cahoots with Fantômas somehow. Meanwhile (everything in a Fantômas movie is happening “meanwhile”), the banker Nantauil shows up at an important society dance and creeps around the house until he is alone with the hostess, princess Davidoff (Jean Faber), knocking her out with chloroform and stealing her valuable pearl necklace – Nantauil is just another disguise of the master of crime, Fantômas! Naturally, he leaves one of Dollon’s fingerprints on the lady’s neck as a clue, leading to the first indication that a dead man is now a criminal mastermind. Renée Carl, as Lady Beltham, again appears, seeking an audience with the banker Nantauil, and is instructed to transport two pearls and the necklace, using them to attempt to get a ransom from Thomery (Luitz-Morat), the princess’s fiancée. This turns out to be another ruse, allowing Fantômas to murder Thomery, leaving behind another false fingerprint. Meanwhile (once again), Elizabeth, the sister of the dead man (Fabienne Fabrèges) has found a note which appears to outline Fantômas’s insidious plan, and of course she’s being stalked for it. Will Fandor save her? Will inspector Juve be found? Will we learn the secret of Cranajour? Will the police ever figure out how Fantômas has set up the corpse of Dollon?

Murderous Corpse2Well, if you’ve made it this far, you probably know that the answers to all of those questions is, “yes.” trick of making gloves from a dead man’s hands is probably one of the more believable ones Fantômas uses in the series. Cranajour is, of course, Juve in disguise, and for once he actually does look pretty different under the makeup. Fantômas and his gang are able to kill several people and steal a necklace, but overall their operations are curtailed by the good guys, while still allowing him to escape and continue the series another day. This episode is quite long, as long as a standard feature film is today, which is quite a change from the shorter episodes I’ve been seeing from “Les Vampires” lately. It isn’t as laden with iconic imagery, I’ll grant you that, and the absence of Juve seems to leave it without a center to a large degree. Whose story is this? Sometimes it is Fandor’s, sometimes Elizabeth’s, but for the most part is belongs to Fantômas. The camerawork is fairly static in this one, though with somewhat more interesting angles than we see in American studio work of the time. The sets are beautifully decorated and again I find the exteriors exquisite (this may just be because Paris was so attractive in the early twentieth century). I have grown rather fond of the music that Gaumont chose to use from a library as the background score, although I said at first that it was sometimes overwhelming; it is distinctive and playful. The editing is unimaginative and there is a heavy reliance on intertitles and especially close-ups on written documents to keep the audience informed as to what’s going on. Despite some of this clumsiness or seeming-clumsiness, it’s still a fun movie, and I do like Fandor better than his dull counterpart in “Les Vampires.”

Murderous Corpse3That’s all for this year’s Halloween special! Next week, I’ll be back to normal, trying to make up for lost time as we get into Century Awards Season for 1915!

Alternate Titles: Le Mort Qui Tue, Fantômas III: Le Mort Qui Tue, The Dead Man Who Killed.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Georges Guérin

Cast: René Navarre, Georges Melchior, Edmund Breon, Renée Carl, André Luguet, Jean Faber, Luitz-Morat, Fabienne Fabrèges.

Run Time: 90 Min.

I have been unable to find this for free on the Internet. If you find it, please comment.

Juve vs Fantômas (1913)

Juve_versus_Fant_masFor my first “feature film” for October’s history of horror movies this year, I decided to return to the series I watched when I started this blog. While I did discuss the series and reviewed the DVD collection from Kino Lorber, I haven’t ever gotten around to doing each of the movies. This is the first “sequel,” the immediate follow-up to “Fantômas: Shadow of the Guillotine.”

Juve vs FantomasThis episode begins with a brief re-cap of the previous one, establishing that Inspector Juve continues his hunt for Fantômas with the aid of the reporter Fandor. They follow a woman believed the be connected, and Fandor manages to be on the scene when Fantômas’s gang holds up a railway car to get the money being transported by her lover, a bank agent. Unfortunately, he doesn’t prevent Fantômas from wrecking a train or getting away. Juve and Fandor both get messages leading them to a dockside warehouse, and shoot at each other, each mistaking the other for Fantômas. Then, the real gang springs up from behind barrels and starts shooting at them. The gang sets fire to the barrels and leave them to burn, but Juve and Fandor get into an unlit barrel and roll into the water, swimming away to safety. They make another attempt to arrest him when he meets the woman at a club called “The Crocodile,” but Fantômas escapes by putting on false arms, and running away as they lead him to a police car, leaving them holding his arms! He then returns to the Crocodile and finishes his evening in peace. Next, Fantômas makes contact with Lady Beltham, his lover from the previous movie, and they begin meeting at her now abandoned estate. Juve and Fandor put on disguises and take a tour of the place, posing as prospective buyers. They figure out a way to hide in a heating duct and listen in on Fantômas and Beltham. They learn that Fantômas plans to kill Juve in four days time with his “silent executioner.” This makes Juve think of a crushed body from an earlier case, so he takes the precaution of putting on armor with nails sticking out that makes him look like a middle-aged member of Immortal. Sure enough, when the boa constrictor enters through the conveniently open window, it is unable to get a crushing grasp and leaves in defeat. Now, Juve and Fandor bring a contingent of policemen to the estate and try to catch Fantômas, who eludes them by hiding in a cistern and breathing through a bottle with no bottom. While Fantômas’s worst plans have not paid off, he remains at large.

Juve vs Fantomas1Once again, I have to return to the question of, “is it a horror movie?” Not exactly, it’s a thriller about a super-genius villain and his almost equally clever pursuer. But, I have to think that horror film makers drew from the imagery and ideas of these movies in later years. Fantômas may not be a “monster” in the strict sense, but he calls himself a phantom and has a distinctly frightening costume. He often brings about multiple deaths as he does in this episode, and he hides in haunted houses and abandoned places. In this case, he even uses a snake for a weapon, and his power of disguise makes it possible for him to be anyone.

Juve vs Fantomas2

Snakes and spikes? How many Black Metal bands saw this movie?

The movie, like all of Louis Feuillade’s work, is very well done technically and a visual feast. I particularly enjoyed his exteriors of century-past Paris. He isn’t shy about using close-ups and camera movement, which adds to the excitement. The depth of field of some shots impressed me, particularly in the night club, in contrast to the difficulties Billy Bitzer had with deep focus in “The House of Darkness.” One criticism I have is that there is a heavy dependence on Intertitles and close-ups on documents like letters to explain the story, particularly at the beginning where an especially long letter backfills the audience on what happened in the previous episode. Probably unavoidable, but somewhat dull. Surprisingly, the big action sequences are some of the least interesting visual moments, in part due to the weakness of the special effects of the time. The train crash is handled with a tiny model train and the barrel fire mostly consists of smoke, in contrast to the lovely poster above. I wondered a bit about the frame rate of the transfer – at times it seemed to me that the movie was unnaturally slowed down, and I wonder if they over-compensated for earlier sped-up versions by playing it at a slower speed. The story is, as usual, impenetrably complex and contradictory. At one point, the police are not certain whether a body they have discovered is Lady Beltham, half an hour later, they are releasing her (alive) for “lack of evidence” with no explanation in between. That sort of thing has long been part of the charm of the series, however, so I won’t hold it against the movie.

Juve vs Fantomas3

Alternate Title: Juve contre Fantômas

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Georges Guérin

Starring: René Navarre, Edmund Breon, Georges Melchior, Renée Carl

Run Time: 1 hour, 2 min

I have not found the entire movie available free online. You can watch about half of it: here. If you find a free version, please say so in the comments.

Fantômas the Complete Saga

Fantomas_1916

Worldcat Link: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/670058288

This DVD release of the early French serial gives one the opportunity to “binge-view” the whole thing in a way that never would have happened a century ago, making more obvious some of the plot holes and redundancies, but is nevertheless an enjoyable presentation. The diabolical Fantômas (Rene Navarre, who apparently found it difficult not to be recognized after making the series) is a master criminal who disguises himself and plots gigantic schemes to make himself rich or, as often as not, simply to achieve crime for its own sake. He is pursued, and sometimes pursues the brilliant Inspector Juve (Edmund Breon, who went on to “Gaslight” and “The Woman in the Window”) and his journalistic sidekick, Fandor (Georges Melchior, later in “Rocambole,” another crime drama). This series came at the end of France’s dominance of world cinema, and in someway represents the high point of filmmaking in the pre-World War One period, in spite of its narrative ludicrousness. The DVD includes a bombastic soundtrack, sampled from music libraries, and a somewhat disjointed commentary by film historian David Kalat, who freely admits that he can’t pronounce French words. In spite of that, I found much of what he had to say informative and thought-provoking.

Fantômas Contre Fantômas (1914)

Fantomas1

photo from Wikimedia commons, attributed to "Fredojoda." See Copyright.

Director: Louis Feuillade

This century film is the fourth installment in the long-running French “Fantômas” serial by Louis Feuillade (who also made “Les Vampires” and “Judex“). In it, the master criminal Fantômas manages to frame Inspector Juve, his one serious rival, and masquerades as an American detective called “Tom Bob” (a Frenchman’s idea of an American name if there ever was one). One scene takes place at a masquerade ball, with no less than three men dressed up as Fantômas – the real Fantômas kills one of the false Fantômases while under observation by the third. Another key scene involves a body sealed up in plaster, whose presence is revealed when a workman hammers a nail into the wall, only to release a stream of blood.  The French fascination with Poe seems to come out clearly in that sequence. The serial set the standards for future serials, both in terms of straining credulity for narrative effect and in terms of the structure of capture-escape-and-recapture, with the tables being constantly turned between hunter and hunted. Interestingly, these films, and the books on which they were based, would later serve as iconographic touchstones for the Surrealist movement, in part because of the incoherence of the plots.

Run time: 59 min

You can watch it for free: here

Find some of the novels: here

Fantômas – in the Shadow of the Guillotine (1913)

Fantomas_early_film_poster

Director: Louis Feuillade

This early French feature kicked off a series of popular “Fantômas” crime films. Here, the cunning criminal steals from and murders members of the nobility in a posh hotel, escaping despite all security precautions and leaving a mysterious calling card. He is pursued by the brilliant Inspector Juve of the Surete, but manages to stay one step ahead of him through his exploits. Unlike American thrillers of the time, the filmmakers increase the suspense by not giving away the identity of the criminal right off. Once it does happen, though, the action shifts to his daring plan to escape from police captivity and a death sentence. Fantômas appears to me to be a kind of anti-hero, someone the audiences rooted for in spite of themselves, because he was so subtle and sly, and ultimately charming, even though he put hurt innocent people for his own selfish ends. The DVD from Kino includes a powerful orchestral score, which at times threatens to drown out the silent action on the screen, but does add to the watchability, in general. The director, Louis Feuillade, made hundreds of films in the 1900s and teens (including “Les Vampires” and “Judex“), many of which are blessed with considerable cinematic vision.

Run Time: 54 min (this episode. Total run time for serial = 335 min)

You can watch it for free: here

Original novel is: here