Blu-ray Review: Fantômas Three Film Collection | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, May 24th, 2020  

Fantômas Three Film Collection

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

May 06, 2019 Bookmark and Share

Since Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre first introduced the character in 1911 in a series of novels, French pop culture has seen many iterations — some truer to the original than others — of Fantômas, master criminal and man of a thousand faces. The three films directed by André Hunebelle in the mid-1960s, Fantômas, Fantômas Unleashed, and Fantômas vs. Scotland Yard, are among the farthest afield from the original, but if you're not a stickler in that regard, they're also a campy delight. Aiming squarely for the tonal space between Connery-era James Bond and West-era Batman, all three films successfully wed over-the-top action and criminal intrigue to wacky slapstick, recasting Fantômas as a high-tech supervillain with a look that presaged that of the Blue Man Group.

Playing a dual role as the title character and his primary nemesis, the wily journalist Fandor, Jean Marais (Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) is a pitch-perfect French take on 1960s hero AND villain both. Fandor's bride/photographer Hélène (Mylène Demongeot) is the scrappy heroine and occasional damsel in distress; always stumbling two steps behind are the duo of Commissioner Juve and Inspector Bertrand (Louis de Funès and Jacques Dynam). There's no shortage of Bondian gadgetry and unlikely action in all of the films, and all of them are well-paced, snappy, silly fun.

That said, as a trilogy this set follows the trajectory of nearly every modern threepeat from Back to the Future to Star Wars. Fantômas does all the character introductions and expository heavy lifting, and is perhaps the most carefully crafted. Fantômas Unleashed, the The Empire Strikes Back of the set, isn't quite as well-appointed, but it's way more fun because it can get skip straight to the action. This, of course, leaves Fantômas vs. Scotland Yard, which indeed falters in the same ways that third installments usually do: too many characters, an obligatory shift in scenery (in this case, and as the title suggests, Scotland), questionable tonal shifts, inferior writing. That said, it's still entertaining, which is to say that it fares a damn sight better than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III or the abomination that is X-Men: The Last Stand.

A word on the presentation here: the packaging is relatively bare-bones, with insubstantial special features. The transfers are all high-quality, if not stunning, with little visual or audio distortion. Nothing above and beyond, but all the essential marks are checked off.

A running gag in all of these films is that, even though he's unquestionably a villain, Fantômas always gets away with the crime, and each film ends with an increasingly comic last-minute escape. Though Fantômas has been a periodic subject of curiosity on this side of the pond, he's never quite caught a mainstream break, and one can't help but wonder if this lack of stateside popularity is rooted in American audiences' inability to process the fact that, indeed, being evil doesn't preclude being successful. Philosophically, that's French as fuck, but it's food for thought that could be used by anyone living through Late Capitalism. A heavy notion to be carried by a bunch of screwball action comedies, perhaps (and it's fully possible I'm projecting my own preoccupations here… hey, that's movie magic!), but rest assured that the pleasure of these movies doesn't hinge at all on their ability to trigger deep thoughts.


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