Fantômas (1964)
A film directed by André Hunebelle

Genre: Comedy / Action / Thriller


Fantômas photo
A journalist, Fandor, publishes a fictitious interview with the celebrated master criminal Fantômas. Soon after, he is kidnapped and taken to a secret lair where he meets an indignant Fantômas. The criminal mastermind gives Fandor one chance to redeem himself. When he fails, Fantômas takes his revenge by enacting a fantastic jewel robbery, disguised as Fandor. With Fandor discredited, the bungling Commissaire Juve becomes Fantômas' next target…
© 2012

Film Review

Fifty years after Louis Feuillade made his classic Fantômas series, the infamous master criminal returned to French cinema in this colourful action comedy, the first of three new Fantômas films to feature Louis de Funès and Jean Marais. The production team were wary about treading over old ground, so rather than attempt a straightforward remake of the Feuillade films, they embarked on a totally different course. With its action-comedy format, the film is far nearer to being a parody of the popular novels by Marcel Allain et Pierre Souvestre, rather than a faithful adaptation, which is what Feuillade attempted.

Fantômas(1964) is certainly a very different film to Fantômas (1913), although both were targeted at mass cinema audiences. Whereas Feuillade's film is a chilling and atmospheric work which succeeds in conveying the menace of Fantômas, André Hunebelle's version is little more than a conventional action comedy which is far more concerned with trivial comic stunts than characterisation. Because their approaches are so different, it is difficult, and perhaps unfair, to make comparisons between the two films. However, few would dispute that Feuillade's Fantômas makes the better film.

The casting for the 1964 film is interesting and has been a source of great controversy. Jean Marais was given top billing in the duel role of Fantômas and the journalist Fandor. Whilst Marais is clearly perfect in the part of Fantômas, with his powerful physique and elegant movements, his impact on the film is lessened by his playing a far weaker character, Fandor. The latter is a conventional action hero which, at over 50, Marais is too old to play convincingly (although he manages to put in some remarkable action stunts). Presumably to avoid complicating Marais' two roles, for the part of Fantômas, his lines would be spoken by another actor, Raymond Pellegrin.

In spite of Jean Marais having two starring roles in the film, it is Louis de Funès who dominates the film, in his role as Juve, Fantômas' mortal enemy. De Funès' was only given the part after another great comic actor, Bourvil, had turned it down. At the time, de Funès had just become an overnight star as a result of his appearance in Jean Girault's comedy Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (the first of a long-running series of films). De Funès' appearance in Fantômas cemented his popularity and it was not long after that he became the most popular actor in France.

It is reported that the working relationship between the two lead actors was not good: Marais resented Louis de Funès' popularity and made unflattering remarks about his rival's character. Fortunately, none of this antagonism is visible in the film.

In addition to these dubious casting decisions, the film is also marred by a rather obvious attempt to compete with the James Bond films, which were as popular in France at the time as they were elsewhere. In fact, with their obsession with gadgets, girls and interminable chase sequences, the three Fantômas films of the 1960s come much closer to sending up the Sean Connery bond films than anything else. The overall design of the film, particularly the gaudy sets stuffed with incomprehensible scientific paraphernalia, has that unmistakable kitsch 1960s feel to it.

When the film was first released in 1964, it wasn't quite the rip-roaring success its producers were hoping for. However, its audience of two million spectators was more than enough to guarantee a sequel, which came the following year with Fantômas se déchaîne.
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If you like Fantômas you may also like: The Italian Job (1969), Tih Minh (1918), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and La Decima vittima (1965).
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