A man in faultless evening clothes and domino mask advances on a dancer. They struggle in an apache-dance fashion. He shoots her. As she collapses to the floor, he is overcome with emotion. As he kneels over her inert body, the other dancers come in, do a ballet symbolizing her death. The audience applauds, then everyone gets up and takes his or her bows. After this stage performance -- for that it what it is -- the characters in the movie are introduced and the events leading up to the murder that concern us are shown.
For a quarter of a century, many movie crime dramas were melodramas in which the elegantly dressed master criminal -- in this case, Fantomas, subject of a famous serial by Feuillade, made in 1913 and recently remade as a sound picture -- was opposed and thwarted by the genius on the side of the law. Even though the super-villain was more interesting, good always triumphed. There was no Moriarty without his his Holmes, no Fu Manchu without his Nayland Smith.
Even as the Master Criminal prospered on screen, a new form of mystery or two was making its way into the literature. There was the pure puzzle mystery and then the Black Mask school. Agatha Christie wrote her mysteries, then decided who had committed the murder and edited to insert the clues.
That bores me. I want something more than solving a puzzle. I want interesting characters or jokes or a historical setting to keep my interest up. Otherwise I'll just go through a collection of syllogisms. Unfortunately, this one is a pure puzzle mystery, despite the efforts to enliven the visuals.
They succeed, since I didn't fall asleep. Given my personal taste I'd award this a 5, but it fails tremendously as a mystery.
To be a fair mystery, the audience must have the same information as the detective when he decides who has committed the murder. Here, we are given the sign that the time for summing-up has come when the detective writes in his report "The murderer is...." and trails off from a small and non-fatal dose of poison. After this, we get the scene where he assembles all the suspects and tells us things he has known for as much as an hour, things which have been withheld from the audience.
It's not fair. So, although I won't call it a bomb, largely because of the fine visual story-telling, I cannot recommend this movie to anyone.
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