User ReviewsReview this title
Critic Maurice Raynal wrote that "There is nothing in this involved, compact, and concentrated film but explosive genius." I absolutely agree with this assessment.
Film historians (and amateurs like myself) tend to focus on American innovation (Thomas Edison) and the rise of the German film. While these are important areas (I believe the Germans did more for cinematography than any other group), "Fantomas" shows that the French were in the game, too.
This is an incredible film, and it has been touched up very nicely by the folks at Kino. It could easily pass for being the 1920s...
In 1913, a bit over a hundred years prior to this review, cinema was a lot different. There weren't nearly as many ways to explore feelings of humor, anger, and sadness on the screen as there are in today's cinematic world. However, around this time, a few filmmakers began to change the way film was, filmmakers like Georges Melies, D.W. Griffith, and Louis Feuillade, the director of this film.
While I'm sure that the film serial gets far more interesting and entertaining as it goes on, this installment was surely great! Already, there's murder, suspense, and crime as well as some pretty interesting filmmaking techniques (ex: use of close ups, a newly invented technique at that time).
Overall, it definitely makes me excited for the rest of the film serial!
The story lines of this French pre-WWI serial are fairly simplistic and don't stand up to even cursory scrutiny but, as a time capsule from a bygone age, the films are fascinating. Louis Feuillade's style of direction is basic to say the least and, for such a renowned early name from French cinema, something of a disappointment. The camera never moves, and every shot appears purely functional and nothing more. Perhaps I'm missing something, or perhaps I'm expecting more than I should from a piece of work nearly one hundred years old, but his style makes things drag at times. The film only really comes alive when Feuillade takes his camera outside to capture scenes of both rural and urban France. The film makes as much use of letters as it does intertitles to drive the story on and, considering the hindrance of it being a silent film, it's a device that works quite well.
Fantomas will only be of interest to the movie buff rather than the film fan. The art of storytelling has moved on or, given the impression of advancement that gives, perhaps changed is a better word and even the most patient of filmgoers will find that the pace drags at times. Nevertheless, given its place in film history, it's an important film that is worth checking out.
And it's also worth watching just for the final get-out-of jail card played by the wily Fantomas
*** (out of 4)
The first of a five film series has Rene Vacarre playing Fantomas, the mastermind French thief who breaks into the hotel of a princess and steals some priceless jewelry. Inspector Jive (Edmund Breon) finally manages to catch Fantomas but he plans an escape hours before heading to the guillotine. FANTOMAS: IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but at just 54-minutes the thing is entertaining enough to make it worth viewing if you enjoy silent cinema. I think the one thing this picture shows is that during this era the American cinema was still miles ahead of the French and even when Feuillade was considered the country's greatest director at this time. As with many of his earlier pictures, the director usually tells the story in simple medium shots and he really doesn't use any noticeable editing to try and build up any suspense or drama. The director pretty much just tells the story without any real flair or style and while this might kill some films from this period, Feuillade at least keeps the story moving at a nice pace to where it never gets boring. The film is basically broken down into three sections. The first dealing with the hotel robbery, the second with Fantomas' arrest and the third his eventual escape. The first segment was actually the most entertaining as the sets were rather interesting to look at and we get a unique opening showing an elevator climbing several floors. The trick editing is obvious but this sequence still has a unique look to it. The third story has a very far-fetched idea to get Fantomas out of jail but it somewhat works in a cliffhanger-like fashion. Vacarre is wonderful in his role(s) as he's certainly photogenic and manages to make you believe he could actually pull all of this stuff off. I was also impressed with Breon even though he's featured a lot less.
Feuillade's adaptation is not very satisfying:he ruled out the best part of the first volume ,which took place in a château where the marquise de Langrune was murdered (the first word of the saga is "Fantomas!" when nobody had still heard of him).That's after this crime that Charles Rambert became Jerome Fandor -in Feuillade's movie ,he is introduced as Juve's best friend whereas Juve really "made " Fandor.
Even more embarrassing is the ending Feuillade chose -he had to make Gaumont's money work for them ;these are his own words- for what was primarily a horror story: in the novel,Valgrand is really guillotined .It's only a movie after all ,so what's the point of saving him apart from making a film "suitable for any audience"? The Danidoff episode seems out of its context.But the biggest mistake is to have shown Fantomas.Fantomas had no face or he had other people's faces (such as the actor's).By showing since the cast and credits the actor who plays the "hero",they make the character lose 90% of its appeal.
Feuillade had talent for story telling ,nobody can deny.The scene of the substitution retains a sense of mystery .Feuillade's greatest merit -and it's quite important-was to attract the crowds : the serial genre forced them to come back and come back again if they wanted to know if the criminal would be finally caught.He was the granddaddy of so many series and miniseries in the world that he would never be thanked enough just for that.
For people who would like to know about the first part of the novel,I would recommend Paul Féjos's "Fantomas" (1932),which includes spooky scenes in the old château and features Fandor when he was still Charles Rambert.
The De Funes movies ,unless you are a fan of the actor ,should be avoided ,for they kept nothing from the novels but some of the proper nouns.
On the other hand, Chabrol's miniseries in the late seventies /early eighties is to be commended:Helmut Berger was an ideal Fantomas and he got good support from Jacques Dufilho as Juve and from Pierre Mallet as Fandor.