Fantômas (1964)

Genres - Comedy, Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy Thriller, Master Criminal Films  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - France, Italy  |  
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    6
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Although the lead character of Fantomas dates back to 1911, when he first appeared in print form, this 1964 version is entirely contemporary in its look and feel. Taking its cue from the then-new James Bond franchise (and also tipping its hat to The Pink Panther), this Fantomas is played with its tongue frequently in cheek. There's a bit of a "put on" to the proceedings, although perhaps not enough of one; while thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, Fantomas veers rather haphazardly between being serious and being mocking, and this keeps it from having the impact that the Bond films have. Nonetheless, there's a great deal to enjoy, from the beguiling opening that sets up the character of Fantomas to the climactic car-boat-train-sub-motorcycle chase at the end. It's also notable that the protagonist is a villain, still a rarity for this kind of film in which the evildoers may have some appeal but are still presented in a totally negative light. Andre Hunebelle's direction is a bit slapdash, lacking the kind of precision that would have made the comic moments land with greater impact and incapable of successfully melding the comic and the dramatic. Yet despite these flaws, it has a bounciness and charm that is hard to resist. He is enormously helped by the irreplaceable Jean Marais, clearly having a grand time as both the title villain and the supposed hero, Fandor. And special mention must be made of the wonderful score by Michel Magne, which is practically a character itself.