• Fantômas

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: January 5th, 2016.
    Director: Louis Feuillade
    Cast: René Navarre, Edmond Bréon, Jane Faber, Georges Melchior
    Year: 1913-1914
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    The Movies:

    Based on the series of immensely popular novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the five Fantômas directed by Louis Feuillade between 1913 and 1914 now arrive on Blu-ray in North America thanks to Kino Lorber.

    Fantômas In The Shadow Of The Guillotine:

    In the first film, we meet Fantômas (played in all five films by René Navarre) for the first time. We learn that this criminal mastermind is an expert in disguise and that he has at his command a veritable army of masked henchmen. The film begins when Fantômas pulls off a successful robbery at the Royal Palace Hotel by swiping the jewelry of Princess Danidoff (Jane Faber). So brazen is he that he even hands her his calling card before he splits the scene.

    Inspector Juve (Edmund Bréon) is tasked with solving the crime and with some help from a newspaper reporter named Jerôme Fandor (Georges Melchior) he sets out to do just that. It isn’t long before they catch the man they believe to be responsible and sentence him to the guillotine, but is it the right culprit or has Lady Beltham (Renée Carl) helped the mysterious Fantômas escape?

    Juve Vs. Fantômas:

    The second movie begins with a theft involving Fantômas and his masked henchmen pilfering 150,000 francs from a wealthy man enamored with a woman of ill repute. From there, the film shows us the results of a massive train crash (cleverly done with miniatures and stock footage) before bringing us back up to speed on Juve’s attempts to recapture Fantômas.

    As the top cop gets closer, a so-called silent assassin is sent to kill him during the night. Juve prepares by putting spiked appliances on his body under his bedsheets but is outsmarted yet again when the assassin turns out not to be a man, but a snake! It all leads down to a fantastic showdown in a factory where the cops get Fantômas on the run… but how can you capture a man you can barely prove exists in the first place?

    The Murderous Corpse:

    The third film leads us to believe that Juve has been killed. Fandor, however, is alive and well and determined to complete their mission and bring Fantômas to justice. Of course, Fantômas has other ideas. He and his henchmen come up with a new plan to throw the cops off their trail – they frame a man named Jacques Dollon (André Luguet) for a murder they committed and, once he’s arrested, they kill him. From there, they use his corpse to leave his fingerprints at the various scenes of their various crimes, sending Fandor and everyone else on a series of wild goose chases.

    But what of Juve, is he really dead?

    Fantômas Vs. Fantômas:

    Of course not! In this fourth installment we learn how Juve stands accused of being Fantômas himself after being raked over the coals in the local newspapers for failing to bring the super criminal to justice. To take advantage of this, the real Fantômas steals the identity of an American detective visiting Paris named Tom Bob to set out on yet another one of his amazing crime sprees.

    Meanwhile, Fandor fears he’ll be accused of aiding and abetting Juve and so he continues the quest to stop Fantômas on his own, while Juve rot in jail. At the same time, Lady Beltham uses her wealth to host a charity ball, wherein the proceeds will be given towards helping capture Fantômas for good. The cops figure this is the perfect spot to capture Fantômas, who does appear, alongside a few other men all in exactly the same outfit.

    The False Magistrate:

    It all leads up to this, the last film in the collection where Fantômas is caught by the authorities in outside the French border in Belgium. Of course, it doesn’t take him long to escape and once he does, he kills a judge and takes his place in the high court…

    While Louis Feuillade’s directing style consists primarily of employing tried but true ‘point and shoot’ cinematography, the pacing is quick, the stories are gripping and suspenseful and the whole of the five Fantômas films is so decidedly odd that you can’t help but get wrapped up in them. The plots are even more outlandish than they probably sound, with twists happening almost constantly and Fantômas himself assuming one new disguise after another, but as insane as it frequently gets there’s no denying that this is a whole lot of pulp fiction inspired fun. If the camera work isn’t going to make your jaw drop, the movies are at least well edited and well put together from a technical standpoint. They also provide some great ‘time capsule’ footage of the France of the early 1900s, and this doesn’t just include the streets and buildings but the style of dress and interior decorating popular at the time as well.

    Edmond Bréon plays the mustachioed Juve really well. He, like everyone else in the cast, exaggerates things to compensate for the lack of sound, but he does it with an appreciable sense of glee. As he skulks about trying to put together the string of clues that each episode provides, he’s a blast to watch and when the story calls for action, he delivers! Georges Melchior as Fandor is also pretty good here. He’s younger and maybe more agile than Juve is but he’s not as savvy or experienced. He’s the Robin to Juve’s Batman, for lack of a better comparison.

    René Navarre, however, absolutely steals the show. As Fantômas he’s basically given the chance to play a host of different characters, each new disguise providing the actor the opportunity to create something unique. Navarre run with this, providing a pretty interesting range of aliases and doing so with such obvious sinister intent that he’s fascinating to watch. Given that Fantômas doesn’t seem to steal for greed of personal gain but instead to cause chaos you can look at the character as a bit of an anarchist, and Navarre at times seems to be playing up this side of things in interesting ways.


    Fantômas arrives on Blu-ray in a two disc set with the first three films on disc one and the other two films on disc two, each disc is 50GB in size and the movies are given a nice, strong bit rate here. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers are taken from the 2013 Gaumont 4k restoration and presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. For a series of films now over a century old, things shape up very nicely here. There is some very minor and very occasional ghosting here and there but outside of that the black and white (and occasionally tinted) image looks excellent. Some damage looks to have been irreparable but by and large the transfer is clean and amazingly detailed. Grain looks nice and natural, it’s not been scrubbed away nor does it ever get clumpy, while black levels and contrast are rock solid. There are no problems with any obvious compression artifacts nor is there any edge enhancement. The video quality here is impressive.

    The audio is handled by a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and while a lossless option is always preferred, the quality and clarity here is fine. Obviously there’s no dialogue nor are there any sound effects but the music used throughout each of the five films in the set is nicely balanced and has decent range to it. Optional English subtitles are included to translate the French intertitles that appear on screen from time to time as well as the different letters and newspaper headlines that are used in the films.

    On the first disc we get commentaries for the first two films courtesy of film historian David Kalat that are quite informative and very quickly paced. These tracks are clearly very well researched as Kalat is able to pack in a lot of information here. He covers Feuillade’s directing style and provides some welcome background information on the man but also fills in a lot of blanks as to what makes these movies unique. He discusses the importance of the source material in the success of the films, makes some interesting observations about their influence and also shares his thoughts on the cast members, the characters and quite a bit more.

    The second disc includes a few more extras, starting with an eleven minute feataurette called Louis Feuillade: Master Of Many Forms which is a brief but fascinating look back at the director’s career in cinema. Fantômas is covered, as you’d expect, but so too is his work behind the scenes at Gaumont and some of his other endeavors. The second disc also includes two short films directed by Feuillade before Fantômas, they being the fourteen minute 1910 production The Nativity and the seventeen minute 1912 short The Dwarf. These are presented in SD and while not nearly as compelling as the five Fantômas features, they’re historically significant and interesting to see. These are definitely an asset to this release.

    Outside of that we get a nice still gallery comprised of cover art from different Fantômas book covers from around the world, static menus and film/feature selection.

    The Final Word:

    Kino’s Blu-ray release of the five original Fantômas films is a winner. The movies hold up well, very entertaining and occasionally bizarre stuff, all presented in beautifully restored condition and with some choice supplements as well. Now if only we could get the 1960’s movies on Blu-ray…

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. agent999's Avatar
      agent999 -
      Watched the first couple of films so far, great set.