Behold: the most feared criminal mastermind of France.

Yes! It's him!

I wrote a year and a half ago about the Fantomas character, and somehow forgot to mention the movie made about him. The Shadow of the Guillotine, 1913. Why does it matter?


The British film critic and writer Kim Newman has argued that Fantômas inspired the Pink Panther film series starring Peter Sellers In the initial 1963 Pink Panther film, Fantômas was transformed into Sir Charles Lytton (the Phantom), and Inspector Juve became Inspector Clouseau.

The first movie was released a few years after the series started up, and it was a serial. The chapters were an hour and a half long. I have only the first.

The set had a working elevator . . .

. . . and it doubled as the other floors.

We go up to the top stage with a rich Russian lady, who will no doubt be the subject of Fantomas’s attention.

And as soon as she leaves the room:

Dude, you could try to look less evil. He actually steps out from behind his hiding place, introduces himself, and as the music gets more and more ominous he seems to mesmerize her.

Mais que étés vous? she asks. He gives her . . . a blank card! His trademark! Then he steals her jewels, and kisses her hand farewell.

It’s a peculiar robbery, but I think the audience was expecting this - the mesmerism, the brazen quality of the robbery, the violence he commits to escape. He attacks a bellboy, steals his uniform, peels off the false hair, and as he makes his final escape, the words appear on the blank card he gave his victim.

FANTOMAS

We meet the dogged policeman, Inspector Juve:

None of this matters, because we’re off on another case now; nothing we just saw matters to the plot.

Anyway. It’s not that interesting to me, since most of the sets are studio-bound. There are some exterior shots, and the director likes this composition:

A lot.

It's interesting for being Early and for being French - if not an accurate look at the times, a look at what people saw in the theaters. Here are upper-class theater swells, and check out those muttonchops:

Everyone’s going to the Grand Treteau to laugh at Valgrand, the comedian? No, the actor. It’s a drama, La Tache Sanglante.

The Bloody Stain.

Probably not a comedy. Anyway, the rest of the episode consists of Fantomas getting Valgrand to be executed in his stead. But Juve won’t be fooled.

At the end he goes back to his office to write everything up, and brood about how he might capture Fantomas.

FIN? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, FIN? Remember: first in a series. But you know they never caught him.

He was Fantomas.