The Sunday Intertitle: Anglo-Australian Fantomas

I thought that’d get your attention.

Said dude is known as ULTUS, THE MAN FROM THE DEAD and can be viewed free on the BFIplayer here. It’s a fragment of a serial and you know how I love fragments. This one starts off especially well with a wide shot of a room and various folks teleporting around it in a series of jumpy blips. No context, no continuity.

Then it starts getting more coherent — being a Brit, Ultus is a bit more law-abiding than Fantomas and a lot nicer. He’s played by Australian thesp Aurelio Sydney (yeah, right — although his real name, Aurele William Edmund Labat de Lambert, isn’t much more plausible-sounding).

The main surviving caper-section features some of my favourite things: lovely secret passages; groups of men in hats grappling with one another; cunning escapes; disguises (Ultus rips off a moustache in an “It’s me!” gesture). Also, director George Pearson has a grasp of POV shots that’s quite advanced for 1915, and he uses them deftly to tell his story and increase viewer involvement. Pearson’s perhaps best remembered for Betty Balfour’s SQUIBS films. If you know where I can see more of his silents, drop me a line below.

The intertitles are in French, showing that they dared export this to the homeland of Fantomas, and foiling me from understanding anything about what’s going on. My schoolboy French is more remedial that I thought. Not helped by the fact that the narrative context is missing, lost to time. So what I was left with was the pure essence of serial adventure: running about. The majority of serials’ action and the majority of many movies’ second acts is just this: running about. Really, it’s to be avoided (use action to advance narrative and develop characters) but when it’s in funny Edwardian clothes and I have no idea what’s happening, I don’t mind it so much.

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