Archive for Fantomas

The Sunday Intertitle: Anglo-Australian Fantomas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 19, 2020 by dcairns

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: Za & Za

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 19, 2020 by dcairns


“Za la Mort and Za la Vie with old aunt Camilla live happily in the countryside.”

And they have a really nice kitchen, actually.


This domesticity is a surprising element, since Za la Mort is a kind of super-criminal. But he only uses his powers for good.

The Italians were quick to copy Feuillade’s supervillain capers like FANTOMAS, but, while the Frenchman is clearly at least somewhat enamoured of his invincible bad guy, the Italians, as we’d see even more clearly later in DANGER: DIABOLIK, basically had more sympathy for crooks than cops.

This is I TOPI GRIGI (1918), which I missed last year at Bologna but am catching up with now.

Za la Mort may be a criminal, but he’s up against much worse criminals, one of those secret societies you hear about. To be continued…


The faces are extraordinary. Za la Mort (left) has just saved this young chap, and his little dog too, from a street gang.


The Sunday Intertitle: What an odd thing to say

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2017 by dcairns


“I’m not doing this anymore! Running around at 200kmph! It’s modern cannibalism!”

A strange intertitle from the pen of a strange woman, Thea Von Harbou. Due to a job I’ve got on, I found myself watching both SPIONE and both parts of DR. MABUSE: DER SPIELER this week, which is quite a lot of espionage to consume at one sitting. But highly enjoyable, as most binges are.



The above statement is made here, in the cosy flat of two disgruntled henchmen. I could imagine that being a great premise for a sitcom, except that Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter already nailed that concept. And who IS sending Ben and Gus those baffling orders for scampi &c? Surely it’s the doctor himself, who starts off flesh-and-blood in this film, becomes more of a psychic influence in TESTAMENT, and is a mere principle by the time of 1,000 EYES. By the time he seeps into Pinter he’s a Godot-like abstraction, probably not even a conscious presence…

Post-binge, I found I slightly preferred SPIONE, since by that point Lang’s insert shots have moved on to a new realm of gleaming fetishism, but MABUSE sets out the plan for so much later Lang, it’s like watching the birth of a monster. Horrible yet awe-inspiring. FANTOMAS and his many imitators may have set the pattern, but to the master-criminal scheme is added something fresh, via Norbert Jacques’ novel: while Fantomas worked mostly alone with the occasional foxy accomplice or hired-for-the-occasion goon squad, Mabuse is the leader of a criminal empire, or, as he later calls it, a state within a state. All the Hitler comparisons stem from that one adjustment.

It makes Mabuse both more like a real-world crime boss, and yet also more fantastical, since he seems able to accomplish anything. He has tentacles everywhere, like a naughty Hokusai octopus. One thing I was watching for was some good police interrogation scenes, but the recurring theme of MABUSE is that any time the police clap a perp in irons, Mabuse has the guy offed before he can squawk.


Here’s a Mabuseian insert shot — not quite up to the standard of SPIONE, but very nice.