Archive for Fantomas

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.



The Judex-Files: Prologue

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 3, 2016 by dcairns


Time I did another serial here. Opted to do a GOOD one. Louis Feuillade’s JUDEX somehow escaped getting watched by me previously, maybe because Georges Franju somewhat dissed it by saying he preferred FANTOMAS and only made his own remake of the mysterious crime-fighter’s adventures because he couldn’t get the rights to those if the mysterious crime-commiter. But then, he DID choose to remake it, so he must have liked it a bit, yes?

Anyway, I’m 100 years late to the party, as usual, but here goes…


But JUDEX has all the charm you’d expect from its maker, with colossal old jalopies, elegant theatrical blocking, and Musidora skulking about under assumed names. Plus it has a slightly less episodic approach, with slow-burn plotlines set up in an elaborate prologue like a Victorian novel. A slightly daft Victorian novel, possibly, but a very constructed one, unlike the near-independent chapters of FANTOMAS and sequels.

Part one details the misdeeds of a nasty banker, who has a nice daughter and grandson. We meet various aggrieved parties, are introduced to the mystery of the old jailbird’s missing son, and the banker starts getting threatening letters, signed JUDEX. He hires a detective with an amusing comedy face and an un-amusing comedy sidekick. And then he drops dead of an apparent embolism.

“Where is this going?” 1916 audiences may have asked. And I did too, but none of us could stop watching…


Star of the prologue is undoubtedly consulting detective Marcel Levesque. The banker is drawn to an ad in the paper representing a super-sleuth combining the best features of Auguste Dupin, Mandrake the Magician and Tarzan. But what he gets is this weedy figure reminiscent of James Finlayson, only without the machismo. I warmed to Levesque at once, even as he presides, as bodyguard, over the immediate death of his client. I’m sure his success rate will improve as the show goes on…


To be continued…

The Sunday Intertitle: Double Dutch

Posted in FILM with tags , , on January 4, 2015 by dcairns


FILIBUS (one hundred years old this year) is Italy’s answer to FANTOMAS, and hence also a precursor to DIABOLIK, but excitingly, Filibus is a lady master criminal (mistress criminal?) and she not only swans about in a domino mask doing crimes, she drags up (mistress of disguise?). My copy had Dutch intertitles but I could follow it fine, because I discovered that Dutch is basically the same as English but with the words and letters all changed about.



Much of Filibus’s criminality is conducted via a dinky airship, which exists both as a double-exposed miniature (slightly translucent against its cloudscape backdrop, and as a full-scale version which the actors can faff about on, lowering Filibus to the scenes of her multiple infamies in a kind of bucket. It’s not as dignified as pulling up in a hansom cab but it has a certain panache. She also spends as much of her time taunting her stalwart (stoic, staunch, stiff) detective foe as she does burgling from above, even giving up half her loot in order to fiendishly implicate him in her banditry.


My favourite thing was the hilarious “Egyptian cat statue,” an epic prop department fail which I wish I owned the original of. Here, Filibus, having drugged the detective (stubborn, stupid), positions him so that he will be photographed by the miniature camera hidden in the cat’s eye-socket as a security precaution. I know it looks like he’s being used as a ventriloquist’s dummy, or worse, but never mind that — dig that crazy cat!

Directed by Mario Roncoroni (don’t know him) and starring, I think, Cristina Ruspoli as the title character. Both were busy 1912-1916, then appear to have packed it all in.