Fantômas - À l'Ombre de la Guillotine
Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine
Ramon Bosetti for Gaumont
directed by Louis Fueillade
starring René Navarre, Georges Melchior, Renée Carl, Edmund Breon, Jane Faber, Volbert, Naudier, Maillard, Yvette Andréyor
screenplay by Louis Feuillade, based on the novel by Marcel Allain, Pierre Souvestre
Fantomas, Louis Feuillade's Fantomas
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It all starts with a daring heist, in which a stranger later identified
as Fantomas (René Navarre) steals the jewelry of the Princess Danidoff
(Jane Faber), then manages to get out of the almost hermetically sealed
off hotel she stays at by switching disguises numerous times.
is left baffled by this daring crime, but inspector Juve (Edmund Breon)
eventually links all of it to another crime, the disappearance of Lord
Beltham, which seems to be just as inexplicable as the jewel heist. While
everyone else is looking for Beltham's body though, Juve tracks down his
luggage to a certain Gurn (yup, it's René Navarre), who's somehow
involved with the Belthams ... and is actually Lady Beltham's (Renée
Carl) lover. In one of Lord Beltham's trunks, Juve finds ... the deceased
Lord Beltham of course - and from there on it's no problem to arrest Gurn,
have him convicted of the murder, prove he's Fantomas, and have him
sentenced to death by the guillotine. Happy ending?
Not by a longshot,
because Lady Beltham is not only Gurn's lover, she's also very
resourceful, so she bribes two of Gurn's guards into obedience, finds an
actor (Volbert) who resembles Gurn, seduces him and then has him replaced
for the real Gurn in the night before his execution. It's only minutes
before his decapitation that Juve, always a sceptic at heart, realizes the
man led to the guillotine is not the real Gurn/Fantomas, and he saves the
actor just in time. And thus, Juve's obsession with Fantomas begins ...
the time of this writing, Fantomas - À l'Ombre de la Guillotine is
a straight century old - and it still holds up remarkably well, also (and
especially) when compared to later Fantomas-adaptations. The
reason here is not so much Louis Feuillade's fetishistic approach to his
material (which is rather subdued compared to his later films) but his
ability to tell a story with the then very limited techniques cinema had
to offer, to build up tension and suspense, and to treat his pulpy source
material with respect.
Nice one indeed!