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Fantômas - L'Échafaud Magique

episode 1

France/West Germany 1980
produced by
Claude Barma, Denis Mermet for Antenne 2, Hamster Films, ZDF, TV 60
directed by Claude Chabrol
starring Helmut Berger, Jacques Dufilho, Pierre Malet, Gayle Hunnicutt, Hélène Duc, Kristina Van Eyck, Mario David, Georgette Anys, Pierre Douglas, Denise Bataille, Katia Tchenko, Coco Ducados, Magali Renoir, Marie-José Courtois, Hubert de Lapparent, Serge Bento
screenplay by Bernard Revon, based on the novel by Pierre Souvestre, Marcel Allain, music by Georges Delerue

TV-series
Fantomas, Fantomas (Helmut Berger)

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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France, circa 1910: To claim her prize money from the National Lottery, the Marquise de Langrune (Hélène Duc) takes the train to Paris, accompanied by her good friend inspector Juve (Jacques Dufilho), who has the distinct feeling that she will be robbed of her ticket by none other than Fantomas, supercriminal and man of many faces. Nobody takes Juve very seriously, mind you, because Fantomas is his pet obsession, nothing more. Of course, the Marquise is murdered on the train, despite Juve's protection, and the lottery ticket has gone missing. There are clues that Fantomas might have had to do with it, too ...

A few days later, a handsome stranger catches the princess Danidoff (Kristina Van Eyck) naked (duh!) in her bathtub. He behaves all gentleman-like though, but hands her his card - Fantomas.

Yet later, Gurn (Helmut Berger) is found on the premises of Lady Beltham (Gayle Hunnicutt) and arrested on the spot. He is really her lover, mind you, but she dares not admit it because she knows for a fact that he has killed her husband (at her request). He is still tried for the crime, eventually admits to it and is condemned to death by decapitation. For some reason, inspector Juve thinks he's Fantomas (several pieces of evidence in the Beltham murder suggested so), but he's not taken seriously. In jail, Gurn gets special treatment because Lady Beltham bribes his guards, and she just might be able to do a little more for him, because you see, in Paris, there's an actor who looks just like him ... so lady Beltham invites the actor to her place on the night before the execution, drugs him, and with the help of the guards loyal to her, she replaces Gurn with him just hours away from decapitation time.

Juve, who can't wait to see his nemesis beheaded, only notices after the head has come off that the Gurn they executed wears makeup ... just like an actor.

 

This first episode of a TV four-parter must have come like something of a revelation for serious Fantomas-fans who were disappointed by the slapstick Jean Marais-Luis De Funes films from the 1960's, and perhaps rightly so - but really, this film, taken by itself, isn't much to get excited about. Basically, it totally fails to build Fantomas into the pulpy supervillain he was conceived as, tells a way too down-to-earth murder mystery to create excitement, relies way too heavily on far fetched plottwists and plot devices to remain believable, and the "surprise" ending announces itself way too early in the movie. The whole thing isn't totally without merit, some of the dialogue is sharp and poignant at least, and in several instances, the film enjoyably shifts towards caricature for a few moments, but as a whole, the whole thing's hardly worth your time.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
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to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD