For those of you not familiar with Louis Feuillade, he was the artistic director of France's Gaumont Studios from 1907-1918 during which time he directed or supervised over 800 films. He is best remembered today for his groundbreaking crime serials FANTOMAS, JUDEX, and LES VAMPIRES which still have the power to amaze and entertain almost 100 years later. FANTOMAS is the earliest of the three dating from 1913-14. It is the blueprint for countless crime serials that would follow where an arch criminal who is a master of disguise and head of a vast criminal empire (Fantomas) is doggedly pursued by a dedicated "supercop" (Inspector Juve) determined to bring him down.
FANTOMAS was conceived on a grand scale. It breaks down into five films (IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE, JUVE-vs-FANTOMAS, THE MURDEROUS CORPSE, FANTOMAS-vs-FANTOMAS, THE FALSE MAGISTRATE) and runs for over 5 1/2 hours. It is full of disguises, surprises, several comic moments, a touch of the supernatural and surprising brutality. It's also a time capsule of settings and life before World War One which makes it invaluable as history. Rene Navarre and Edmond Breon as protagonist and antagonist give surprisingly restrained (and effective) performances considering that this film was made in 1913.
Although it was the first to be made, FANTOMAS is the last of three great Feuillade serials to make it to DVD. LES VAMPIRES and JUDEX have been available for a few years now and if you haven't seen them you should check them out as well. Gaumont did the restoration back in 1998 and the film looks astonishing for its age. This quality release by Artificial Eye comes with an entertaining and appropriate music score as well as a pair of special features with film historian Kim Newman that give plenty of background on the film and on director Feuillade.