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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 October 2008
The story of Fantomas is divided into 5 separate films of about an hour each in length, although one runs approx 90 mins. Fantomas is a arch-criminal. He is a master of disguises, has a loyal group of followers and is ruthless in his actions. He is pursued throughout the 5 films by his nemesis, Inspector Juve and a reporter Jérôme Fandor.
Fantomas is one of the most entertaining silents I've seen and holds up well next to contemporary movies too. Each episode is creative, entertaining and the 5+ hours running time seemed to pass very quickly.
The picture quality is good and the colour tinting enhances viewing. One thing I was very impressed with was the music score. It really added to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the films. Excellent.
Unfortunately, some of the last film has been lost and is replaced with text but does not seriously affect the overall enjoyment of this set.
I would recommend Fantomas to any fans of silent films or anyone wishing to try something different. Actually, since watching Fantomas I've since ordered Louis Feuillade's 'Les Vampires' and 'Judex' which I'm really looking forward to seeing. I thought a 1913 series may be very basic and perhaps unwatchable but I was pretty blown away!
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on 19 February 2012
Feuillade's first masterpiece is a fast-paced sequence of heist stories, murders, kidnappings, poisoning and impersonation, building on the exploits of the memorable antagonist created by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, and immortalised in a sprawling novel series written and released at breakneck pace.

Fantômas is a character who murders without compunction, and tends to get away with it as his nemesis, the smart but unlucky Inspector Juve and his journalist friend Jerôme Fandor try to track him down but fail at crucial moments. These stories show little resemblance to the 1960s action comedies with Louis de Funes. The tone is significantly darker, although the series does not lack small flashes of dark humour. There is a lurid fascination with macabre death and grisly violence (chapters within individual films: The Bleeding Wall, The Murderous Corpse etc.).

The interesting thing about Fantômas is that he is not just effectively faceless behind his hundred disguises, but he is without a backstory, or much of a psychological profile. We don't get to know much about him, and we don't need to, since he expresses himself through his improbable and horrible deeds. He is almost like an embodiment of crime, and he could be anyone, anywhere - a banker, a priest, a socialite, a street lowlife or a policeman (he is all of these and more in these episodes). The movies are full of anxiety; crime is triumphant, it pays, and Fantômas gets to delight in it. The surrealists loved it as the kind of accidental art that would emerge out of modern mass culture, and there is definitely something off about the atmosphere; the Paris of the early 1910s feels dreamlike, on the boundaries between the probable and improbable.

As an interesting reversal from the novels, where disguises were only stripped away as a way of concluding a story arc, Feuillade shows them right at the beginning. Both Fantômas and Juve are shown in a series of dissolves, first as the actors, then the characters they impersonate. In a way, they are even mirror images of each other: to catch Fantômas, Juve and Fandor have to don fake personas, commit burglary, and withhold information from the authorities. At the beginning of one episode, Juve orchestrates a prison break for his nemesis, safely locked away in Belgium, anticipating that he will return to France where - the death penalty still in place - he can be guillotined. No wonder, then, that his improbable stories arouse official suspicion, and he is even suspected of being the master criminal himself.

The cinematography is largely based on static shots, less advanced than it would be in Les Vampires two years later, but it is solid, and doesn't have the jangly quality of many silents. Actually, the acting feels real in the sense it is not over-coreagraphed; physical violence, when it occurs, feels creepily authentic. Unfortunately, parts of the last two episodes have been lost beyond recovery (the films themselves have only survived due to some kind of lucky accident before the stock was to be discarded as useless junk), and these parts are replaced by intertitles, and in one case, rerunning old footage. Sometimes, there is heavy damage on the stock. That said, the restored film looks as good as it can, and is well served by the score, ranging between hollow suspense and a dark dynamism.

Almost a hundred years old, Fantômas remains compulsively watchable. As a critic has remarked, it is not really a puzzle but an intoxicant: full of uncertainty and menace, it has a strange, subversive beauty to it that still manages to delight and enthral viewers.
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on 11 February 2009
"Fantomas" is an early action/suspense series in five 1-hour episodes filmed in France in the years 1913-14, when cinema was just becoming a celebrated art and form of entertainment in its own right. For this reason alone I was already very impressed to see such sophistication and style in an early version of today's TV serials, complete with heroes and villains creating thrills and spills throughout every episode. Based on popular pulp novels of that time, prolific film-maker Louis Feuillade created one of the first crime dramas for the screen with a lively, original spontaneity that is still palpable when watching it close to a century later. Best remembered for the two crime drama serials he produced in following years, namely "Les Vampires" (1915) and "Judex" (1917) which became longer and more complex each time, "Fantomas" is refreshingly shorter and less involved, but still full of fascinating characters, thrilling action and enthralling twists and turns. The overall style is more of a comic book villain rather than a realistic crime drama, but this served as exciting and even avant-garde entertainment at the time, and is no less fascinating in our day.

Fantomas is the villain who, like his name implies, appears and disappears like a phantom, thanks to various clever disguises. Many of the situations are implausible, yet the way in which it is captured on screen makes for breathtaking suspense and surprises which are not easily forgotten. Even the street scenes, houses and fashions of these years create a charm and enchantment as one feels transported back into another time and era. Adding to all these outstanding features are the top quality orchestral music accompaniment and overall excellent condition of the film itself. There is also a 40-minute feature with Kim Newman who provides helpful background information to "Fantomas" and Louis Feuillade in order to appreciate this amazing early serial even more. Anyone who enjoyed "Les Vampires" and "Judex" should add "Fantomas" to complete their Louis Feuillade collection, and anyone with a yearning for something completely different from another time and place also won't be disappointed!
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on 26 September 2010
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.
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on 4 May 2015
A century ago, France's bookstores were selling a series of pulp novellas involving a dangerous criminal and serial killer called Fantomas. Master of disguise and of manipulation, his presence made the fortune of his authors and captivated the public, including the Surrealists like Jean Cocteau and Gabriel Appolinaire. An interest Louis Feuillade also shared as he adapted five episodes of that long saga into a film series that has influenced many, among them Fritz Lang for Dr. Mabuse.

All shot in 1913 and 1914, these episodes are dramatic, exciting and filled with an incredible sense of suspense. One so powerful that each time you wonder if Commissioner Juve and his friend Jerome Fandor will ever capture that fiend. Speaking of Fandor, those that may have read the original novels in French like I did might notice how Jerome's origins are more simple. Not only that, the first episode's ending is less grim and shocking than what the first novel offered. As the latter is easily explainable as being too violent for a wide public release, the absence of Jerome'S origins presents the protagonists as archetypes of good and evil rather than people with different layers as in the novel. Nevertheless, the episodes are very pleasant to watch and Feuillade really knows how to focus your attention on the action and the plot; making you impatient to watch the next episodes. A forewarner of the television serials that would appear decades later.

Technically, each episode is color-tinted for the moods and time period of the story, uses music cues from the Catalogue Sonimage, and the actors are excellent; in particular René Navarre, whose piercing look makes him the perfect person for the Fantomas role. By the way, I adored what Feuillade did at the start of each episode as he displays Navarre's various attires he shall use in his episode. It forewarns the public that the story's dramatic and that the character is dangerous.
But as a pre-warning, I have to mention that the last episode "The False Magistrate" is partially complete as several frames of the film are either damaged or lost. Indeed, notes on the screen summarise what happened in those absent sections, including the ending, which sorts of kills the tension of that episode and makes it more difficult to watch. Therefore, that episode's mutilated quality is a clear warning on how we must preserve movies from any deterring conditions whether they are human or natural.

Finally, the special features offer very decent bonuses. Two audio commentaries, two other short films Feuillade did, a documentary on the director, and images with posters involving Fantomas, including some with the Jean Marais and Louis de Funes's trilogy.

As a whole, this series is a wonderful treat for those who love suspense and a visual proof of the power Fantomas's character still holds. A character whose novels deserve more translation in English as only the novels offer a complete conclusion to the story. As to who Fantomas really is.
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on 29 March 2009
I would love to review this DVD. Unfortunately,...despite the fact that it says "all regions" in the description of the film it will not play on any machine that I try it in. I am in the U.S. and only bought the product because of that labeling. Did I miss something? Does "all regions" mean something other than what I was led to believe?
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on 26 April 2013
I am very pleased to announce that the "Kino International" Edition is Region-Free, I tried it in different Code2-Players! The Opening Credit shows at the bottom that the discs include the Gaumont Restorations from 1998. The Quality of the image is marvellous!
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on 1 April 2009
I may live in the US, but Feuillade and Abel Gance are, by far, my favorite silent film directors. While Feuillade's Les Vampires is one of my favorite silent films, Fantomas is not far behind. Fantomas may not have Musidora, but it is still a very entertaining series of 5 films with a clear print and a great musical score. I wish it was twice as long.
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on 10 September 2013
a masterpiece of the early silent cinema in a copy really perfect, necessary to study the effective modernity of the Feuillade contriibution to the history of cinema
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on 4 October 2014
The story is really good. You never know what will be happening next. It is very imaginative for the time. It is also interesting to see how life was in 1914.
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