Who Was Fantômas?

(Above: Helmut Berger as ‘Fantômas’)

Fantômas, the literary creation of French crime novelists Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, returns today in a limited 1980 series on subscription streamer MHz Choice.

Fantômas (Helmut Berger) is a masked serial killer in 1920s Paris who “murders the innocent and vanishes.” Inspector Juve (Jacques Dufilho) has been on his trail for decades, but always a few steps behind.

The masked killer isn’t all about work; he also has a love interest, the beautiful society matron, Lady Beltham (Gayle Hunnicutt).

The limited series, directed by Claude Chabrol and Juan Luis Buñuel, debuts two 90-minute episodes today: “The Magic Scaffold” and “The Devil’s Embrace.” Episodes three and four will be available next Tuesday, April 24.

Perhaps in an effort to appeal to Boomer Americans, MHz’s blog compares this version of Fantômas to the original Batman series. MHz Choice calls Fantômas “playful” in its “over the top” embrace of “visual conventions and early (1980) special effects.”

MHz Choice offers webAndroid, iOS, Apple TVRokuChromecastAmazon Prime and Fire TV users more than 2,000 hours of subtitled mysteries, dramas and comedies from Europe and around the world.

The service costs $7.99 monthly after a 30-day free trial. Right now, you can get 50% off your first month by using the promo code SPRING18. To subscribe, or for more info, visit mhzchoice.com.

Vintage Fantômas

If you’re looking for vintage Fantômas, however, travel back more than 100 years to 1913, when the character first haunted the screen.

Louis Feuillade directed a five-part, 5 ½ hour serial (absolutely epic given that most films of the day lasted no longer than 20 minutes) starring René Navarre as Fantômas, Bréon as Juve, Georges Melchior as Jérôme Fandor, and Renée Carl as Lady Beltham.

You can stream all five entries with English subtitles, except for Part 2 (which has French titles), for free:

  • Part 1: In the Shadow of the Guillotine, at Kanopy, the service for library members
  • Part 2: Juve Contre Fantômas, at archive.org;
  • Part 3: Le Mort Qui Tue (1913), at Kanopy;
  • Part 4: Fantômas Contre Fantômas (1914), at archive.org and Kanopy;
  • Part 5: Le Faux Magistrat (1914) via Kanopy.

You can watch Kanopy’s catalog online, or via RokuiOS and Android apps. To see if your library participates, visit Kanopy’s help center. If it doesn’t, you can submit a request for its inclusion.

You can also stream the first entry, Fantômas Part 1: In the Shadow of the Guillotine, with a Fandor subscription. Fandor is currently offering $5 a month and $45 a year plans, with a 14-day free trial. Fandor is also available via Amazon Prime as a $3.99 a month add-on channel.

Fantômas, first introduced in 1911, appeared in 32 volumes co-written by Allain and Souvestre, followed by 11 more entries penned by Allain alone following Souvestre’s untimely death at 39. There have since been countless big-screen iterations and imitations.

 

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About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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