Original Title: Qian mian mo nu
Country: Hong Kong
Director: Chang-hwa Jeong (as Cheng Chang Ho)
Starring: Tina Chin Fei, Liang Chen, Pat Ting Hung, Carrie Ku Mei, Hsi Chang, Yu Chin Chang, Hsin, Yen Chao, Yi Ling Chen
Music: Wang Foo Ling (plus John Barry and others – most likely without permission)
If you are a fan of Diabolik or Fantomas, then the Shaw Bros. Studios Temptress of a Thousand Faces is a film that you must track down. Unfortunately at the moment, that is a little tricky to do, because the Hong Kong VCD is now out of print (apparently there is also a French DVD but it doesn’t have subs). But do what you have to do to track this down – eBay / Grey market /whatever… believe me, you need this film in your life. This film is a riot of sixties style light, colour, action and movement.
While Temptress is not a spy exactly a spy film, anyone who loves space age underground lairs, villains in rubber masks, outrageous torture devices, beautiful women in mod fashions, car chases, armies of ninjas, will appreciate what is on display here.
Like so many of Shaw Bros. films from the period, Temptress opens with a stylised animated title sequence, then wasting no time, jumps straight into the action. The Hong Kong police arrive at a bank to find the vault door open and the guards trussed up inside. On on of the shelves is a business card announcing that the theft is the work of an arch villainess who calls herself the Temptress of a Thousand Faces. At this moment there is a musical sting lifted directly for the Goldfinger soundtrack.
The film then cuts to a Rolls Royce cruising through the traffic. Inside is Miss Jin, who happens to be one of Hong Kong’s most wealthy women. As she puffs on a cigarette in a long thin holder, she is poured a drink of brandy or cognac from the bar by her assistant – it’s the good life! They arrive at a Jewellers and proceed inside. An array of stunning jewelled necklaces and bracelets are paraded for Miss Jin to inspect. She chooses to purchase three of the most expensive pieces then signs a cheque for 576000 HK dollars and leaves with her boodle.
After the purchase, the salesman is gloating over the commission he has just made from the sale, but at that moment, the words on the cheque begin to disappear — like they were evaporating. Then in their place, new words begin to form on the cheque – it says: ‘greetings from the Temptress of a Thousand Faces’. It wasn’t Miss Jin at all who had attended the jewellery store. The real Miss Jin had died earlier in the morning. The impostor was the mysterious Temptress in a lifelike rubber mask.
Li Mao is a reporter for a newspaper that is in decline, but the editor and chief has noticed that sales pick up after the Temptress has committed a crime. The Temptress is news, and more importantly, she sells papers. Li Mao is assigned to do a story on the Temptress. But that’s not so easy. Nobody knows who the Temptress is, and even then, it is not likely that she’d be the type to give interviews.
To get around this small inconvenience, Li Mao decides to concoct her own fabricated story about the Temptress. She enlists the aid of the papers photographer, Yu-da to help her out with some photos. The photos are supposed to be the Temptress, but instead she plays the role herself, dressed in dark clothes and hidden behind a cape.
The story is published and the police aren’t too happy about it. They are sure that Li Mao has fabricated the story to increase the newspaper’s circulation. The officer assigned to bring down the Temptress is Ji Ying (Tina Chin Fei) also happens to be the girlfriend of Yu-da, the photographer (now there’s a nice little love triangle).
To alleviate the damage done by Li Mao’s newspaper article, Ji Ying goes on television and threatens to bring the Temptress to justice. After the television appearance, Ji Ying returns home, and then her phone rings. The caller claims to be the Temptress, and demands to see Ji Ying. Ji Ying passes the call off as a joke that she believes that Yu-da is playing on her, and hangs up. Then the door bell rings. She goes to the door and opens it. There is nobody there, but there is a boxed rose of the doorstep. She picks it up and opens the box, smelling the rose. She passes out (it is drugged) and wakes up in the wonderful subterranean secret lair of the Temptress – chained to a circular stone altar in a transparent negligee.
Many of the Shaw Bros. spy films were a little bit saucy – and while there is no actual nudity, this film has a leering quality that almost beggars disbelief. The film features an array of transparent gowns and candy coloured negligees. It also showcases plenty of upskirt and panty fetish photography — and with that, I’d like to welcome all the new readers to this site who have accidentally ended up here after googling ‘upskirt panty fetish’ – the screen caps above are just for you.
The Temptress’s underground lair is amazing. It is filled with outlandish torture chambers, trapdoors, cages that drop from the ceiling and most importantly a hot-tub. A hot-tub is so much more fun than a pool filled with piranhas. It is also bathed in that sixties style glow of red and green lights. The Temptress has no shortage of minions either. First there are a company of veiled handmaidens – who I am not sure if the are just for decoration or to provide some kind of security. Not that security is an issue, Temptress also has a small army of incompetent black clad masked ninjas, and a number of machine gun toting female guards.
Ji Ying is tortured for a while and warned not to meddle in the Temptress’ affairs again. Then strangely she is released. This is strange because the Temptress is not above a bit of cold blooded murder, and furthermore as some of the other plot contrivances are revealed later in the film (I won’t spoil them here), it just doesn’t make any sense. Oh well – it doesn’t really matter. It’s all grand entertainment. Just let it sweep over you. Once Ji Ying is free, she simply re-doubles her efforts to capture the Temptress. And the arch-villainess kindly provides plenty of opportunities for her to do so. Unfortunately for Ji Ying, most of these opportunities result in her being captured by the Temptress once more – but that is all part of the fun.
If this synopsis is sounding a little familiar to you, then you may have seen the first film in André Hunebelle’s French Fantomas series, which featured Jean Marais as a villain who was able to change identity with a series of lifelike rubber face masks. Temptress, is what would be politely called a ‘re-imagining’ of that film (that’s so much nicer than ‘ripoff’). But there are differences. The main change is that Temptress has a female in the role of the villain, whereas the French original had a male. Temptress also focuses on the police officer as the villain’s main protagonist, whereas in the French film, it was the reporter, and his falsified newspaper story that incurred the ire of the villain. The other major difference is the ending. Fantomas ends with an inspired (if somewhat slapstick) chase sequence where where Fantomas uses a train, a car, a motorbike, a boat, and a submarine to make his escape. Temptress reverts to a more familiar Bondian setpiece, in her spectacular underground lair – I guess Shaw Bros. figured that they had gone to the trouble and expense of creating the sets; why not use them?
What makes Temptress such a fascinating film is that the two main protagonists are women. Apart from the perv factor, when you think about it, it is quite unique. I am not talking about femme fatales or henchmen (or henchwomen as the case may be), but the main characters – hero and villain are both women. Okay maybe Modesty Blaise had a female hero, but her main villain was Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), a man. Even the Sumuru pictures, which featured a strong female villain, had a male for the hero (George Nader in Million Eyes and Richard Whyler in Seven Secrets). So to see a film, at the height of the male dominated spy craze, where the two leads are women is quite groundbreaking (maybe there’s some Women’s Prison films out there that may prove me wrong – but women’s prison films aren’t generally geared up to be main stream entertainment). I guess though, the underlying question with Temptress is simply if the film became a showcase for the female leads because the film-makers had to twist the original Fantomas story enough so it wouldn’t look like outright plagiarism. Or where they deliberately pushing the gender stereotype boundary?
I think the answer lies in Shaw Bros. previously made Angel films , particularly the first film, Angel With Iron Fists, which featured Lily Ho as Agent 009. Angel was a strong female heroine and in Iron Fists she goes up against the villainous Mrs Jin – co-incidentally played by Tina Chin Fei. But whereas Ji Ying pretty much goes it alone, Angel had the manly assistance of Tang Ching to help her out – during both of her missions. I almost see the Angel films as a test run for Temptress – a test run that wasn’t quite prepared to go all the way.
Credited as Cheng Chang Ho, Temptress was directed by Chang-hwa Jeong, who is probably best known for directing King Boxer, aka Five Fingers of Death. But prior to Temptress he earned his espionage credentials directing Special Agent X-7 in 1967 (Yan die shen long) – a film that to my knowledge still remains curiously M.I.A. – IMDb lists it as a production of the Kam Hoi Film Company and intimates that there was some South Korean funding too, but I can find no information to verify this. The flyer below would indicate that the film was a Shaw Bros. production – but for all I know, it may have just been a distribution deal.
Temptress of a Thousand Faces, while being derivative of Fantomas, and borrowing heavily from other spymania films (there’s a car with revolving number plates, for example) is a quite a good film, possibly eclipsing some of the lessor films it was trying to imitate. The film is lightning paced with plenty of fights, car chases and a mod pop-art sensibility that make it perfect entertainment for those with a penchant for sixties spy cinema.
Now here’s where it gets a little weird – and most of this is sheer guesswork I my behalf. But to preface my thoughts, here’s a ramble I posted (slightly edited) on the Eurospy Forum some months ago:
Here we go again. I am on one of my investigative quests and am casting out my long tendril like feelers for information.
Before I go any further – credit where credit is due. Most of the information I am about to recite (or link to) has been discovered by Todd at the blog Die Danger Die Die Kill and Todd cites Dave at Soft film for providing some leads.
It’s best I start at the beginning and the Eurospy film – Sergio Sollima’s Passport to Hell. I am presuming that most of you have seen (or will see) this film. Passport to Hell is a good film, and of the hundreds of Eurospy films that were made in the sixties, it is possibly one of the best, buoyed by the sincerity of Giorgio Ardisson’s performance and a script that refuses to collapse into goofy genre conventions.
Now about 18 months ago, on Die Danger Die Die Kill, Todd reviewed a Shaw Bros. Hong Kong film called The Black Falcon. What Todd discovered, which nobody had mentioned before, was that The Black Falcon was essentially a remake of Passport to Hell. Well, that put The Black Falcon on my radar, and I figured in time I would pick up a copy and compare it for myself. It took me a while, but I finally obtained a copy of The Black Falcon.
Now Todd reviewed a VCD version of the film, whereas, the only copy I could get was on DVD. With the DVD I got a few extra features that Todd wasn’t privy to. One of these was a photo gallery. In the gallery there are two shots that are the same, but featuring different actors. The text explained that one was the Hong Kong version of the film; the other, filmed simultaneously with a different cast, was an ‘international’ version.
So that had me thinking that there were ‘two’ remakes of Passport to Hell. Of course I have searched for the second ‘International’ remake, but so far without any luck.
Then a couple of weeks ago, on Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill, Todd posted a review of Gerak Kilat, which featured a swinging sixties spy named Jefri Zain. You can read Todd’s review here.
It appears the Gerak Kilat was made by Shaw Bros. Malay studio in Singapore. And it was the first of 3 (possibly more?) Jefri Zain films. In Todd’s review he said that other films in the series were filmed in Hong Kong, simultaneously with other Shaw films. That made me think that possibly the ‘International’ Passport to Hell film I was seeking, may have been in fact a Malay film.
This was borne out by a follow-up post Todd made concerning the two sequels to Gerak Kilat. You can read the post here (with screencaps). Here it is revealed that the first sequel Bayangan Ajal is a version of Lo Wei’s Summon to Death. The next sequel,, Jurang Baraya is a version of Angel Strikes Back.
And to take things further, Angel With The Iron Fists was versioned as, Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001 which featured Nora Zain (most likely Jefri Zain’s secret agent sister).
So that’s the tale of the tape so far. Now what I am looking for is a bit more information on this. And here are a few of my assertions which I have no proof for at all – guesses at this stage which need some confirmation (or denial). Firstly, as 3 of Lo Wei’s spy films at Shaws were made into Malay versions, I am guessing it wouldn’t be too weird for The Golden Buddha to have also had simultaneous versions made (it too could be a Jefri Zain film?) In fact practically any Shaw Bros spy film could have a Malay cousin out there.
Another of the Hong Kong Shaws Bros films that is of interest to me (I haven’t seen it yet), is The Temptress of a Thousand Faces, which from the reviews that I have read, would appear to be a remake of Andre Hunebelle’s first Fantomas film, but with a female lead character. This too, may have been a prime candidate for a Malay version – so I am possibly looking for two remakes of Fantomas. (Actually I am looking for 4 Fantomas films – must track down Turkish Fantomas in Iron Claw the Pirate and Bollywood Fantomas in Saazish but that is another story)..
So there it is. If you have any comments, information or thoughts…?
As you read, at the time of writing I had not seen Temptress of a Thousand Faces. Now that I have, the question still remains – was a Malay version filmed at the same time? It would make sense. After all, the sets are pretty impressive, and it would make good economic sense to use them again (and again). I am sure, Shaw Bros. would like to get double the bang for their buck.
So if you’re a fan of Asian spy cinema and know of any alternate versions to this film (or in fact any of the Shaw Bros. spy films), feel free to drop my a line.
As usual, I am coming at this review arse-about. This film is a remake of a silent, twelve-part French movie serial that was released in 1916. I have not seen the original serial, so I have to look at the film as a stand alone piece, without the benefit and knowledge of having seen the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because each film should be able to stand on it’s own, without the viewer being a learned student of French cinema.
Since this film is a remake, I guess a little bit of history is required. Judex is the Latin word for ‘Judge’ or ‘upholder of the law’, and the title character is cloaked avenger who rights a few wrongs. The original serial was directed by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade created the character (with writer Arthur Bernéde) as a response to negative criticism of two of his earlier serials, Fantomas and Les Vampires. This 1963 film, shot in black and white, and utilising inter-titles, is a loving homage to the original serial.
The film opens on Mr. Favraux, who is a banker with a shady past. He has just received an ominous letter from somebody calling themselves ‘Judex’. The note reads: ‘Mr. Favraux, I order you to atone for your sins by handing over half your fortune to your victims. You have until six o’clock tomorrow evening to comply. Judex.’ Favraux pays little attention to the note, confident that ‘Judex’ is just a swindler trying to scare him. But non-the-less, Favraux hires Mr. Cocantin, a private detective to look into the matter.
Favraux’s reason for hiring Cocantin is two fold. Not only does he have to investigate Judex, but also provide security for his daughter’s engagement party, which is being held on the following day. His daughter, Jacqeline is set to marry Viscount Amaury de la Rochefontaine. During the celebration, there will be a lot of people at Favraux’s chateau and he doesn’t want any trouble.
Later that day, a vagabond turns up on Favraux’s doorstep. The man claims that he went to prison for Favraux, and in return his family was supposed to be ‘looked after’. Instead, Favraux allowed the vagabond’s wife to die destitute and his son to go missing. Favraux laughs off the man’s claims as that of a rambling lunatic. But later, he gets into his car and follows the vagabond. On a deserted stretch of road as the vagabond walks to town, Favraux runs him down, killing him.
Upon his return to the chateau, Favraux receives his second communiqué from Judex. This time is says that if he doesn’t acquiesce to Judex demands then he will be struck down at midnight, on the following day.
Jacqeline’s engagement party is a surreal affair. It is a masked ball, with many people wearing oversized bird-head masks. Favraux, himself wears a giant eagles head, which he takes off at midnight to make a speech to the assembled crowd. As he talks, he has a heart attack and dies.
Afterwards, Jacqueline is to inherit all of Favraux’s money, but once she finds out how he acquired his wealth, she wishes no part of it. The same cannot be said of all of Favreaux’s servants. Marie Verdier, who worked as a tutor to Favraux’s grandchildren wants to get her hands on the money – or even the information with which Favraux had been able to use as leverage, while amassing his fortune. But this isn’t just a sudden shift in character for Marie Verdier. She is in fact, arch villainess Diana Monti, who controls a small gang of evil doers. When see isn’t tutoring, she is dressed in a black cat-suit and committing crime.
Believing that the way to Favraux’s fortune is through Jacqueline, Diana hatches a scheme to capture her. In town, posing as a nun, Diana injects Jacqueline with a potion that knocks her out. Then acting as a good Samaritan, she offers assistance and then spirits her away in the back of an ambulance.
I have already mentioned that the original Judex was made by Feillade in response to negative criticism to his Fantomas serial. There’s a nice little scene that goes to lengths to point out that Judex and Fantomas are the antithesis of each other. During the scene, Detective Cocantin is reading aloud a scene from a pulp Fantomas novel. The scene he describes features both Fantomas and Commissioner Juvé dressed as nuns. Juxtaposing this scene, with the scene of Diana Monti posing as nun, is it fair to assume that Diana is Fantomas?
But back to the story – now Judex has his hands full tracking down the ever resourceful and beguiling – but totally evil – Diana and rescuing Jacqueline. Judex as a hero, or avenger, is pretty piss-weak. Whenever there is trouble, he sends somebody off to get men from the town rather than handling the situation itself. When later, he actually gets involved in the action – that being smashing through a window to surprise the villains – he immediately gets clocked over the head with a piece of firewood, and subsequently captured.
If you want heroics, you have to wait for the eighty-two minute mark in the film, when a circus acrobat named Daisy enters the picture. Daisy is played by Yugoslavian beauty Sylva Koscina – and for me that sufficient reason to watch this film (over and over). As Judex has been captured, someone must save the day, and it’s Daisy who scales a wall, dressed in her skimpy acrobats costume, and then takes on the diabolical Diana Monti (or should I call her Fantomadame?) in a life and death battle on the roof of an old dilapidated building. The last twenty minutes of this film is pretty good and we ‘finally’ get the payoff that this film has been promising during its whole running time.
Unfortunately, this film is a homage to the original serial, and while it may be considered a fantastic re-envisioning for fans of that serial, for newcomers like myself, the visual shorthand employed in the film, at times renders the plot almost in comprehensible. I guess this is the price you pay when you condense a three hundred minute serial into a one hundred minute film. But I guess similar visual shorthand is used in the Sherlock Holmes films, which many of us are more familiar with. Very little time is taken to establish who Holmes, Watson and even Professor Moriarty are, because we are familiar with the characters. Just a shot of a man in a deerstalker hat and cloak says so much. Maybe in France, seeing a gent, dressed in black, with a long flowing cloak and a wide brimmed hat says volumes, and very little exposition is needed. Personally, in this film, I wanted to spend more time with Judex and find out who he was – why does he do what he does. These elements were not sufficiently explained.
While I am not willing to can Judex, because my knowledge base is poor, and possibly culturally I am not in tune with the character, I found the film to be rather cold, lacking action and adventure – which is what you want from a mysterious cloaked avenger – and its storyline muddled. Its biggest crime though, is that Judex isn’t on the screen enough, righting wrongs.
The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.
Fantomas Vs Scotland Yard is the third and final of Andre Hunebelle’s sixties revival of the Fantomas character. If you haven’t noticed yet, I find the Fantomas films to be wild exuberant fun. But if you are looking for closure in the Fantomas series – that is, you want Fantomas captured, or at least an explanation of why he does all these evil deeds – well, you’ll be sadly disappointed. This film is more of the same.
A Rolls Royce follows a procession of Highland pipers through the streets of a Scottish village, before winding it’s way out of town and to a castle in the country. The castle is the residence of Lord Rashley, one of the word’s richest men. In the Rolls is Walter Brown who has been retained to draw up an insurance policy for Rashley.
But Brown is not all that he seems. In fact he isn’t Brown at all, but arch criminal Fantomas, in one of his life-like replica masks. For those of you who are joining us late, that’s one of Fantomas’ specialties – impersonating them using these life life latex masks. When he is appearing as himself, he appears with a blue, bald synthetic face (I know, on the poster it looks a bit green).
Fantomas assures Rashley (Jean-Roger Caussimon) that he doesn’t want to destroy the world just yet. He wishes to pillage for a bit longer. And so to his latest evil scheme – The super villain has a proposal for Rashley, which runs along the lines of: ‘if the rich want to continue living they will have to pay a tax!’ A life tax. Fantomas has set up a company to collect fees from the world’s wealthiest people. If they do not pay, Fantomas will kill them.
After his proposal, Fantomas leaves Rashley’s estate by helicopter. As he circles overhead, he tosses out the real Walter brown’s lifeless body, which crashes down at Lord Rashley’s feet.
It isn’t long before the press get hold of the story – ‘another Fantomas killing!’ Naturally, at the forefront of any journalism relating to Fantomas is Fandor (Jean Marais). As soon as the story breaks, coupled with his trusty photographer, and girlfriend, Helene (Mylene Demongeot), he is off to Scotland to track down the evil mastermind once more.
Meanwhile Lord Rashley is implementing his own plans to defend himself against Fantomas. To do this he requires the services of the world’s foremost law-enforcement authority on Fantomas – who just so happens to be Commissioner Juve (Louis De Funes). Rashley invites Juve and his dim-witted assistant Bertrand (Jacques Dynam) to Scotland, expecting that they will capture the blue headed fiend.
Later the world’s richest men all gather at Lord Rashley’s Estate to discuss Fantomas and the ‘life tax’ that has been imposed on them. During the meeting, Rashley lays out his plan to capture Fantomas in his castle. But their are further complications – Rashley’s assistant, Andre Bertiere (Henri Serre) has hatched a plan with Rashley’s wife (Françoise Christophe) to kill the Lord and inherit all his money. Unfortunately Fantomas’ plan has put a spanner in the work. But Bertiere is a resourceful young chap and he approaches some local gangsters for help. Their plan is to bump off Fantomas, but not to tell the ‘wealthy victims’ that Fantomas is dead. Instead they will collect the tax. But Fantomas is not a dimwit, and is quickly onto the gangsters plan. His response is simple, he places a ‘life tax’ on the gangsters as well. The gangster, now feeling rather threatened, hatch another plan. This time it is to join with Rashley and the other millionaires to rid the world of Fantomas once and for all. Well, this plan is rather flawed too, because Fantomas has killed Lord Rashley and is now impersonating him.
While all this plot convolution is going on, we are treated to the usual repetoire of gags from Louis De Funes as Juve – a dash of derring do from Jean Marias as Fandor – and Mylene Demongeot looks as beautiful as always.
Fantomas Vs Scotland Yard is as enjoyable as the previous two Fantomas films, and while this was the end of Andre Hunebelle’s trilogy, it wasn’t the end for Fantomas. The evil mastermind would pop up in productions from all around the world. For those wishing to hunt the madman down, amongst his many appearances, you can find him in Iron Claw The Pirate and Saazish, which features the fabled Bollywood Fantomas.
Posted on Youtube by aboyantz.
The man with the blue head is back! Fantomas Strikes Back is the second film in Andre Hunebelle’s 1960’s revival of the Fantomas character. The film is more comedic than it’s predessesor, and Louis De Funes pulls out all the stops as he mugs his way through the film. If you don’t enjoy De Funes prat falls then you won’t enjoy this film at all. The film opens with an animated sequence which recounts the events in the first Fantomas movie. For those that don’t remember, Fantomas escaped in a submarine. This film opens with an award ceremony. Inspector Juve (Louis De Funes) is presented with the ‘Knight Of The Legion Of Honour’. The award is in recognition of how he thwarted arch criminal, Fantomas, a year ago. Juve makes a speech suggesting that Fantomsa is gone forever. Almost on cue, Juve then receives a telegram. It is from Fantoms congratulating him on his award – and on the flip side, another message says ‘See you soon!’
But there are reasons why Fantomas (Jean Marais) didn’t attend the ceremony personally. He had other affairs to attend to. These involve Professor Marchand who is working on a telepathic ray at a scientific research centre. Fantomas breaks into the centre and kidnaps the Professor.
Newspaper journalist, Fandor (Jean Marais) reports that the kidnapping is the work of Fantomas. As Fantomas hasn’t been seen in over a year, nobody believes him. Juve believes that Fandor is trying to humiliate him after receiving the award. On a current affairs television program, Juve refutes Fandor’s claims. But during the report, Fantomas cuts in with a pirate TV broadcast. He admits to kidnapping Professor Marchand and with the Professor’s help he has perfected a ghastly new weapon with which he plans to hold the world to ransom.
When the television returns to it’s normal broadcast, it shows Juve and his interviewer bound and gagged in their seats. After the televised humiliation, Juve adopts new methods to catch Fantomas. Taking a leaf from the James Bond textbook, Juve starts utilising a string of silly gadgets.
One of Professor Marchand’s colleagues, Professor Lefevre (also Jean Marais) holds a press conference to explain the experiments that he and Marchand had been working on. It is a hypnotic, telepathic ray, which could control thoughts and send orders remotely. Lefevre suggests the Marchand and Fantomas cannot finish the ray without the work that he has been completing. Lefevre foolishly thinks that this means that Fantomas’ threat is hollow, but when in reality he has just set himself as a target.
But Fandor has an idea. He prepares a disguise to make himself look like Professor Levre. That way, when Fantomas makes an attempt to kidnap Lefevre, he will in fact kidanp the wrong man.
Lefevre is scheduled to attend a scientific conference in Rome and Fandor takes his place on board the train. Juve also believes that Fantomas will attempt to kidnap the Professor, so he also boards the train wearing a silly disguise. But Juve is unaware of Fandor’s plan and the two men continually but heads as the story unfolds.
Gadgets abound in this film, with false arms and legs, and cigars that fire bullets. The piece-de-resistance is Fantomas’ car plane idea would be recycled in the James Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun, made nine years later. This isn’t the only sequence that recalls a scene in a future Bond film. The climax of the film features a parachute-less free fall from an aircraft. This sequence is re-used in the pre-title sequence in Moonraker. It seems ironic, that a film that is in itself has become a gentle parody of the Bond films, would in turn inspire sequences in the film series it was immitating.
Jean Marais’ performance is somewhat muted in this film, by the multiple characters he has to play. He may have equal screen time as De Funes, but it seems like so much less, because one minute he is Fandor, the next he is Fantomas, and then he is Lefevre (or Fandor pretending to be Lefevre).
Fantomas Strikes Back is a very entertaining film, but the Fantomas character is not as menacing as the first film in the trilogy. Although Fantomas threatens Fandor, Juve and Helene (Fandor’s love interest), you sort of get the feeling that he actually likes them.
Fantomas is an ages old criminal character from France. He has appeared in books, movies and on television. One of his earliest and most popular incarnations was in a silent movie serial made by Louis Feuillade in 1913-14. In the 1960’s, director André Hunebelle decided to revive the character for three feature films featuring Jean Marais in a duel role as Fandor, the hero; and Fantomas, the evil villain. This is the first of the three movies.
This one opens in Paris. A Rolls Royce weaves it’s way through the traffic and makes it’s way to Van Cleef and Arpels. Inside, a distinguished gent and lady are shown a selection of diamond necklaces and chokers. The gent in question is Lord Shelton and he is buying up big. He forks out 5,500,000 New Franks for the trinkets. Shelton writes out a cheque, and he and his mistress make their way out of the building with their purchases. Later, one of the sales staff is examining the payment, when shock, horror, the writing and signature on the cheque disappear before his very eyes. It becomes a blank cheque. Then slowly a new name appears: “Fantomas”.
After the theft, Police Comissioner Juve (Louis De Funes) appears on television assuring the public that Fantomas’ day are numbered. In a slightly comical speech, he intones that Fantomas is just an ordinary murderer,… a man like you and me,… he’s claimed fewer victims than car accidents,…and even though he has blown up planes and derailed trains, he is not as bad as dangerous drivers! Yeah, right. From Juve’s speech you get a little of the idea of the tone of Fantomas. Yeah, it is a crime movie, and it’s a caper movie, but it is also a comedy (and probably an appropriate comparison would be with the Pink Panther films).
A crowd of people have gathered around a shop window and are watching Juve’s press conference on televisions mounted inside, when Fantomas makes his presence felt once more. From a moving vehicle he lobs a hand grenade at the shop. The crowd flee, the grenade explodes, and the television go up in smoke.
With all this strife the newspapers are having a field day, but one journalist, Fandor (Jean Marais) is looking for a different angle. First he writes an article claiming that Fantomas does not exist and is a creation by the police department to cover up for their failure to catch the perpetrators of criminal acts. Fandor reads his article to his girlfriend and photographer, Hélène (Mylène Demongeot). She is not impressed. She suggests he gets an interview with Fantomas. But that isn’t easy.
But Fandor has a brainwave. He has Hélène photograph him in a black mask and cape pretending to be Fantomas – after all, nobody really knows what he looks like. Then Fandor writes a fake interview and it gets published in the morning papers. In the fake article, it is calimed that Fantomas now possesses the ultimate weapon and could blow up the planet, and intends to do so on the following night.
Comissioner Juve isn’t happy about the article. Apart from the fact that it makes him look like a buffoon, he suspects it is a fake. he storms into the newspaper offices and threatens to ‘BLOW the lid of this web of lies!’ Well, Juve is the only one upset by the article, and not the only one intent on BLOWING things up. Fantomas plants a bomb outside the newspaper office, and as Juve speaks his mind, one of the walls disappears in a shock of flame.
Once Fandor is out of hospital, he returns to his apartment. Taped to his door is a calling card from Fantomas. ‘See you soon!’ it says.
Meanwhile out on the street, Juve has hatched a scheme where he will follow Fandor, believing the journalist will lead him to Fantomas. As he waits, dressed in a cunning disguise as a hobo, he is arrested by two gendarmes. Despite Juve’s protests, he is taken back to the station. (Interesting note, that a similar thing happens to Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau in the second Pink Panther movie, A Shot In The Dark, but as both movies were released in 1964 and only a few months apart, on different sides of the world, I doubt that there is any plagiarism on anyone’s behalf).
Meanwhile upstairs in his appartment, Fandor receives a telephone call saying that Fantomas is sending a car and will pick him up in five minutes. Fandor thinks it is a prank call and hangs up. He has barely put the phone back in it’s cradle, when an arm appears behind his chair holding a blackjack. Fandor doesn’t see it, and is bopped on the head and passes out.
Understandably he wakes up confused, in a cavernous underground lair, with high arched ceilings, a pipe organ (all super villains must have one), statues and other objets d’art. And then through an elevator door, Fantomas emerges (also played by Jean Marais). Fantomas appears wearing a surreal featureless blue mask.
Fantomas isn’t happy about the article that Fandor wrote. It made him look foolish. As recompense Fantomas orders Fandor to write another article admitting that the previous story was a concoction. It also has to paint Fantomas in a flattering light (or at least flattering to Fantomas’ own perception of himself). If Fantomas isn’t happy with the article, he will make sure that Fandor dies a slow agonising death. Fantomas then seals the deal by branding Fandor’s chest with an “F”. The journalist has 48 hours to complete his mission.
When Fandor awakens he is back in his appartment, and Hélène is banging on the door. He let’s her in, and recounts his encounter. Meanwhile Commissioner Juve isn’t too chuffed about having spent a night in the drunk tank, and he immediately heads to Fandor’s apartment to arrest him for being Fantomas’ accomplice. Fandor tells Juve the truth, but the dimwitted Commissioner does not believe him, and holds him in jail for 48 hours. Naturally while he is in jail, Fandor cannot write the article to appease Fantomas.
Once Fandor is released from jail, Fantomas has him kidnapped once again, and brought down to the underground lair.. But this time, Fandor is being held as a prisoner. In his place, Fantomas will go out into the world and commit crimes as Fandor. Fantomas rips off his blue mask to reveal Fandor’s visage. You see this is Fantomas’ talent. He is a man of a thousand faces because he has perfected a way to make lifelike artificial skin. With this, he can make himself up to look like anybody. In this instance, it’s Fandor. Fantomas intends to go a crime spree which the whole world will attribute to Fandor.
Fantomas is one wild film, and it is extremely enjoyable, especially when the Fantomas character is on the screen. With his featureless mask, he is slightly disturbing, which is exactly how a villain should be. For me the weakness in the film is Louis De Funes’ character, Juve. He is too much of a buffoon. Early I compared the film to the Pink Panther series – this is only the sequences with Juve. The rest of the film is colourful and always interesting, with great set pieces, and plot twists and turns. Outlining them all would ruin the fun, but the extended chase scene at the end bears special mention, where Fantomas uses a train, a car, a motorbike, a boat, and finally a submarine to make his escape.