Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fantomas Strikes Back

Year: 1966
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Jean Marais, Louis De Funes, Mylene Demongeot, Jacques Dynam, Christian Toma, Michel Duplaix
Music by Michel Magne


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.

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