Fantômas se déchaîne

Fantômas se déchaineSynopsis: When Professor Marchand, a famous scientist, mysteriously disappears, the commissioner, Juve, immediately suspects Fantomas.

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Fantômas se déchaîne 6.75

eyelights: its pace and flow.
eyesores: the cheap gadgets. the crappy make-up.

Following the success of ‘Fantômas‘, the fourth biggest box office winner of director André Hunebelle’s career (eclipsing even his concurrent OSS 117 films), it’s hardly surprising that the filmmaker decided to return with another installment. And he struck while the iron was hot: barely a year later, ‘Fantômas se déchaîne’ was released.

Starring yet again Jean Marais, Louis de Funès and Mylène Demongeot, the picture takes us one year after the events of the first picture, with Commissioner Juve receiving the Légion d’Honneur for his participation in getting rid of Fantômas. Not one to leave this unchallenged, Fantômas sends Juve a small note, announcing his return.

Soon thereafter, he breaks into a secure research facility and kidnaps Professor Marchand in broad daylight; Marchand had been working on a telepathic ray that could be used to control people at a distance. Fantômas’ evil plan: to submit the whole world to his rule! All he needs to do now is kidnap Marchand’s colleague, Professor Lefebvre!

Only Commissioner Juve and Fandor can stop him now!

But they’re not working in tandem: Fandor arranges to take Lefebvre’s place at a scientific congress in Italy, to draw Fantômas out, while Juve’s team follows the Professor – leading to madcap situations along the way, especially once Fantômas decides to kidnap the Professor and take his place, not knowing of Fandor’s plan and trap.

And then the real Professor decides to show up (to redeem his good name after seeing Fandor do an interview as him on television), confusing the situation further!

Although ‘Fantômas se déchaîne’ (of note, its title is inspired from the first OSS 117 picture) is a direct sequel to ‘Fantômas’, its tone is rather different: it’s less focused on set pieces and more so on the humour than its predecessor. Furthermore, de Funès has a larger role to play here, having become a superstar in the year that had passed.

The change is apparent from the onset, with the opening credits that feature animated characters recreating the events of the previous film in brief. It’s corny, quaint, but fun. Soon thereafter, we’re treated to a scene in which Commissioner Juve plays Q to his officers, showing them the latest in (silly) police enforcing gadgetry.

By then, it’s abundantly clear that the picture will be light.

One of the better sequences is an extended bit of silliness that takes place on the train to Italy, during which a few gags based on mistaken identities are set up. Also on the train, there’s a recurring gag in which a woman tries to use the bathroom, but everyone is taking turns hiding in it – or changing disguises and coming out different.

One of the lesser ones is after the confusion created by Fantômas trying to kidnap Professor Lefebvre, which left Juve babbling about seeing many Lefebvres. Acting erratically, he is arrested by the local police and sent to an asylum. Hardeehar. Nothing is funnier than watching that little runt try to bounce his way out of a rubber room.

(Ahem. It’s one mercifully rare exception.)

And there remains some exciting action sequences for Marais (as both Fandor and Fantômas) to indulge in, such as when Fantômas and his crew mistake Fandor for the real Professor Lefebvre and a fun, exciting, mêlée ensues in a balconied meeting space. Also disguised as Lefebvre, Fantômas fools the police and manages to escape.

It all culminates in an escape from Fantômas’ lair, located under a volcano, beneath sea level, which leads to a car chase – a chase that morphs the moment that Fantômas transforms his car into a plane (à la ‘The Man with the Golden Gun‘) and Fandor and Juve wind up skydiving after him – a scene that is considered the first of its kind.

Nice.

Even if nobody does it better than 007.

Speaking of Bond, this Fantômas film explores the then-new and exciting world of gadgets. Except in a juvenile and uninspired way: Fantômas uses an exploding remote control pod racer, Juve introduces a mechanical third hand for hold ups, a cigar gun, a shower head mic, a machine-gun leg stump and uses a hypnotizing gun.

Um… yeah.

Part of it might be a crap creative team, but it might also be partly due to budgetary constraints (French films had a tenth of the money of similar American films then). Perfect examples of this problem surface in Jean Marais’ make-up, which is still crap, or the horrible rear projection during driving scenes, which is anything but convincing.

But, all told, ‘Fantômas se déchaîne’ is a delightful romp. Yes, its plot contrivances annoy (Fandor brings his girlfriend and her young brother along, Fantômas tries to woo Fandor’s fiancée, …etc.), but there is still plenty of fun to be had – so long as one isn’t a diehard fan of the original books and can get into the spirit of things.

Fantômas can be a hoot.

Date of viewing: March 13, 2016

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