1. Fantômas (Fantômas in the Shadow of the Guillotine)
The first of the Fantômas films directed by Louis Feuillade in 1913 and 1914 opens on a shot of a shifty-eyed René Navarre in various incarnations of the arch-villain, each dissolving into the other. It is a device he reuses in subsequent films in the series to introduce the disparate forms that the Genius of Evil will take over the course of the story.
Loosely based on the events of the first novel, the film skips over the gruesome murder at the beginning of the book which introduces Charles Rambert, the young man who befriends Inspector Juve, becomes a journalist, and is rechristened Jerome Fandor.
Instead, the beginning of the film has Princess Sonia Danidoff returning to her hotel late at night. The villain emerges from behind a curtain, taunts the princess, and steals her jewelry, escaping in a bellhop’s uniform. When Inspector Juve arrives to investigate, he finds the calling card of Fantômas.
Later, Juve discovers the corpse of the missing Lord Beltham in the apartment of a man named Gurn—another alias of Fantômas—who is arrested leaving Lady Beltham’s villa. The two lovers, Fantômas and Lady Beltham, then conspire to have Valgrand, an actor playing Gurn in a play, executed in the real criminal’s place. But, in another divergence from the book, Juve discovers the substitution in time to save the actor’s life.
Streaming on Fandor: Fantômas in the Shadow of the Guillotine
2. Juve Contre Fantômas (Juve vs. Fantômas)
Adapted from The Exploits of Juve, the second installment begins with Juve being informed of the discovery of a disfigured corpse—apparently Lady Beltham, the mistress of Fantômas—in the home of a certain Dr. Chaleck.
In a series of shots revealing pre-war Paris, Juve tails Dr. Chaleck in a taxi while Fandor follows a suspicious strumpet named Josephine through the streets. She boards a train with a wealthy wine merchant, and when the train is underway, a gangster named Loupart—another avatar of Fantômas—and his lackeys appear masked and armed, rob the wine-seller, and detach one of the railroad cars, causing a catastrophic train wreck.
After failing to arrest Chaleck (who breaks away from the grasp by throwing off a set of false arms!), Juve and Fandor discover that Fantômas and Lady Beltham have been meeting at her villa, so they sneak into a vent pipe and overhear the Lord of Terror and his mistress planning their getaway.
An attempt on Juve’s life is made when a trained boa constrictor in released his bedroom, and it is revealed that it was this “silent executioner” which Fantômas had used to kill the disfigured woman.
Later, Juve and Fandor stake out Lady Beltham’s villa, but Fantômas is prepared for them. He places explosives in the house ahead of the police raid and hides in a cistern before escaping through a basement window and detonating the explosives in the final shot of the film.
Streaming on Fandor: Juve vs. Fantômas
3. Le Mort Qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse)
This densely plotted episode, based on the third novel, opens where the second installment left off, with Fandor recovering in the hospital from the explosion at Lady Beltham’s villa. Juve is believed dead.
Meanwhile, in a second-hand shop run by Mother Toulouche, we meet Cranajour, her simpleminded assistant, and Nibet, the crooked prison guard from the first installment who helped Fantômas escape from jail. Toulouche is a fence, selling stolen goods out of her second-hand shop, hiding hot merchandise in her cellar.
Fantômas, in his all-black costume, drugs the painter Jacques Dollon and frames him for the murder of the Baroness de Vibraye. Police arrive and arrest Dollon. He is brought before a judge, fingerprinted, and locked in a cell where Nibet, an accomplice of Fantômas, strangles him. Dollon is found dead, but soon after his corpse disappears.
Fandor has himself locked up in order to discover how a corpse could disappear from a holding cell. He finds his way to the courthouse roof, where he is spotted by Cranajour. Fandor then descends from the roof through an air duct. He runs into Nibet and Cranajour who are picking up contraband from a sailor. Nibet wants to kill Fandor, but the simpleminded Cranajour kicks him into the Seine before he can act.
That evening, at a party hosted by Thomery, a sugar baron, Fantômas chloroforms Princess Sonia Danidoff and passes her jewels off to Nibet. Thomery discovers the princess unconscious and calls for a police officer. A fingerprint left on the lady’s neck is discovered to be a match for Jacques Dollon, the murdered painter.
A few weeks later Lady Beltham appears in the office of the banker Nanteuil (Fantômas in disguise). He directs her to offer to sell Sonia Danidoff’s stolen jewelry back to Thomery. But when the sugar magnate agrees to the “dastardly extortion” and shows up with the money, he is promptly murdered and relieved of his cash.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth Dollon, at a boarding house, reviews the list of names and dates she discovered earlier at her brother’s studio. She writes to Fandor requesting help, but an ally of Fantômas reads the note before she sends it. Then, at midnight, the arch-villain and his accomplice try to kill Elisabeth by turning on a gas pipe in the room where she is sleeping.
The next day, receiving Elisabeth’s note, Fandor goes to the boarding house to meet her, but finds her unconscious. When she is revived Fandor hides her in a convent for her safety.
Fandor returns to the boarding house to recover the mysterious document. While he is there, Fantômas and Nibet arrive in the guise of police officials with a search warrant. Fandor hides in a chest which the ersatz investigators confiscate and take to an apartment where Fandor discovers the body of Thomery, the sugar magnate before escaping.
In the final part, Fandor finally discovers that Juve is not dead, but has been undercover the entire time, posing as Cranajour in Mother Toulouche’s shop. “I needed to lay low, kid!” he tells Fandor.
The reunited friends decide to pay a visit to the banker Nanteuil, who appears in the list of names and dates misplaced by Fantômas. Arriving at the banker’s office, the detective and the journalist corner the man they know to be Fantômas in disguise and tear off his gloves, made of human skin, which he has used to leave the fingerprints of the murdered Jacques Dollon in place of his own. But just as Juve and Fandor reach to arrest the villain, he escapes through a secret doorway.
Streaming on Fandor: The Murderous Corpse
4. Fantômas Contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs. Fantômas)
A rumor is spreading in Paris that Juve is in fact none other than the Lord of Terror himself, Fantômas. Indignant, Fandor defends his friend’s honor, but Juve, condemned by public opinion, is eventually arrested. And so he spends a good part of this film, adapted from The Long Arm of Fantômas, out of commission.
Elsewhere that same day, a certain Père Moche overhears a bank messenger being attacked in the apartment above his own. While the assailants, Paulet and his moll, are busy covering up the crime, Moche sneaks into their apartment and takes the stolen loot for himself, hiding it in his own safe downstairs. Paulet shows up, demands the money, and brandishes a knife, but the old man exhibits surprising strength and agility, overpowering and disarming the younger man. The subdued Paulet then sits and listens to a proposition by the old man…
Days later, the police have still not found the body of the missing bank messenger and are informed that a famous American detective has announced his imminent arrival to assist in clearing up the matter. Meanwhile, in an apartment across town, a worker drives a nail into a wall, which then proceeds to bleed profusely. Police are called, and they discover hidden in the wall the corpse of the missing bank messenger. Then, the worker who discovered the body reveals himself to be Tom Bob, the American detective.
Later, Fandor dons the infamous costume of the Man in Black for a costume ball hosted by the Grand Duchess Alexandra to raise funds for Fantômas’ arrest. There he discovers a the body of a policeman, also costumed in the garb of Fantômas. The assailant, who witnesses saw with a cut on his arm, flees the party before others discover the crime.
The Chief of Police, knowing of the injury on the murderer’s arm, orders Juve, still imprisoned, to be examined—to prove once and for all whether or not Juve is in fact the Lord of Terror. They find him in his cell, drugged, with a wound exactly like that of the murderer at the costume ball. The embattled detective then identifies Nibet as the accomplice of Fantômas, the man who drugged and framed him. The devious warder, found with a vial of narcotics and a bloody knife, is arrested and Juve is finally vindicated.
On the outskirts of Paris, Fandor eavesdrops on a gathering of criminals. It is Paulet and a few other ruffians demanding their share of the loot from Père Moche. The old scoundrel relays to them a message from Fantômas, promising their share of the loot soon.
The journalist follows Moche into an abandoned shack and gets himself locked inside the criminal’s hideout.
The next day, a judge is reinstating Juve when a gang of ruffians disguised as workers pounces, takes the detective hostage, and conveys him back to their hideout—the abandoned shack where Fandor is still trapped. The journalist, hiding inside an empty barrel, tells the bound detective to say he’s Fantômas and to tell them to look for their loot under the floorboard.
Meanwhile, at the police station near Moche’s hideout, Tom Bob arrives. “If you want to arrest Fantômas and his gang, follow me,” he announces, and proceeds to lead police to the hideout where Juve, Fandor, and the gang of ruffians are gathered. But, unbeknownst to Tom Bob-Fantômas, the station chief has received a message that Juve was secretly reinstated, and so Fantômas’ plan to implicate Juve fails, but the villain escapes before Tom Bob can be unmasked.
Knowing Fantômas will try to make off with the money raised by Lady Beltham, Juve and Fandor intercept him at the villa of the Grand Duchess, but, once again, the villain escapes when the detective and the journalist fall into a mantrap!
Streaming on Fandor: Fantômas vs. Fantômas
5. Le Faux Magistrat (The False Magistrate)
Based on the novel Le magistrat cambrioleur, which has never been translated into English, the final installment of Feuillade’s Fantômas series begins with the robbery of a certain Marquis de Tergall whose plans to sell his wife’s jewels were overheard by an eavesdropping maid with a sticky-fingered boyfriend called Baby Face.
Juve suspects Fantômas is behind the crime, but then he receives a report that Fantômas has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Belgium for a murder committed there.
Deeming Fantômas’ eventual escape from prison to be inevitable, Juve concocts a plan to go to Belgium and help the arch-criminal break out of jail, and then to have him arrested at the border when he returns to France, where he will face the scaffold. But, although Inspectors Michel and Leon, sent by Juve, are able to tail the escaped prisoner to a train station, they lose him when he surreptitiously switches trains.
On the train back to France, Fantômas kills and steals the identification papers of a certain Charles Pradier, Investigating Judge, who was unlucky enough to stumble into the baggage car where the Genius of Evil was hiding. Throwing the corpse of the magistrate off the moving train into a river, Fantômas disguises himself and proceeds to take the murdered man’s place in a passenger car.
As Judge Pradier, he takes over the investigation of the marquise’s missing jewels, and he soon tracks down Baby Face and Ribonard, two miscreants involved in the crime.
Pradier-Fantômas also discovers a compromising letter written by the Marquise de Tergall—she has been having an affair—and kills her husband by tampering with the gas meter. The faux judge then confronts the Marquise with her letter and threatens to turn her into the police for the murder of her husband if she does not hand over 500,000 francs.
The next day, Fantômas meets Ribonard at a church to recover the stolen jewelry. “The jewelry box is up there,” Ribonard says, pointing at the bell tower, “inside the bell.” Ribonard climbs a tall ladder and retrieves a box from inside the enormous bell, but after he throws it down, Fantômas kicks the ladder out from under him, leaving the man stranded in the bell.
When Fantômas discovers the jewelry box is empty, that Ribonard has swindled him, he arranges a grim spectacle at the funeral of the Marquis de Tergall a few days later. We see Fantômas in the bell tower, tolling the bell with the hanging body of Ribonard. Pearls, diamonds, rubies, and blood rain down on the guests. Then, Fantômas as Judge Pradier ensures all the jewels that fell from the bell tower are handed over to him. The authorities retrieve the battered body of Ribonard just in time to hear him utter his dying words: “Fantômas, Fantômas!”
Eventually, Fandor discovers the true identity of the false magistrate when he finds a cap in the judge’s room whose label showed it to be made in Louvain, where Fantômas escaped from prison. And so Juve, returning from the Belgian prison, reunites with Fandor, and is able to announce to the District Attorney that Fantômas is next door. Meanwhile, Pradier-Fantômas, who has spotted Juve, summons the chief warden of the prison and gives him a written order.
Shortly thereafter, Juve bursts into Judge Pradier’s office and Fantômas surrenders. But, the following day, when Juve summons Fantômas, the chief warden of the prison arrives alone, carrying the confidential order written by Pradier the previous day: “I, Charles Pradier, Investigating Judge, order the prison’s chief warden to personally release at midnight, and in total secrecy, the prisoner entrusted to him under the name of Fantômas. The prisoner is, in reality, none other than Inspector Juve, and his arrest was simply a ruse necessary to my investigation. Saint-Calais, March 1, 1914, Charles Pradier.”
“Fantômas borrowing his victim’s signature one last time, ordered his own release,” the film concludes: “Society should continue to tremble!”
Streaming on Fandor: The False Magistrate