Fantômas

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For other uses, see Fantômas (disambiguation).
The cover illustration for the first volume of Fantômas, anonymous artist, 1911. A « classic image of the Parisian oneirology », according to the French poet Robert Desnos.

Fantômas (French: [fɑ̃tomas]) is a fictional character created by French writers Marcel Allain (1885–1969) and Pierre Souvestre (1874–1914).

One of the most popular characters in the history of French crime fiction, Fantômas was created in 1911 and appeared in a total of 32 volumes written by the two collaborators, then a subsequent 11 volumes written by Allain alone after Souvestre's death. The character was also the basis of various film, television, and comic book adaptations. In the history of crime fiction, he represents a transition from Gothic novel villains of the 19th century to modern-day serial killers.

The books and movies that came out in quick succession anticipate current production methods of Hollywood, in two respects:[1] First, the authors distributed the writing among themselves; their "working method was to draw up the general plot between them and then go off and write alternate chapters independently of each other, meeting up to tie the two-halves of the story together in the final chapter."[1] This approach allowed the authors to produce almost one novel per month. Second, the movie rights to the books were immediately snapped up. Such a system ensured that the film studio could produce sequels reliably.

Overview[edit]

A poster for the third Fantômas serial by Louis Feuillade. Fantômas wears the iconic black hood and black leotard, more sinister features than the traditional gentleman thief's domino mask and tuxedo.

Fantômas was introduced a few years after Arsène Lupin, another well-known thief. But whereas Lupin draws the line at murder, Fantômas has no such qualms and is shown as a sociopath who enjoys killing in a sadistic fashion.

He is totally ruthless, gives no mercy, and is loyal to none, not even his own children. He is a master of disguise, always appearing under an assumed identity, often that of a person whom he has murdered. Fantômas makes use of bizarre and improbable techniques in his crimes, such as plague-infested rats, giant snakes, and rooms that fill with sand.

Fantômas's background remains vague. He might be of British and/or French ancestry. He appears to have been born in 1867.[citation needed]

In the books, it is established that c. 1892, the man who later became Fantômas called himself Archduke Juan North and operated in the German Principality of Hesse-Weimar. There he fathered a child, Vladimir, with an unidentified noblewoman. In circumstances unrevealed, he was arrested and sent to prison.

C. 1895, Fantômas was in India. There, an unidentified European woman gave birth to a baby girl, Hélène, whose father might be Fantômas or an Indian Prince who was Fantômas' acolyte. The girl was raised in South Africa.

In 1897, Fantômas was in the United States of America and Mexico. There, he ruined his then-business partner, Etienne Rambert.

In 1899, he fought in the Second Boer War in South Africa under the name of Gurn. He fought in the Transvaal as an artillery sergeant under the command of Lord Roberts. He became aide-de-camp to Lord Edward Beltham of Scottwell Hill and fell in love with his younger wife, Lady Maud Beltham.

Upon their return to Europe, soon before the first novel begins (c. 1900), Gurn and Lady Beltham were surprised in their Paris love nest, Rue Levert, by her husband. Lord Beltham was about to shoot Maud when Gurn hit him with a hammer then strangled him.

Fantômas then impersonated Etienne Rambert and framed his son, Charles, for a murder he had committed. As Etienne, he convinced Charles to go into hiding, but the young man was soon found out by French police detective Juve, truly obsessed with the capture of Fantômas. Juve knew that Charles was innocent and gave him a new identity: journalist Jerôme Fandor who is employed at the newspaper La Capitale. Juve later arrested Gurn and, at his trial, brought forward a convincing argument that Gurn and Fantômas were one and the same, though the evidence was too circumstantial to make a real case. On the eve of his execution, Gurn/Fantômas escaped from custody by being replaced by an actor who had modelled the appearance of his latest character after him and was guillotined in his place.

Lady Beltham remained constantly torn between her passion for the villain and her horror at his criminal schemes. She eventually committed suicide in 1910.

Fandor fell in love with Hélène and, despite Fantômas's repeated attempts to break them up, married her.

Fantômas's evil son, Vladimir, reappeared in 1911. Vladimir's girlfriend was murdered by Fantômas and Vladimir himself was eventually shot by Juve.

Books[edit]

By Allain and Souvestre[edit]

  • 1. Fantômas (1911; transl. 1915; retransl. 1986)
  • 2. Juve contre Fantômas (1911; transl. 1916 as The Exploits of Juve; retransl. 1987 as The Silent Executioner)
  • 3. Le Mort qui Tue (1911; transl. 1917 as Messengers of Evil; retransl. 2008 as The Corpse who Kills)
  • 4. L'Agent Secret (1911; transl. 1917 as A Nest of Spies)
  • 5. Un Roi Prisonnier de Fantômas (1911; transl. 1918 as A Royal Prisoner)
  • 6. Le Policier Apache (1911; transl. 1924 by Alfred Allinson as The Long Arm of Fantômas)
  • 7. Le Pendu de Londres (1911; transl. 1920 as Slippery as Sin)
  • 8. La Fille de Fantômas (1911; transl. 2006 by Mark P. Steele as The Daughter of Fantomas) (ISBN 1932983562)
  • 9. Le Fiacre de Nuit (1911)
  • 10. La Main Coupée (1911; transl. 1924 by Alfred Allinson as The Limb of Satan)
  • 11. L'Arrestation de Fantômas (1912)
  • 12. Le Magistrat Cambrioleur (1912)
  • 13. La Livrée du Crime (1912)
  • 14. La Mort de Juve (1912)
  • 15. L'Evadée de Saint-Lazare (1912)
  • 16. La Disparition de Fandor (1912)
  • 17. Le Mariage de Fantômas (1912)
  • 18. L'Assassin de Lady Beltham (1912)
  • 19. La Guêpe Rouge (1912)
  • 20. Les Souliers du Mort (1912)
  • 21. Le Train Perdu (1912)
  • 22. Les Amours d'un Prince (1912)
  • 23. Le Bouquet Tragique (1912)
  • 24. Le Jockey Masqué (1913)
  • 25. Le Cercueil Vide (1913)
  • 26. Le Faiseur de Reines (1913)
  • 27. Le Cadavre Géant (1913)
  • 28. Le Voleur d'Or (1913)
  • 29. La Série Rouge (1913)
  • 30. L'Hôtel du Crime (1913)
  • 31. La Cravate de Chanvre (1913)
  • 32. La Fin de Fantômas (1913)

By Allain[edit]

  • 33. Fantômas est-il ressuscité? (1925; transl. 1925 by Alfred Allinson as The Lord of Terror)
  • 34. Fantômas, Roi des Recéleurs (1926; transl. 1926 by Alfred Allinson as Juve in the Dock)
  • 35. Fantômas en Danger (1926; transl. 1926 by Alfred Allinson as Fantômas Captured)
  • 36. Fantômas prend sa Revanche (1926; transl. 1927 by Alfred Allinson as The Revenge of Fantômas)
  • 37. Fantômas Attaque Fandor (1926; transl. 1928 by Alfred Allinson as Bulldog and Rats)
  • 38. Si c'était Fantômas? (1933)
  • 39. Oui, c'est Fantômas! (1934)
  • 40. Fantômas Joue et Gagne (1935)
  • 41. Fantômas Rencontre l'Amour (1946)
  • 42. Fantômas Vole des Blondes (1948)
  • 43. Fantômas Mène le Bal (1963)

Notes[edit]

  • The original covers by Gino Starace are often considered works of lurid genius in themselves and may be seen at the "Fantômas Lives" site.[2] The first Fantômas book cover, showing a contemplative masked man dressed in evening dress and holding a dagger, boldly stepping over Paris, is so well known that it has become a visual cliché.
  • The novel The Yellow Document, or Fantômas of Berlin by Marcel Allain (1919), despite its title, is not a Fantômas novel.
  • The last novel written by Allain was published as a newspaper serial, but never appeared in book form.
  • During the 1980s, the first two novels of the series were published in revised English translations: Fantômas appeared in 1986 with an introduction by American poet John Ashbery; and Juve contre Fantômas appeared in 1987 under the title The Silent Executioner, with an introduction by American artist Edward Gorey.

Films[edit]

A poster for the first Fantômas serial by Louis Feuillade. In the original illustration for the first Fantômas book cover, the character holds a bloody dagger in his free hand.
It was also used for the DVD box cover, but this time Fantômas stamps over a photo of modern-day Paris.

Silent serials[edit]

  • 1. Fantômas (1913)
  • 2. Juve Contre Fantômas (1913)
  • 3. Le Mort Qui Tue (1913)
  • 4. Fantômas Contre Fantômas (1914)
  • 5. Le Faux Magistrat (1914)

The silent film pioneer Louis Feuillade directed five Fantômas serials starring René Navarre as Fantômas, Bréon as Juve, Georges Melchior as Fandor, and Renée Carl as Lady Beltham. They are regarded as masterpieces of silent film. His later serial Les Vampires, which concerns the eponymous crime syndicate (and not actual vampires) is also reminiscent of the Fantômas series.

There was a 1920 20-episode American Fantômas serial directed by Edward Sedgwick starring Edward Roseman as Fantômas, which bore little resemblance to the French series. In it, Fantômas's nemesis is detective Fred Dixon, played by John Willard. It was partially released in France (12 episodes only) under the title Les Exploits de Diabolos (The Exploits of Diabolos). A novelization of this serial was written by Dave White for Black Coat Press under the title Fantômas in America in 2007.[3]

Other films[edit]

Jean Marais as Fantômas in the 1964 film. In addition to the characteristic face mask, the black gloves of Fantômas are visible.

Television[edit]

A Fantômas series of four 90-minute episodes was produced in 1980 starring Helmut Berger as Fantômas, Jacques Dufilho as Juve, and Gayle Hunnicutt as Lady Beltham. Episodes 1 and 4 were directed by Claude Chabrol; episodes 2 and 3 by Luis Buñuel's son, Juan Luis Buñuel.

The French movie version of Fantômas appears in the Czechoslovakian 1979-1981 children fantasy series Arabela as well as its sequel series Arabela se vraci, performed respectively by actors František Peterka and Pavel Nový. In this version, he does not perform a villain's role, but becomes an ally and friend of the protagonists. Fantômas also has a cameo appearance in the Czech children's series Lucie, postrach ulice as a TV character, where he resembles his original 1911 book serial covers' depiction.

Comic books[edit]

French[edit]

  • "Fantômas contre les Nains". A weekly color page written by Marcel Allain and drawn by Santini was published in Gavroche #24-30 (1941). This series was interrupted because of censorship; a sequel, Fantômas et l'Enfer Sous-Marin was written but not published.
  • A daily "Fantômas" strip drawn by Pierre Tabary was syndicated by Opera Mundi from November 1957 to March 1958 (192 strips in total), adapting the first two novels.
  • Seventeen Fantômas fumetti magazines adapting books 1, 2, 3, and 5 were published by Del Duca in 1962 and 1963.
  • A new weekly "Fantômas" color page, written by Agnès Guilloteau and drawn by Jacques Taillefer, was again syndicated by Opera Mundi in 1969 and published in Jours de France.
  • Finally, a series of Fantômas graphic novels written by L. Dellisse and drawn by Claude Laverdure were published by Belgian publisher Claude Lefrancq: L'Affaire Beltham (1990), Juve contre Fantômas (1991), and Le Mort qui Tue (1995).

Mexican[edit]

During the 1960s the Mexican comics publisher Editorial Novaro produced a Fantomas, La Amenaza Elegante (Fantomas, the Elegant Threat) comic book series that became popular throughout Latin America. This was apparently meant to be the same character, although rewritten as a hero, and with no acknowledgement to the original French books or films. Perhaps as a way to make the original French character more attuned to Latin American audiences who crave justice avengers in fiction and national politics. It is not known if this was done with or without legal permission.

This Fantômas was a thief who committed spectacular robberies just for the thrill of it, and wore a white skintight mask all the time or a variety of disguises so his true face was never shown to his nemeses. The character was also pursued by the authorities, in his case mainly by a French police inspector named Gerard. His mask in the Latin American version – which was clearly inspired by the black mask worn by the Italian comic book criminal Diabolik — and his use of it, seems to have been influenced by the popular images generated by Mexican wrestling.

The Latin American Fantômas mixed Italian and Mexican styles creating a hybrid - just as the flag of Mexico and the flag of Italy are made different by the central emblem of the Aztec pictogram for Tenochtitlan on the Mexican flag. The French character wore a black mask like his Italian inspiration, the Latin American a white mask like Mexican wrestling hero Santo (literally 'saint' in Spanish) - Italy faces Africa home to a majority Black population, Mexico the United States mostly with a majority White population. These characters had to remain relevant and mysterious to their specific geographical regions to survive and succeed.

Apparently the series was also influenced by the James Bond movies, as Fantômas, equipped with advanced technology created by a scientist called Professor Semo, had all kind of adventures around the world, and even fought other, more cruel criminals. The Latin American Fantôma, created in Mexico, encompassed the aesthetic of both the British James Bond and American Hugh Hefner, who created "Playboy Magazine", with a necessary dose of traditional Latin American machismo. A mixture that immediately gained traction with vast Latino audiences, mostly prepubescent and adolescents males.

Latino Fantômas also was a millionaire, owning several corporations under assumed identities, had secret headquarters outside Paris, and was assisted by several secret agents, including the 12 "Zodiac Girls", beautiful women who assisted him personally and dressed provocatively, known only by their codenames – the signs of the zodiac. The attractive female element was another concession to Latin American audiences familiar with beautiful women as part of male-dominated environments playing key roles without hiding their femininity and preceding Charlie's Angels by decades.

Although cancelled years ago (Novaro folded in 1985, and a character revival by rival Grupo Editorial Vid in Mexico in the 1990s did not last long), it is from this Mexican comic that the character is best known in both Central America and South America. Fantômas continues to be one of Latin America's favorite comic characters. For more information on this version of the character check the link to the Fantomas Lives website below.

American[edit]

A short Fantômas story by Paul Kupperberg and Roy Mann appeared in Captain Action Comics No. 1, published in 2009 by Moonstone Books.

Cultural influence[edit]

The Fantômas novels and the subsequent films were highly regarded by the French avant-garde of the day, particularly by the surrealists. Blaise Cendrars called the series "the modern Aeneid"; Guillaume Apollinaire said that "from the imaginative standpoint Fantômas is one of the richest works that exist." The painter René Magritte and the surrealist poet and novelist Robert Desnos both produced works alluding to Fantômas.

The movies were also very popular in the Soviet Union. In 2007, Russian author Andrey Shary published the book Sign F: Fantomas in Books and on the Screen, dealing in particular with this phenomenon.

Pastiches, homages, and related characters[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Getting away with murder, A region 2 partial DVD review of Fantômas by Slarek". DVD Outsider. March 19, 2006. 
  2. ^ "Fantômas Lives". Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  3. ^ "Fantômas in America". BlackCoatPress.com. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  4. ^ Fantômas (1964) at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Fantômas se déchaîne (1965) at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (1967) at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "Christophe Gans to Direct Fantômas". Film Junk. May 13, 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  8. ^ "Marcel Allain - Tigris - Fatala - Miss Téria". CoolFrenchComics.com. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  9. ^ "Fantômas Review". Teleport-City.com. February 26, 2008. 
  10. ^ "Les Hommes Mysterieux 1910s". Comp.dit.ie. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]