Thursday, 18 February 2021

Fantômas VS Scotland Yard

Licence To Kilt

Fantômas VS Scotland Yard
(aka Fantômas Contre Scotland Yard

France/Italy 1967 Directed by André Hunebelle
Kino Lorber Blu Ray Zone A

Fantômas VS Scotland Yard is the third and final of the trilogy of 1960s Fantômas movies, based on the character who appeared in Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre popular novels. And, this will be a short review because it’s also my least favourite of the three, a real step backward from the previous movie... although I do know someone who absolutely loves this one, to be sure.

Once again we have Jean Marais playing both newspaperman Fandor and Fantômas (and, of course, various disguises of Fantômas who are always easy to spot). Mylène Demongeot returns again as Hélène, Fandor’s girlfriend and, again we have the bumbling Inspector Juve, played by Louis de Funès, along with his comical assistant, Inspector Bertrand, once more portrayed by Jacques Dynam.

And, I guess you would suppose from the title that the film is set in London with Fantômas taking on the UKs finest police force at Scotland Yard but... you’d be wrong. In a blindingly clueless move by the film makers, this movie is almost exclusively set in a castle in Scotland, with hardly any mention being made of the English police until the end of the movie, where they all come in (presumably in their bizarrely left hand drive cars, like everybody else in the movie), kitted out with something similar to, but not quite, sten guns. Because, yeah, that’s obviously what a British bobby would carry around with them.

Actually, the plot is another one played for comedy hijinks but it eschews the Pink Panther-like animated title sequence of Fantômas Unleashed (reviewed here) and instead goes for a car driving around Scotland (ish) with bag pipes playing on Michel Magne’s score (yeah, I know, let’s not talk of this again). The comedy of the movie, with Inspector Juve constantly finding dead bodies in his room which disappear before he can show them to people, is set against a plot which involves Fantômas delivering ‘living tax’ contracts to various rich and powerful figures in an elaborately fanciful and blisteringly stupid version of a protection racket. Yeah... let’s not talk of the plot again either, such as it is.

And it’s pleasant and has a lot of Louis de Funès running around like a madman, if you like that sort of thing. And I guess people probably did because he seems to be the reason most people are watching this. A fourth film, Fantômas In Moscow was planned but, according to popular knowledge, the combination of Jean Marais getting fed up playing second fiddle to de Funès and the fact that the three leading actors were getting rather expensive to employ in their success, meant that the planned follow up to this one was scuppered. Actually, that might not be a bad thing because.. well, it’s just generally less interesting than the last one.

For me, the comedy comes from the bizarre mistakes found in the astonishing assumptions that the French writers obviously had about life in England. So, for instance, you have a fox hunt (with a nice moment where a dog is disguised as a fox... don’t ask) but instead of the traditional, English costumes, the cast all seem to be dressing up in something reminiscent of the Napoleonic wars for this sequence. And, get this, instead of the leader of the hunt playing his little horn... we have four horsemen carrying massive French horns and playing those. Seriously, this is way past just getting it wrong now... I couldn’t help but think there was some deliberate ‘winding up’ of potential English viewers on this one.

In a similar matter of pushing the bounds of credibility beyond what they could possibly be expected to get away with, when Juve and Bertrand find themselves being transported around the castle on a remote controlled bed, they go into an elevator in the walls and down into an elaborate, Ken Adams style criminal underground lair. But this is not the castle of Fantômas... he’s just quickly borrowing it. How in heck did he have any time at all to have a massive, labyrinth of a high tech lair built under the castle with electric access points installed into the walls? This thing makes no sense!

One good thing about this movie is that Jean Marais really does get a chance to shine. There’s not too much of Fandor in the film but his turn in various disguises as Fantômas really shows what a good actor he could be. He has a wonderfully sinister presence here and his bluer than blue contact lenses when he is in his normal guise help complete the look very well.

Ultimately, without the gadgets and dynamic chase sequences of the previous films, Fantômas Vs Scotland Yard tends to drag a lot and, though it’s nice seeing the cast reunited one last time, I’m kinda glad they didn’t make anymore. Ultimately, I think Louis Feuillade’s very early 20th Century silent serial is the best version of the character I’ve seen committed to screen but, that being said, I’m sure there have been some other, probably better, productions over the years. Alas, trying to get a hold of most of that stuff in the UK (or, indeed, in the US) can prove difficult.

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