Georges Franju’s homage to the silent serials of Louis Feuillade (FANTÔMAS/’13*; LES VAMPIRES/’15; JUDEX/’17) is as absurd & enchanting as the originals. Fantastic whoppers about criminal gangs with larceny in their DNA and the daring, eccentric crime-busters who risk all to stop them. Sans super power, they’re more precursor to BATMAN than MARVEL. The Tintin adventures also come to mind, and with some of the charm, wit, oddity & directness that went missing in Steven Spielberg’s speed-crazed adaptation. Here, a man wearing the head of a noble bird appears at a fancy dress party to do a few magic tricks and murder the host . . . thru suggestion! Turns out some old family history needs avenging just as a banking/blackmail scheme is coming to a head. The intricate plot is kept remarkably transparent by Franju who plays his story with the sophistication of a Jungian fairy tale. Same goes for the visual palette, with a varied grey-scale that vaults from the noirish chiaroscuro of a nighttime rendezvous to the pearly soft gray monochrome mist of a James Whistler study of country lanes. A wonderment to look at.
With memorable perfs (including a great kid helpmate), and neat sleight-of-hand camera tricks. Wonderful fun in its faux naïf telling. Too bad Franju had little interest in varying his signature ‘walking’ gait. A bit of swing in the filmmaking rhythm might have bumped him out of his connoisseur niche.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Claude Chabrol took on Feuillade with a reworking of FANTÔMAS/’80, but the results are too stilted and self-conscious.