Fantomas

Notes from Friends of Fantômas

Mario Nuñez writes: I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the Fantômas website, and read Tim Lucas' notes on the André Hunebelle films. I found them enlightening and very informative (everything that comes from Mr. Lucas is...) I may be able to contribute, however modestly, to the nature and whereabouts of these films today.

My first encounter with the Fantômas movies, starring Jean Marais in the double role of Fantômas/Fandor and Louis de Funès as Inspecteur Juve, was as a child. The trio of movies, Fantômas (1964), Fantômas se déchaîne (1965) and Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (1966) were extensively shown in the 1960's in theatres in Cuba; I had the pleasure to see all three of them right before I left the country with my family in 1968. There is not a single Cuban child that grew up in the Communist Cuba of the 60's that does not remember these movies with great affection.

For Cuban youth, the Hunebelle movies represented a window into a fantasy world totally alien and unlike their personal experiences, in which fantastic shape-changing criminals stormed Parisian fashion shows stealing fabulous jewels, cat-walked the roofs of the Champs Elysées, and flew away in cars whose technology magically changed them into airplanes. These escapist movies allowed us to suspend disbelief and immerse ourselves in a Westernized universe of wild, hedonistic freedom in which the acquisition of goods (so antithetical to the teachings of Marxism) and its expenditure with abandon were the paramount pursuits. We were awed at scenes of sybaritic parties, elegant châteaus, bejeweled French models, silver Roll Royces and plain and simple unabashed display of wealth.

Then, I feft Cuba, and lost touch with the films.

During the 1990's I was able to track the movies, and located all three of them in low quality PAL Spanish and Argentinian VHS video releases, some dubbed in Spanish, some subtitled. I have cherished these hard-to-find finds, and once in a while I pop them in my VCR to relive the joy and innocence of a remembered childhood.

Truly, to borrow from Tomás Gutiérrez-Alea's 1961 movie title: My vicarious enjoyment of Fantômas is a true "Memory of Underdevelopment" (Memorias del Subdesarrollo)! I do sincerely hope that Anchor Bay, Criterion or even Pathé decide to release on DVD these campy, delicious, and fun movies for the enjoyment of new generations to come.

We have been contacted by many Cuban fans of the Fantômas films looking for dubbed or subtitled English or Spanish versions. I was amazed that these films—relatively obscure in the US—had such a huge impact in Cuba. Your note makes the reasons for that impact abundantly clear. Of course sybaritic parties, elegant châteaus, bejeweled French models, and silver Roll Royces aren't purely fantasies only for those growing up under Marxist regimes. But somehow, even though the first film in the series was distributed here, Fantômas (or rather, Jean Marais' Fandor) never supplanted James Bond in the dream-lives of US kids.

French-language DVD versions of the 60s films exist and are available on Amazon.fr and Amazon.ca. As soon as we're aware of any versions with English or Spanish subtitles, we'll post a notice on the website.

Many thanks for writing!

For more on Fantômas in Cuba, also see the note from Andres Vidal.

Return to Notes From Friends