SHADOWMAN (Georges Franju, 1974)

As he had for Judex (1963), Georges Franju dips again into the Wonderland of Louis Feuillade for his Shadowman (Les nuits rouges; Red Nights). (Franju scored this film, deliriously, as well.) It is his hommage to Fantomas—In the Shadow of the Guillotine (Fantômas—À l’ombre de la guillotine, 1913). The film is in color—but mostly black, white and red. Franju applies his Feuilladean bag of silent cinema visual tricks to this morally ambiguous film of his, the condensation of a TV series.
     Does the legendary treasure of the Knights Templars exist? Must we get hold of Sam Spade? No, there’s Shadowman! In his red mask! And that assistant of his, in a cat-suit!
     The imagery is fabulous: white-masked and -hooded men, in their secret chamber, in front of a gigantic black cross. Absolutely blasphemous—but this is Franju, you know.
     On television any night we can encounter dramatic instances of evil—so much so that evil ceases to appall. However, in Franju’s film some images contain so authentic a vision of it that evil disturbs us profoundly while light is thrown on some of its elusive complexity; and because Franju’s camera is so witty, we are gloriously entertained in the bargain. In one scene, a regimented group of people, transformed by a sinister operation into obedient robots, stalk and trap someone in a museum, marching ever closer and closer upon their prey. (See The Chess Players, Raymond Bernard, 1927.) In the film’s final shot, the “man without a face,” the personification of evil (or good?), makes his getaway in one of his disguises, that of a harmless old lady. We watch him move from the camera, back bent, his appearance quaintly humorous despite the mayhem he has wrought.
     Round up The Usual Suspects.

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