Les Vampires 4: The Spectre 1916

Director: Louis Feuillade
"And now the 300,000 francs are mine!"
Enter the mysterious Juan Moreno, a rival to the Vampires in their scheme to intercept a bank's money transfer. Who will win the race for the stolen prize, and what of the murder victim that won't stay dead?

The Grand Vampire is now posing as an estate agent, 'M. Treps'. His curiosity is aroused when a new client, Moreno, asks to lease a property with a large safe. 'Treps' arranges a suitable apartment: the safe has a false back panel, and behind it is a room occupied by Irma Vep.

Disguised as Juliette Barteaux, a clerk at the Renoux-Duval bank, Vep learns that banker M. Metardier is shortly to oversee a cash transfer of 300,000 francs. When Metardier invites 'Juliette' to accompany him to the cinema that night ("I'm a film fanatic!"), the Vampires stage an ambush: Metardier is stabbed in the neck with a hatpin and thrown from a moving train.

Vep/Juliette is shocked when the dead man collects the 300,000 francs next morning and gives the Vampires the slip by escaping down a manhole. Acting on a tip-off, Phillipe Guerande visits the bank in disguise and acquires Vep's address. At the apartment, Vep and the Grand Vampire have found Metardier's body in Moreno's safe, but before they can act on their discovery, Guerande reveals himself, holding them both at gunpoint...

The Spectre, released on the seventh of January 1916,  introduces another recurring character, the master thief and hypnotist Juan Moreno. This time around, the nominal protagonist Guerande takes a back seat as Feuillade instead concentrates on the complex schemes and counter-schemes of the various criminals involved. 

Director Feuillade was no stranger to these kind of exploits, having led his cast through the tremendously popular serial Fantomas the year before. The serial's five films (In the Shadow of the Guillotine, Juve Versus Fantomas, The Murderous Corpse, Fantomas Versus Fantomas and The False Magistrate) were based on a run of thirty-two books by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, published between 1911 and 1913. Gaumont Studios won the bidding war with Pathe to buy the rights to the Fantomas novels, in which the arch criminal and master of disguise pitted his wits against the reporter Jerome Fandor the Hapless Inspector Juve.

Feuillade's dramatisation, starring René Navarre with Georges Melchior as Fandor and Edmund Breon as Juve, captured the imagination of the French public in the same way as its written counterparts had. After Pierre Souvestre's death, his co-writer Marcel Allain wrote another eleven Fantomas novels. The character has continued to appear in films, comic books and television series practically to the present day. The public's appetite for this kind of skullduggery was not lost on Gaumont, who put Feuillade to work on The Vampires, mere months after the last Fantomas drama was released.

The Vampires was briefly banned during it's initial run for its alleged glorification of crime - and also, you would assume, for the implied ineptitude of the police force, whose only purpose seems to be to clean up the mess left by the story's real heroes. For example, at one point in this episode, Guerande is found alone in Vep's apartment with a loaded gun and the trussed-up corpse of a bank official, and still les flics don't seem overly concerned.

The ban wasn't a problem for long, however. The law retracted its long arm after a personal appeal from Musidora, who reportedly charmed the chief of police in the same way she charmed the audience of The Vampires.

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Musidora (Irma Vep), Fernand Hermann (Juan-Jose Moreno), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Jean Ayme (Mr. Treps / The Grand Vampire).
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 30 mins

To Be Continued in Part 5: "Dead Man's Escape"!

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