Monday, November 11, 2019

Fenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen (1968)

A priceless Egyptian mask of the pharaoh Tutankhamen has just been loaned to a Parisian museum, and every measure possible has been taken to ensure the artifact's protection. No-one could possibly steal it now!...But no-one would want to, as it turns out, because it's only a decoy that sits on display at night, while the real mask sits in an unassuming safe, where a ruthless gang manages to steal it from. The museum is desperate to get it back, so luckily for them the mysterious avenger Fenomenal is on the case...

Fenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen is a film that started out with plenty of promise. It's your typical dime-a-dozen Diabolik knock-off, but inverted. This masked criminal, Fenomenal, fights for justice, and against crime. The other draw is that we don't know his identity! There's any number of characters in the film it could be, and it's a guessing game to figure it out.

Sadly this is where any interest in the film dies out. It's apparent from the start that this is a painfully slow movie, with long stretches of nothing happening, and the most barebones plot. For example, early on we're 'treated' to a 14 minute long heist scene! Look, I like heist scenes as much as the next guy, and it's all great training for whenever I feel like topping off a bank, but once they approach 10 minutes we have a problem. This example is especially frustrating given the reveal at the end, where the whole thing turns out to have been a security exercise.

The plot here is awful! It's simultaneously underplotted, and yet so convoluted you'll need a flowchart to understand everything. For the first hour of the film, all we know is that these baddies wanna steal a mask. We still know nothing of the greater plot (although the title is a giveaway, thankfully). The story never has any focus, and just moves on from scene to scene, with things just happening, feeling random. I think the reason for this is the fact that with no central character, the film feels untethered. Even though there is a plot, it doesn't really feel like it.

Worse though is the use of Fenomenal himself. Once he appears in the intro, it takes another (and I swear I'm not kidding here) 43 minutes before he appears again, or is even mentioned! He never appears consistently after this either, getting only a couple of sporadic fight scenes. Also, some might say it's a bold decision to not have Fenomenal feature in the climax of your Fenomenal movie! Thankfully he does arrive eventually...four minutes before the end.

A problem with the pacing here is that we get many scenes without context. For example, after the opening gambit], we get a several minute sequence of cars driving, and that's it, and I thought to myself 'This would be a lot more interesting if I knew who any of these drivers were or what they were doing!'. Such scenes end up feeling random and pointless, as well as tedious. I don't wanna watch some random people walking on the streets for five straight minutes!

The ending is the biggest disappointment of all. The reveal of Fenomenal's identity is handled so casually, and it seems like that is intentional. It could've worked too, if I wasn't so bored. However, the movie doesn't end here. It keeps going. I was wondering what could still be left to happen, and what we're given is a weird ending.

Despite the intrigue of his identity, Fenomenal himself isn't a very compelling character. The groundwork is all there! Mysterious criminal? Check! Eerie faceless mask? Check! Ethereal laugh? Double check! And yet he appears so little that we get no insight into his character. With protagonists like this, it is possible to understand them if they're mute or speak fleetingly. You can determine their motives and personality from their actions, but Fenomenal *has* no real actions beyond punching a couple of guys, 60 minutes apart.

The mystery itself is, like I've said, the best part of the movie. Although the only weak link is the way it's presented. The characters in question appear either infrequently or fleetingly, or both, and there are never any real clues or suspicious moments for you to sink your teeth into. You just have to wait for the reveal at the end.

Getting more into the suspects, the three biggest possibilities were the Count, the museum secretary, and Inspector Beauvais. I discounted the Count from my list for being too possibly amoral, and likewise with the secretary for being too obviously meek and unassuming. With them both out of the way, that left Inspector Beauvais as my number 1 suspect. He's not too obvious or not suspicious enough, and he bears the greatest sense of justice of anyone else in the movie, and is thus a prime canditate to be Fenomenal! Is he though? Well I can't say. Naturally I don't recommend this movie, but no way am I gonna spoil the only good thing about it!

The characters themselves are a dull bunch. Count Norton isn't the most likeable guy, but he gets better. It took me over an hour before I worked out who his girlfriend was. She's nice, and I wished she had more consistent screentime. Inspector Beauvais is fine at first, but totally unremarkable as the film goes on, getting too little to do. The movie often feels like a search for the protagonist

The museum's curator gets a couple of unintentionally funny moments. He's dumb enough to enter in a safe's combination when in plain view! He doesn't even try and hide what numbers he's punching! He also gets the most laughable moment of the film, when he rings up the police and declares "I just found out who stole the mask! There's only one person it could be, and that's...HURK", getting killed juuuust at the right time to say everything but the culprit's identity. I would've opened with the name myself, dude!

The weirdest character has got to be the silver haired Mike, who gets this choice comment early on after stepping on Count Norton's foot at a party-"Sorry, did I hurt you? Good. When a relationship is based on pain, it always works out well.". She and her household also seem to be in the habit of being tied up by masked intruders on a regular basis.

The acting here is pretty crummy. Only Gordon Mitchell and Mauro Parenti stand out, and the latter only visually. The dubbing is awful too, with some of the performers not skipping a beat, regardless of punctuation. The fight scenes are decently handled, save for an absolutely shameless sauna brawl. The room is full of half naked women, who are all screaming and running about, desperate to leave, but they somehow manage to consistently miss the open door, and rotate all around!

I was surprised to learn that this film's director is none other than Rugerro Deodato (here credited as Roger Rockfeller). This is his debut solo feature in fact! He's reportedly not the proudest of it, and I can see why. He does a decent job directing everything, and the cinematography is quite good, even if it is spoiled a bit by the prevalent low-quality prints the film is most available on. The most interesting moments for me were the underwater battles! The lack of sound besides the water really fitted the mood!. Of course, I would've preferred the friggin' climax to have a more dynamic sound (read: any sound at all), but thank heaven for small favours. My favourite image was that of the pure black Fenomenal standing against the bright blue sky. It's the kind of idea that shouldn't work on paper, but it looks good here.

The Parisian setting is nice, and it lends a very Sly Cooper-esque touch to the proceedings, which you better believe I like. The shift to Tunisia is welcome in theory, but it comes too late, and the movie is too bland to get anything from the new locale. By the by, is there any particular reason everyone's looking for the treasure of Akhenaten in Tunisia?

Praise sometimes goes to the score here, but I can't say I enjoyed it. It's not terrible I guess, but it got on my nerves a little with its chorusing.

I went into Fenomenal and the Treasure of Tutenkhamen with an open and optimistic mind, so for it to have disappointed me so greatly is testament to how bad it is. I chose not to heed these warnings because I thought maybe I'd like it. After all, it looked interesting! But no, everyone else was correct in this case. I don't recommend it at all.


  1. Thanks for warning us about the movie. :)A very good review. Too bad it was produced that way. With such a plot, it could have been a rare gem in cinema production. Hm

  2. That's true. I want to make stories in the same vein as this, and hopefully I manage to succeed where this movie fails.