Wealthy Scottish aristocrat Lord McRaschley (Jean-Roger Caussimon) is horrified to receive a visit from green-faced master criminal Fantomas (Jean Marais), disguised as his elderly lawyer. The evil genius tells him he has decided to levy a tax upon the world's wealthiest men, of which McRashley is one. Either he pays Fantomas a fortune in diamonds or else suffers a violent death. Hoping to set a trap for the supervillain, Lord McRaschley summons inept French policeman Comissioner Juve (Louis de Funès) who arrives at his castle with all-action journalist Fandor (Jean Marais again) and the latter's lovely and resourceful girlfriend, Hélène (Mylène Demongeot). Together the three try to protect the lord but Fantomas proves two steps ahead and can't resist messing with Juve's mind.
Fantomas vs. Scotland Yard was the third and final film in the series remaking Louis Feuillade's dark and devious silent serial for the campy and colourful sensibilities of the Sixties. Many French critics considered the remakes a missed opportunity. Given these films were released amidst the heyday of the French New Wave many had hoped for something more subversive, satirical or even political. Yet the French public and international audiences lapped up these unpretentious entertainments and what's more took Louis de Funès to their hearts as a comedy superstar. Make no mistake, even though iconic swashbuckling actor Jean Marais plays no less than four different characters here in a veritable tour de force, Fantomas vs. Scotland Yard remains de Funès' movie. He gets the most screen-time, proves the focus for all the big slapstick set-pieces and attacks his role with a sweaty energy that is almost exhausting to watch.
British viewers able to take their eyes off de Funès manic mugging may enjoy the added bonus of the film's eccentric depiction of Scotland as a mist-shrouded realm of strangeness, superstition and exotic occult lore. At times the film seems closer to an episode of Scooby Doo with a haunted castle, dead bodies that disappear, men in white sheets pretending to be ghosts and a spooky séance. With its fox hunting sequence (animal lovers need not worry, no fox actually appears on screen), conspiracy plot and fixation with rubber disguises the film also evokes John Huston's gimmicky murder mystery The List of Adrian Messenger (1963). Fantomas' determined desire to drive poor Juve crazy for no reason other than simple maliciousness grows a trifle tiresome but there are some funny gags involving an overreacting butler and a seemingly talking horse. The plot starts out as more promisingly complex than past entries as, unbeknownst to Fantomas, Lord McRaschley's wife (Françoise Christophe) and her lover are secretly plotting to kill him to collect an inheritance, but sadly reverts back to the predictable formula.
Nevertheless the film is pacy, well directed by André Hunebelle and has a certain Gallic panache that elevates it above the kitsch realm of say a Matt Helm movie with Dean Martin or the Batman TV show. Both heroes and villains exude dry wit that counterbalances de Funès broad clowning while Marais also imbues the sneering, self-amused villainy of Fantomas with genuine menace and an intriguing sense of dignity. Though the heroes have surprisingly little interaction with Fantomas this time the action sequences are no less exciting including an exciting chase scene with Hélène on horseback trying to outrun Fantomas' thugs while Fandor rides to her rescue. As the dashing Fandor Marais remains an athletic, charismatic presence while it remains next to impossible to take your eyes off the charming Myléne Demongeot as she once again essays a pleasingly courageous and clever heroine. The pair's climactic confrontation with Fantomas proves worth the wait although those hoping to see the smug bastard get his comeuppance should not hold their breath.