The thousand faces of Lupin, the gentleman thief who continues to fascinate millions of people

It was 1907 when the adventures of Arsène Lupin, the character invented by the French writer Maurice LeBlanc, began to circulate in the form of short stories, obtaining such a positive response as to push the author to create an entire series dedicated to him.  There was a cinematic transposition of the story with The Teeth of the Tiger by Chester Withey already in 1919, between 1948 and 1949 there was the comic version and it was in 1971 that the first television series starring the gentleman thief came out. In 2021, the character of Lupin returns to fascinate with the modern reinterpretation of the French TV series published on Netflix, which kept more than 70 million viewers attached to the screen.

However, not everyone knows that Arsène Lupin is inspired by a real person. His name was Marius Jacob. He was a French anarchist who lived between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century and who robbed rich bourgeois to finance the anarchist movement. He was very skilled in the art of disguise and in cracking any type of safe. With his gang he managed to carry out about 150 thefts in just three years, quickly becoming a living legend. Once captured he tried several times to escape from prison but, although he was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, it was within the walls of his home that he took his own life at the age of 75, through an injection of morphine and leaving a letter where he said: “I lived a life full of adventures and misfortunes, I consider myself satisfied with my destiny. Thus, I want to leave without despair, with a smile on my lips and peace in my heart. [..] I have lived. Now I can die. P.S. You will find two litres of rosé wine. To your health”.

The story of Marius Jacob had enthralled LeBlanc so much that the author began writing stories inspired by him in the magazine he worked for, Je Sais Tout. At first it was a collection of short stories, then novels and plays, the writer made 17 novels, 39 short stories and 5 plays starring Arsène Lupin in total. The success of LeBlanc inspired in turn other writers, directors and artists who therefore made the story of the gentleman thief a cult. 

There are so many faces that over the years played the character of Arsène Lupin, from the “real” ones to the cartoonish ones. More than the original comic version of Lupin, many will remember the Japanese cartoonist Monkey Punch’s manga, later transformed into an animated series. In this case, the gentleman thief actually appears only in photos, as the grandfather of the protagonist, Lupin the Third, who follows in his footsteps. Several generations have in fact become fond of the Japanese version, before learning about Maurice LeBlanc’s story, opening a dispute between fans of the French writer and the new generations attached to the Japanese anime. The conflict then escalated into a legal war, forcing the mangaka to defend himself in court.

Today, for TV series addicts, the new face of Arsène Lupin corresponds to that of Omar Sy, the French actor who has already starred in several successful films such as The IntouchablesX-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World. The first season was split into two parts due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the first released in January and the second expected for this summer.

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