Judex, Blu-ray (1963/2014)

Judex, Blu-ray (1963/2014)

Director: Georges Franju
Cast: Channing Pollock, Francine Bergé, Edith Scob, Michel Vitold
Studio: The Criterion Collection 710 (3 discs, dual format) [6/17/14]
Video: 1.66:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9, black & white, 1080p HD (Blu-ray)
Audio: French PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Music: Maurice Jarre
Extras: 2007 interview with Jacques Champreux, 2012 interview with Francine Bergé, 1998 50-min. documentary “Franju le visionnaire,” Printed illustrated booklet with essay by film scholar Geoffrey O’Brien, and interviews with Franju
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: ****

An odd crime caper created by filmmaker Georges Franju in 1963 as an homage to the 12-episode silent film of the same name (1916) by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade did several such serials, of which the most expressionistic and wild was Fantomas, which Franju wanted to re-do but it was already optioned by someone else who made a James Bond-sort of feature out of it. (Later he did get the rights and did his Fantomas remake, Nuits Rouge, in 1974.)

Franju did a masterful job of re-imagining the 1916 serial. He chose it for its Batman-like qualities. It has very little dialog, and the romantic lead is played by a handsome American actor-magician (named during his successful career as “The Most Beautiful Man in the World.”), whose big trick is bringing white pigeons to life in his hands and then releasing them. Franju’s cinematographer used the orthochromatic film of silent movies to gain the heightened contrasts they produced. And there are many intertitles done in silent movie style, with the entire film following silent movie aesthetics. Judex is intended to be a sort of dream, in a time not measured by the clock. The plot was the least important to Franju; he was more interested in the elaborate costumes, the overstuffed furniture, the social rituals and the French countryside. The visual impression was the most important.

The main story of the 1916-style pulp fiction (with New Wave touches) is the mysterious kidnapping of a corrupt banker by masked and caped do-gooding crime-fighter Judex, whose reasons for his actions are unexplained by Franju, although they were laid out in the 1916 serial. It involves the banker’s governess for his small granddaughter, who then becomes Diana Monti, the cat-suited awful villainess of the story. The little girl is named Alice and the detective spends time reading her things from Alice in Wonderland. Both Judex and the evil woman have their mysterious gangs, and Judex has some period gadgets, James Bond style, such as a strange TV camera trained on the inhabitants of his dungeon. Actress Scob was recently seen in Carax’s Holy Motors. Here her younger self plays the banker’s daughter and spends most of her time being carried around by various people while senseless. After many abductions, rescues and narrow escapes, things all work out with a Hollywood movie ending of Judex and the daughter walking away together down the beach. (The Avengers TV series didn’t appear until a couple years later, but Emma Peel, in her catsuit, was straight out of Judex, though on the good side.)

—John Sunier

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