Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Channing Pollock,
Edith Scob, Francine Berge, Theo Sarapo, Michel Vitold, Jacques Jouanneau
Director: Georges Franju
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: June 17, 2014
“It's Latin...meaning 'judge' or 'avenger'.”
Some films are hard to describe because they have very little plot...that's not the case with Judex, a film with SO much plot that I feel like I could sit here and give away point after point and STILL not have really given anything away.
It was directed by Georges Franju, who also made the disturbing Eyes Without a Face. This one was a tribute to a silent-era serial about the strange titular hero, who may have been the forerunner of more than one kind of modern seeker of economic justice.
As the movie opens, we see the rich banker Favraux (Vitold) reading from a threatening letter signed by Judex (Pollock), demanding he turn over half his fortune to those he swindled. Question: is Favraux really as described, or is Judex the villain? Never mind...soon we are introduced to a somewhat unfocused private detective (Jouanneau), who would rather tell stories to Favraux's daughter than do real investigating, and then a parade of potential suspects.
There is the daughter (Scob), engaged to be married to a man she doesn't love, and a nanny Diana (Berge), whom Favraux secretly plans to marry. While we are contemplating this, there is also a scene of an old man approaching Favraux, who apparently took the fall for the banker and went to prison in his place in exchange for a payoff. Now that the due date is come, Favraux calmly runs him over with his car.
Judex gives Favraux a midnight deadline, and deadline seems to be the right word, as the banker falls suddenly dead in front of a party of masked revelers. Oddest of all is the man with the very realistic bird head who performs all kinds of magic, but Favraux will turn out to be his greatest trick...yes, Judex in the flesh.
In the meantime, Diana, realizing the fortune she's lost by not marrying Favraux, plans to kidnap the daughter and do a little blackmailing of her own. And really, from this point on, it's hard to keep on top of everything.
What makes the film work is a gleeful sense of style played against the misdeeds of the characters. As mentioned, the inspiration for this movie was a silent era serial, and this film is loaded with visual touches, such as obvious matte shots, irises, and more to keep you in that frame of mind. Franju has fun with his camerawork, and seems to relish in the nefarious goings-on, which are terrible, but somehow a bit on the fun side.
Case in point: a ridiculous but unforgettable sequence when the bad girl Diana, clad in black, battles the female assistant of the investigator, dressed in white. There are a couple of memorable closeups of Diana before she finally gets her just reward.
And what of Judex? Well, he is a man of many talents and very little character...not quite a superhero, but a fellow with a few tricks up his sleeve.
The resulting film, as mentioned, is very heavy on plots and twists amounting to very little, but is still quite entertaining. It was a bit of a fun stretch for Franju, and for his audience as well.
BONUS TRIVIA: Channing Pollock, in the title role, was actually an American magician.
This is another stellar high definition black and white transfer from Criterion...the print is clean, and the detail level is quite good, with strong and well-balanced contrast throughout.
The mono French audio is also clean and clear; not much dynamic range, but a solid listen all the way.
There are two new interviews, one with co-writer Jacques Campreaux and one with actress Francine Berge, plus a 1998 program on Franju's career. There are also two short films from the directors, the documentaries “Hotel des Invalides” about a military hospital, and “Le Grand Melies” about the legendary silent filmmaker. Rounding out is a booklet with essays and commentary.
Judex is fun and inconsequential; a bit of silent era melodrama made modern.