the French had their own Batman-like character in the early days of silent
film. Created by Louis Feuillade and Arthur Bernède, Judex (“judge”
in Latin) was a crime-fighting avenger that appeared in silent serials in
1916-17. The character was resurrected once in 1934 in a sound feature, and
once again in 1963 by celebrated director Georges Franju. The Criterion
Collection has seen fit to release Judex,this later version, on Blu-ray and DVD
in a dual format package. The results are splendid.
doesn’t bother to disguise his face when he’s in character. He wears a black
cape and a Zorro-like hat. You could say he’s kind of like The Shadow. By day,
though, he applies old-age makeup and assumes the role of Vallieres, the right-hand
man to an evil banker. Judex is in love with the banker’s daughter, Jacqueline,
who is played by Franju regular Édith Scrob, the
thin doe-eyed actress who was creepily effective in the director’s excellent
horror film, Eyes Without a Face
(also on Criterion). Judex himself is played by an American stage magician,
Channing Pollock, who curiously has little screen presence but performs a lot
of impressive sleight-of-hand in the picture.
crime-fighter and his team (a group of guys all dressed in black) quickly
disposes of the evil banker and locks him away, but Jacqueline is kidnapped by
the family’s governess, Diana (superbly played by Francine Bergé),
who in reality is a masked Catwoman-like criminal. She plans to hold Jacqueline
for ransom, that is, until Judex comes to the rescue.
sounds like an episode from the 1966 Batman
television show, but in fact, Judex is
stylish and in some spots very surreal. For example, the scene in which the
banker is “poisoned” (actually drugged by Judex) is a masked ball. The
attendees’ costumes—many of which are birds—are bizarre and unsettling. Franju
turns the pulp material into something rather poetic, despite numerous holes
and flights of fancy in the plot.
notable is that Franju seems to be more interested in his villain than in
Judex. Bergé’s Diana is the most engaging character and has the most
screen time in the film. In a 2012 video interview extra with the actress, Bergé reveals that she was told to simply play “evil”—and that’s
what she does, with a capital “E.” It’s her performance that makes Judex a fascinating piece of celluloid.
The Blu-ray looks great with its new 2K
digital restoration. Extras include a 2007 interview with co-writer Jacques
Champreux and an excellent 50-minute documentary of Franju’s career. The best
extras are two Franju shorts—one is a documentary about a Paris military
complex; the second one, a film about filmmaker/magician Georges Méliès (who is
played by Méliès’ son), is almost worth the price of the entire package. The
enclosed booklet contains an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an interview