Screened Thursday December 30 2008 on Something Weird VHS (courtesy of Kim‘s, sniff) in New York, NY

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This remake of pioneer cineaste Louis Feuillade’s 1916 action serial featuring cinema’s original caped crusader can function today as a surreal subversion of the modern superhero genre that dominates movie houses the world over. While Judex (played by real life magician Channing Pollack) makes a bold entrance in a tuxedoed bird costume to orchestrate the death of a greedy financier, he, unlike most contemporary superheroes, is mostly ineffectual for the remainder of the film.  He’s upstaged by a slinky, shape-shifting minx (Francine Berge) who changes disguises at every step of a kidnapping plot so haphazard it slips like mercury through the viewer’s grasp. No one character maintains control of the narrative, which operates like a soccer game, bouncing in jagged trajectories with every unexpected death, deception or deus ex machina revelation. But once in a while a stunning moment will materialize to sear itself into the memory: a masked ball of wealthy socialites wearing bird’s heads; Francine Berge’s lightning transformation from a sweet-faced nun to a sleek cat burglar outfit; Edith Scob’s delicate body floating downstream; a boy staring transfixed at the fresh corpse of a woman who’s fallen to her death. Feuillade’s grand vision was of a world whose capacity for imminent, explosive chaos resisted the authoritative logic of 20th century narrative; Franju is clearly sympathetic to Feuillade, but goes further in imposing a new authority, one of the lyrical dream image. If only more summer blockbusters had that sense…

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Judex film poster

There’s a world of difference between the natural, “found” surrealism of Louis Feuillade’s lighthearted French serial (1914) and the darker, studied surrealism and campy piety of this 1964 remake by Georges Franju. Yet in Franju’s hands the material has its own magic (and deadpan humor), which makes this one of the better features of his middle period. Judex (Channing Pollack) is a cloaked hero who abducts a villainous banker to prevent the evil Diana (Francine Bergé in black tights) from stealing a fortune from the banker’s virtuous daughter. Some of what Franju finds here is worthy of Cocteau, and as he discovered when he attempted another pastiche of Feuillade’s work in color, black and white is essential to the poetic ambience.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

Franju’s superbly elegant and enjoyable tribute to the adventure fanatasies of Louis Feuillade sees the eponymous righter-of-wrongs (Pollack) abduct a wicked banker in order to prevent villainess Diana (Bergé, glorious in black cat suit) laying her hands on a fortune the banker’s daughter (Scob) is due to inherit. Cue for a magical clash between good and evil, with the director revelling in poetic symbolism (the opening masked ball finds our hero, with forbidding bird mask, creating a dove out of thin air), black-and-white photography that thrills with its evocation of a lost, more innocent era, and surreal set pieces.

- Time Out

Judex adds a subtle, sophisticated and endearing chapter to the swollen literature of cinematic pop art. In homage to French Movie Pioneer Louis Feuillade, Director Georges Franju tenderly resurrects Judex, a formidable mass hero whose dime-novel adventures burgeoned on the silent screens of France between 1916 and 1918, decades before Superman got off the ground as a force for good. Happily, Franju never yields to the temptation of playing a soggy old classic for easy laughs as a smart-alecky spoof. Instead he celebrates it with sound, as a nostalgic song of innocence, an ode to an era when all the battles that Virtue waged against Vice were won without tricky compromise.

Wearing a black cloak and several delicious disguises, Channing Pollock portrays Judex with the stubborn, single-minded intensity of a reformed Dracula. The plot that roils around him is mostly post-Victorian gimcrackery, carried out in a pure period style that offers everything from mad little chases in vintage jalopies to the acrobatics of human flies, from reunions of long-lost sons and ruined fathers to the machinations of a rascally banker whose ill-gotten capital gains keep Judex awake nights. So does the banker’s daughter (Edith Scob), a lovely wisp of a heroine. All crumpled organdy and helplessness yet clearly indestructible, she is drugged, chloroformed, kidnaped, nearly impaled on a hatpin, and at one point must be pulled out of the river after a prolonged dunking that would have drowned a plainer girl. Most of her woes are devised by a supple archvillainess (Francine Bergé) who revels in evil for its own sake, keeps slipping out of her period gowns to dart away in tights, only to reappear moments later as an apache dancer or murderous nun.

Judex has too much low-key charm and seriousness to be wildly funny, but Director Franju seems content to woo a minority taste. He affectionately thumbs through an album of thrills remembered from boyhood, shrewdly heightening the original and sometimes shading in his own touches of nightmarish reality—most strikingly at an eerie masked ball where all the guests are feathered out as birds, again in a cell where a rotter confronts his festering conscience in a mirror that swivels to catch his every move. The spare, clever background music by Composer Maurice Jarre is a pleasurable bonus in a movie that does not just dwell on the past but feelingly rediscovers it.

- Time Magazine, May 13, 1966

An unusual concoction, this 1963 Georges Franju picture, which goes about its business as if the nouvelle vague never existed, among other things. An homage to the 1915 Louis Feuillade serial about an almost super-powered crime fighter who nonetheless has a fairly arduous time bringing the main evildoes to justice (the defining paradox of such serials, I suppose), it honors Feuillade as a surrealist precursor by introducing (or at least we believe we haven’t seen him before) the title character as something out of a Max Ernst collage.

Villainess Diana (Francine Berge) is quite the adventuress, thinking nothing of attempting murder whilst dressed in a nun’s outfit. Seen above, she’s making the first in a series of daring escapes. She’s quite a contrast to the handsome but rather impassive Channing Pollock, the real-life stage magician playing Judex. And so, it’s fun, fun, fun all the way for a while, as Franju’s pastiche grows ever more thrillingly absurd and self-referential. We see the incompetent detective Cocantin reading an adventure of Fantomas, another famous subject for Feuillade…

The film’s climax constitutes one of the most hilariously arbitrary flauntings of the deus ex machina ever. Judex is trapped by the villains on the top floor of a tallish building, the entrance to which is barred. Hence, Cocantin and the young fella known as “The Licorice Kid’ in Feuillade’s original are sitting outside, disconsolate. A circus caravan passes by, and one of its coaches is that of, what do you know, one Daisy—in this film an old flame of Cocantin’s. The gorgeous Sylva Koscina’s cameo is an almost ineffable delight. Sad-sack Cocantin’s explanation of what’s going on doesn’t sit well with Diana. Why aren’t you helping your friend, she asks. He would, he explains, but he can’t get to where his friend is. After all, he’s not an acrobat—”But you are!” he brightens, and sends Diana up to the roof for what will be a helluva catfight with the villainess.

And it’s at this point the film changes. From almost out of nowhere, the Franju who made his name as an unblinking observer of horror (with films such as Le Sang des betes and the aforementioned  Les Yeux sans visage) suddenly asserts himself.

Hanging from the rim of the roof, Diana, once the personification of immorality’s fearlessness, is now a pathetic, wide-eyed, impotent creature. And Franju doesn’t let it go at that—her fall, its thud, her lifeless body, its horrific expression fixed on her face (and witnessed by that cute little Licorice Kid). The pall it casts hangs heavy even as we watch Judex finally unite with his beloved; their stroll on the beach somehow brings to mind a similar seascape in Murnau’s Nosferatu

- Glenn Kenny, The Auteurs Notebook

George Franju treats the horrific and the strange with the approach of a filmmaker directing the most rote literary adaptation. This produces a slowness to his scenes, to his pacing (Dan Sallitt recently wrote of a similar effect in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face), a stolid, regular quality to the mise-en-scene that consequently makes that horror, that strangeness all the more uneasy and abrupt, a lyrical inclusion in what initially seems something regular, unremarkable.

This weight of normality, of unnotable cinema makes Franju’s masterfully vignette based, tone-jumping 1963 revision of Louis Fuillade’s serial Judex work all the more successfully. It allows the homage to start as a film tracking political terrorism in the guise of surrealist horror, and move from this to trapdoors and automobile getaways, deering-do numbers, a segment centered on the comedic duo of a tramp child and a goofy detective, and a death scene that grants the film’s villainess more dignity than a million movie deaths before and after will ever condescend to treat their characters. All this wild divergence is treated with the same stolidness, and as such never seems inconsistent. The fantastic is always possible when it is treated as nothing fantastic at all.

Ending with a coda to the unhappy era that Feuillade’s 1914 serial was produced in, Franju’s seemingly standard “homage”—pre-pastiche, post-New Wave—predicts a Cold War global catastrophe and posits itself as a predecessor to this future catastrophe: so read into its not-so-equal doses of innocuous costume shenanigans and capitalist terrorism what you will.

- Daniel Kasman, The Auteurs Notebook

The ferocious poetics of Georges Franju’s style have silent-film purity — the use of pre-Griffith iconography studding many of his feature movies is no fashionable Nouvelle Vague hommage, but an artist acknowledging his stylistic roots and pondering their validity in modern times.  There are disguises, night raids and rooftop chases, though, as in Feuillade, Franju’s lenses remain cool even as the action gets more delirious. Judex’s first appearance, resurrecting doves at a costume ball while decked in a majestic bird mask, is an astonishing visual epiphany, yet the movie’s vitality lies with Bergé’s Diana, whose energy, whether climbing walls in tights or masquerading as a nun, puts the story’s WWI-era patriarchy in ’60s perspective. The picture’s reverence notwithstanding, the two filmmakers are virtual polar opposites — where the old master used documentary aesthetics to record the extraordinary, Franju filters the ordinary through the gauze of ominous lyricism. The results contain all the fascinating tensions that the collision implies.

- Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

French cinema of the mid-1960s saw something of a revival of interest in the old Louis Feuillade thriller serials of the 1910s.   Feuillade’s criminal mastermind Fantômas came back for a second round of murderous mayhem, and a certain amount of mirth, in a series of three films directed by André Hunebelle and starring Jean Marais and Louis de Funès, beginning with Fantômas (1964).  The previous year had seen the release of another remake of a Feuillade classic, Judex, directed by Georges Franju.  It would take another three decades before Irma Vep, the villainous queen of crime from Les Vampires (1914) would return to the big screen, played by Maggie Cheung in Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (1996) – although this hardly counts as a remake.

Georges Franju’s fascination and love of the silent Feuillade thrillers is evident from this inspired, and ever so slightly camp, reinterpretation of Judex.  The film is an obvious fan homage to Feuillade’s work – employing the episodic structure to almost ludicrous extremes whilst evoking the dark menace and poetry of Feuillade’s films through its stylish expressionistic design and lush black and white photography.  Feuillade’s grandson Jacques Champreux worked on the screenplay, which has many of the elements of the original 1916 Judex film, but curiously omits the justification for why Judex behaves as he does, and so the central character becomes an avenger without a cause.

Channing Pollock is a surprising yet effective casting choice for the role of Judex.  He had previously appeared in just three films and, with his stunning good looks, was being promoted as the next Rudolph Valentino of Italian cinema.  He was much better known as an illusionist and magic would be his metier for most of his career – Judex was to be his last screen credit.  What Pollock may lack in experience as an actor, he makes up for with charm and charisma, and the film certainly makes good use of his real talent, as a conjuror.   The svelte Francine Bergé revels in the part of the deadly female villain Diana Monti, the role that Musidora made her own in the original Feuillade serial.  Interestingly, Brigitte Bardot was briefly considered for this part…

The 1963 remake of Judex is regarded more highly today than when it was first released, partly because Franju’s reputation as a filmmaker has risen substantially in recent years.  It is true that Franju’s Judex is stylistically very different to that of Feuillade.  Whereas Feuillade sought to achieve a synthesis of fantasy and realism, Franju is clearly more preoccupied with the fantasy side of the equation.  In common with many of his films of this period – Les Yeux sans visage (1960) being another good example – Judex has the character of a Daliesque dream, with ill-defined characters shifting in and out of focus in a plot that is fantastic and barely coherent, but with stark, almost surreal images that make a strong impression on the spectator.   The film may lack the pace, darkness and narrative solidity of Feuillade’s film, but it makes up for this, at least in part, with its inspired visuals, which owe as much to Jean Cocteau as they do to Louis Feuillade.

- James Travers, Films de France

Judex… with its Ernstian feel for the surrealism of late Victorian iconography, is utterly anachronistic, as is Franju’s fascination by the melodramatic scenario in which innocent daughters are plunged into distress by their father’s nefarioius actions: the melodramatic pieties are subverted by a modernism that has no faith in knights in white armour. Franju’s anachronisms testify to the intensity of his empathy with the forest’s medieval dream world.

- Paul Coates, Film at the Intersection of High and Mass Culture. Published by CUP Archive, 1994. Page 79

Judex bird head

Franju vs. Feuillade

Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade’s sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade’s street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.

In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock’s skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju’s Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade.

- Geoff Gardner, Senses of Cinema

Judex shows his sensitivity to the atmospheric tension of Feuillade’s serials while discovering an element of dramatic irony missing in the originals. Whereas Feuillade’s serials seem to accentuate the murkiness of his lurid plots and his characters’ romantic mystique, Judex balances its eerie tone with a more extravagant delineation of the characters’ valor. The hero’s walk through the ball with the dove is faithful to the original while isolating its most overtly romantic elements. Unlike Feuillade, who magnifies the fear and fatalism that surround his players, Franju reveals the vulnerability and resiliency of his heroes and villains. The slow, solemn pacing in Feuillade is an extension of the numerous plot complications; in Franju there is a methodical inquiry into both the charm and deviousness of the genre.

- Aaron Sultanik, Film, A Modern Art. Published by Associated University Presses, 1986. Page 396

Judex bears a dedication to Feuillade in its closing credits, and is nominally a remake of Feuillade’s 1916-17 serial film of the same name (also remade as Judex 34 in 1934 by Feuillade’s son-in-law, Maurice Champreux), but in interviews (collected in the booklet that accompanies this double-disc edition), Franju made no secret of the fact that he was much more interested in the character of arch-villain Fantômas (whose criminal enterprises were serialised by Feuillade in 1913-14) than of the rather bland avenger Judex. Unfortunately Franju and his screenwriter Jacques Champreux (Feuillade’s grandson) were unable to afford the rights to Fantômas (which was in fact made into a black comedy by André Hunebelle in 1964), but Champreux includes in Judex a scene in which the bumblingly bookish Detective Cocantin (Jacques Jouanneau) is shown engrossed in a Fantômas pulp novel whose details (an empty coffin, nuns with guns) reflect elements of the plot that Cocantin is himself supposedly investigating. Meanwhile, Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), the catsuit-wearing, rooftop-climbing femme fatale in Champreux’s reimagined Judex has been modeled on another Feuillade villain, Irma Vep from Les Vampires (1915-16).In Feuillade’s original serial, Judex is sworn as a boy by his Corsican mother to seek vengeance for his father’s suicide as a result of the wicked banker Favraux, but so thoroughly does Franju efface this original story that what remains is merely an avenger without a cause – who is also, adding to his aura of mystery, an accomplished magician. The art of the illusionist is key here, for Franju himself is less interested in the banal mechanics of his plot than in the uncanny spectacle of its execution, as he repeatedly wrongfoots the viewer with a series of false deaths, trick substitutions, and similar cinematic sleights of hand.

Courtesy of a cunning disguise, Judex has, in fact, already been onscreen, unbeknownst to either Favraux (Michel Vitold) or the viewer, since the film’s opening scene, but when he makes his “first” recognisable appearance at a ball, wearing the mask of a bird of prey and conjuring an apparently dead dove back to life, his intention is to poison the host Favraux – but crucially, after Judex has handed him a glass, without even taking a single sip the banker drops down dead (albeit not really any more dead than the dove, as the sequel will show). The eeriness of the masque imagery and the irrationality of the sequence mark Franju himself as the master prestidigitator here, with Favraux, Diana, and even Judex himself just inferior pretenders to the throne of dissembling, manipulation, and bluff. The criss-crossing, episodic story that follows is full of sadistic incarcerations, ruthless crimes, improbable coincidences and miraculous resurrections, but really it is Franju’s dream-like visuals that remain most memorable: a knife-wielding nun, a woman floating down the river, three men in black climbing a wall like spiders. As a hero, Judex may cut a somewhat dull figure once his true face has been revealed, but Franju has set him within a haunting shadow-world where vengeance is too strange to be sweet.

- Anton Bitel, Film International

Although just as beautiful, perhaps more so, Georges Franju’s remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1916 Judex is as different from the original as is night from day. It is slower and graver; it is also more darkly magical (Judex, this time, is a magician—a touch here of Fritz Lang’s 1921 Destiny?); its world isn’t ours, as it is in Feuillade’s version, but something stranger, more self-contained; it is a period-piece. It is also in black and white (Marcel Pradetal, his cinematographer, helps make Franju’s film by far the more gorgeous of the two); but Franju’s Judex is moody and mysterious, and also somewhat deterministic, while Feuillade’s is airier, freer, lighter and more open. Feuillade’s Judex is touched by dream(s); Franju’s whole film feels subterranean, as though playing out in his or somebody else’s unconscious. In both style and tone, the film is scarcely different from Franju’s grim, sorrowful Eyes Without a Face (1959), although here we get to see Edith Scob’s lovely face—and also likely determine that her profound performance far outdistances that of Feuillade’s Jacqueline, Yvette Andréyor. (On the other hand, Franju’s Jacques Jouanneau is no match for Feuillade’s Cocantin, Marcel Lévesque.)
Of course, another difference is striking and omnipresent: Feuillade’s film is silent; Franju’s isn’t—although the absence of extraneous noise gives his Judex, at times, an eerier quiet. There is considerable talk in both versions, but few titles in Feuillade’s, where the pantomime-like acting more often conveys the gist of what people are saying. (Yes, film actors had faces then—but also hands.)

One thing more: Franju’s camera moves, and evocatively; Feuillade’s doesn’t.

- Dennis Grunes

Franju attempts to recreate the mood of the silent era with slow pacing and expressionist lighting (with great shadows) as well as decorative intertitles and even a few iris shots and a keyhole mask. However, he ignores the quality that made Feuillade’s style so distinctive – his stunning visual compositions. In the original, whole scenes were shot with little editing and a still camera (this was pre-Griffith of course), with the action beautifully framed, often in depth. In Franju’s revisitation, it is replaced with classic continuity editing. Yet, he equals if not betters Feuillade in achieving dreamlike expressionism from (unlike the German silents) real locations, finding the poetic and lyrical in reality much as he did in his documentaries.

The iconography of Feuillade’s world is perfectly captured – most notably in the moonlit rooftop scene where two women in leotards (one black and one white of course) fight to the death. Franju even trumps the original’s surrealist tendencies with the bizarre masked ball at the start of the film, in which all the guests wear creepily realistic bird heads – Judex a hawk and Favraux a vulture. Other moments of startling poetry include the scene in which a drugged Jacqueline (Franju regular and the masked star of Les Yeux sans visage Edith Scob, with her own face this time) is thrown from a bridge and floats down the river before being rescued by children. If Franju’s film has a major flaw it is in trying to cram five hours (12 episodes) of serial plot into a 90-minute movie. The silent era storyline must at times seem rather far-fetched to modern audiences but in such a magical film it almost works.

Perhaps the main difference between the two versions is one of intention. Feuillade is aiming for pulp entertainment and almost accidentally hits poetry whereas Franju sets out to make an enchanting lyrical film, paying little attention to the drama. Nevertheless, there are enough brilliant set pieces and beautiful cinematography to thrill the fans of Les Yeux sans visage.

- Paul Huckerby, Electric Sheep

Criticisms

Franju’s aim in remaking Judex was primarily to create an aesthetically enhanced version of Feuillade’s world that could communicate magic, poetry and the fantastique. Period interiors were precisely reconstructed, and some typical effects from Feuillade and his age – the arabesque flourishes framing the intertitles, irising in and out, even one keyhole shot – carefully retained. Plasticity was more important in Judex than in any other of his films. Franju stated. His photographer Marcel Fradetal went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the qualities of Feuillade’s orthochromatic film, by imitating Feuillade’s photographer Guerin and arranging lighting so that decor and the character(s) in shot could be lit at the same time, rather than one at the expense of another. The costumes for the film were designed by Christine Courcelles, who used magazines from the 1912-1918 period to get the styles exactly right. What carried the film was ‘le cote decoratif esthetique.’ Possibly as a consequence of Franju’s concentration on style, plasticity and effect, however, his Judex has a perceptible lack of narrative drive remarked on by a number of reviewers at the time, who called his rhythm ‘paresseux’ and the directing ‘nonchalante, pour ne pas dire laborieuse.’ Impressive though its set pieces were, the film relied on them too much and seemed not to be able to link them up; its approach to the story’s fantastic episodes and images was too studious, and lacked panache. The actors had an absent air that seemed to result from not identifying with their roles, and the mystery and poetry of Franju’s mise-en-scene faded as the film progressed because it had been created too obediently, ‘avec une piete de conservateur de cinematheque.’ Perhaps the best summary of these weaknesses in narrative construction was given by Claude Mauriac in Le Figaro litteraire, who stated that the spectator of Judex was prevented from identifying with the action because the attention to single images and ‘plastic beauty’ demanded of him or her interfered too much with this process. Critical reception of the film was generally very admiring of the homage to early cinema Franju had created – its ‘retro’ mode – but aware too of problems that had resulted form an over-conscientious approach to style and atmosphere.

- Kate Ince, Georges Franju. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005. Pages 56-57.

Franju made his name as a director with the 1959 French horror film Les Yeux Sans Visage (aka: Eyes Without A Face), a film that earned him a reputation for being a director who could bring the fantastical and the eerie out of the most mundane settings. Judex is a film that continues very much within this tradition and the eeriness is portrayed in a number of powerfully expressionistic scenes that are, nonetheless, anchored in a strange form of realism.

The first of these two scenes is Judex’s entrance into the house of the banker. In eveningwear and a giant bird’s head, the scene opens with the camera panning slowly up his body to reveal the sinister head staring right into the camera. Judex then wanders through a masked ball with a dead dove in one hand. He climbs the stage and begins a magic act carried out in complete silence and which begins with the reanimation of the dove. Creepy, surreal, disturbing and utterly fantastical, this scene matches the otherworldliness of Jean Cocteau’s 1947 adaptation of Beauty And The Beast, as well as the surreal decadence of Renoir’s 1939 satire of upper class France, The Rules Of The Game. The second scene is shot on a roof in the dark, and scored with some beautiful and yet disturbing electronic music, as the femme fatale battles it out with an acrobat who, in true deus ex machina fashion, happened to be passing and decided to risk her life for the good guys. Again, conducted in silence, this scene is evocative of Fellini’s taste for surrealism and fondness for circus folk. While these two scenes are beautifully shot and richly evocative, the other 80 minutes or so of the film are somewhat puzzling.

Despite being an adventure film, Judex is seriously lacking in pace or even excitement. Franju bloats the running time by showing the characters doing mundane things such as putting on hats and getting in and out of cars. This, along with the fact that the action scenes are clearly not in the least bit choreographed, gives the film a kind of amateurish feel that does not exactly capture the attention. The writing is also largely sub-par with the film lacking any real point or thrust; the characters are paper-thin and things just happen for little or no reason. Indeed, if this film had been made today, it would be tempting to see it as a kind of satire of the all-conquering superhero genre as none of the action/ thriller genre conventions are obeyed or even acknowledged.

Judex is dominated by an on-going battle between the film’s more fantastical elements and the relative mundanity of its setting and characters. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) draws attention to the fact that Batman (and the Joker who comes in his wake) is actually an utterly bizarre thing to have running around your city. The surreal nature of Batman is clearly what is behind the decision to make Gotham city seem a far more mundane place than it was in Batman Begins (2005). Judex mines a similar vein of surrealism by having Judex drive around in perfectly normal cars. Indeed, when he wanders around in his cape and hat people barely acknowledge the fact that he looks weird. Nor does anyone question how Judex found out about these injustices, let alone ask what business they are of his. If Judex existed in a world full of ninjas and castles, we would not question his presence but the fact that he exists unquestioned in a largely mundane world sets up a tension between realism and fantasy that actually makes the film and everything in it seem quite eerie. This eeriness is also increased by the film’s frequently strange soundtrack, which includes incredibly loud birdsong whenever the characters are outside, including at night.

Ultimately, aside from a few admittedly beautiful scenes, Judex has little to offer. If judged as the action/ adventure film it was supposed to be it is a clear failure as the mundanity of the world, and the lack of any real pace or drama, make it a rather monotonous watch. As a work of film-as-art it is pretty enough and the scenes that clearly inspired Franju are undeniably well shot, but there simply is not enough here to support a film that is dangerously close to two hours long.

- Jonathan McCalmont, Video Vista

It never quite finds its feet after a strong, intriguing opening, probably because that hero fails to live up to his introduction, looking as if Franju simply wasn’t that captivated by him. Who he was captivated by is the villainess, Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), a slinky and amoral brunette who, posing as Favraux’s maid, has worked out a scheme involving his innocent daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob) and young granddaughter.

So it’s Diana who makes the most of her screen time, disguising herself as a nun to kidnap Jacqueline, who she then plans to murder after she realises the woman recognises her and therefore can lead the police to her. There’s a delicate nostalgia here for the times when adventures like this were par for the course, but a more robust approach might have been to the project’s benefit, and on occasion it seems as if a strong gust of wind could send this all flying. Still, there are images that linger in the mind, such as Sylva Koscina as a circus acrobat who scales the wall of the bad guys’ hideout to save the day, or that great bad girl Diana stripping out of her habit and slipping into the river to escape. If only the rest of Judex had been as effective.

- Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

Charming and entertaining as it is, Judex is never quite as good a film as it could have been for one very simple reason: the subject was not director Georges Franju’s first choice. Knowing that a femme fatale and a diabolical master of disguise provided rather more interesting anti-heroic possibilities in tune with his own sensibilities, his preference was for two of silent serial director Louis Feuillade’s other characters, Irma Vep of The Vampires – work out the anagram of her name, as a predecessor of “Johnny Alucard” – and the eponymous Fantômas…

The most telling scene with regard to the difference between the two men’s sensibilities is one late here that sees Judex encounter Favraux . As Judex lurks outside Favraux expresses contrition for his old actions and indicates that he is does not want his old life back any longer. In part this is because he knows it suits several influential people for him to be dead to the world, with the implication that if he did dramatically reappear – a reappearance not outwith the realms of probability in the universe of these films – he would then soon wind up dead for real. Judex then bursts in regardless, still determined to act as judge, jury and executioner without evident regard for the clear selectiveness of his approach – a selectivity which becomes still more evident and compromised by the end of the film – but also his impotence in the face of what is clearly an endemic criminality amongst the respectable classes. As such, if Feuillade’s Judex was a figure and a film acceptable to the establishment, here Franju pushes both that little bit further to bring the inherent contradictions of his predecessor’s work to the forefront.

I would say that Franju’s combination of new and old works better than that of Truffaut in Shoot The Pianist, as a film set in the present but making use of anachronistic techniques, and perhaps even Jules Et Jim, as a film set partly in the same period.

Whereas to me Truffaut’s use of irising and suchlike can come across as somewhat mannered, Franju’s assemblages always have a sense of authenticity. There’s the sense that unlike his younger counterpart he was never trying to impress anybody with his knowledge of cinema history and technique but was simply expressing himself and the delight he found in the early cinema. (Whereas Truffaut ‘studied’ at the Paris Cinematheque, Franju, along with Henri Langlois, founded it.)

- Keith Hennessey Brown, Eye for Film

Other reviews:

Dennis Schwartz, Ozu’s World Movie Reviews

Slarek, DVD Outsider

Adam Dugas, Log It

An illustrated entry by Brandon’s Movie Memory

John Coulthart offers a historical rundown comparing three movie versions of Judex

About the Masters of Cinema DVD

This is a two disc affair with the first being the 1963 Judex – an homage/remake of the iconic Louis Feuillade 1916 serial. The Masters of Cinema DVD is anamorphically enhanced in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, progressively transferred – residing on a dual-layered disc (taking up 7.44 GB.) It looks good but not pristine – which is actually more suitable to the silent-era homage sparking references that were constantly reminding me of Les Vampires or Fantomas. Franju’s Judex is 45 years old now although the PAL image can look remarkably strong even if contrast can be slightly muddy at times. I loved all the Feuillade markers in both films with costumes, ‘healthy’ women, an intricate plot and a general emphasis on obtaining justice against wrongdoings. Franju’s use of intertitles help evoke that aura in Judex.

Disc two has Nuits Rouges. The transfer is also in 1.66 and progressive but it is not 16X9 enhanced. Colors are wonderful and the image can appear extremely sharp. I should note that I am no expert on edge-enhancement and Gary could chip in once he receives his DVD(s). The film was made in 1973 but it didn’t have the same appeal for me as Judex. Despite lack of anamorphic enhancement the image projected is an appealing visual presentation.

On the French mono audio – Judex had some inconsistencies in the sound department – perhaps reflecting its age. Nuits Rouges seemed stronger but had some background hiss although neither inferiority hindered my enjoyment. Optional English subtitles are available for both features.

Extras – Supplements sport two separate interviews (one per disc) with Jacques Champreux who is Louis Feuillade’s grandson. They total about 20 minutes where he talks about Franju and his memories of the making of the films. Typical for masters of Cinema they include a healthy 40-page booklet with illustrations and interviews. It’s a wonderful keepsake addition (as are all their liner notes booklets).

Over the past couple of years I’ve really come to treasure my Masters of Cinema DVD collection (although, unlike Gary, I don’t have all of them). Judex/Nuits Rouges is another entertaining addition and I’d never have seen these films if not for their coverage.

- Geoff Gardner, DVD Beaver

VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor Brad Stevens informs me that Masters of Cinema’s new Region 2 DVD release of Georges Franju’s JUDEX is missing some minor footage that is present in Sinister Cinema‘s DVD-R/VHS release of the film’s US theatrical version, as originally distributed by Continental Releasing. There are seven cuts in all:

1- 52m 58s. 33 seconds are missing; the end of the shot showing a man walking away from the camera; the whole of the following shot, showing the doctor walking behind a pair of children; the start of the next shot of the doctor.

2- 53m 11s. After the woman tells the children “This isn’t a sight for you,” they walk away. In the MoC edition, the shot ends here; in Sinister’s tape, it continues for an additional 5 seconds with the boy turning around and shouting at the woman.

3- 53m 23s. The whole scene (46s) showing the man getting into a car and talking to the nun has been cut.

4- 54m 37s. A 35s shot has been cut; this shows two men carrying a stretcher into a room and placing a woman on it.

5- 55m 8s. Shot slightly shortened.

6- 57m 20s. A 3s shot showing a man getting out of a car is missing.

7- 58m 1s. 4s of dialogue is missing after the man says “It’s quite a walk, you know.”

The same cuts (amounting to roughly two minutes) are present in the earlier French release, with which the Masters of Cinema disc shares the same transfer. As both releases were licensed directly from the film’s producer and struck from the original negative, it appears — judging from the fact that all of the gaps occur within a 5m section of the picture — that the negative suffered some damage during its decades of storage.

Mind you, the cuts are not disruptive or critical, and these Region 2 releases do offer the best quality for this important title we are likely to enjoy. That said, the completists in our audience may still wish to acquire the Sinister disc while it’s still available as a reference copy of what now appears to be lost footage.

Update 9/9/08: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant responds: “Your description of missing bits from the DVD of JUDEX doesn’t read like the result of film damage. The choice of connecting tissue omitted indicates that someone trimmed ‘unnecessary’ footage to perk up the pace (the slow, 1901 pace we love). This happens more often than one would think, and to the original negative sometimes… a distributor or other nefarious party suddenly decides to ‘improve’ the film. First it’s the ‘unnecessary’ beginnings and endings of scenes. Soon thereafter, they’re cutting METROPOLIS in half! I remember the kid yelling… I hope the little pieces aren’t gone forever.”

- Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

About Georges Franju

IMDb Wiki

Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Franju:

“Georges Franju combined realism and fantasy, poetry and polemics, savagery and tenderness to unique effect. Imbuing his films with a surrealist’s antipathy to established notions of normality, he was one of cinema’s most fiercely independent visionaries…His surrealism was not a matter of artifice, but of a highly personal vision that was at once elegant, horrific, provocative, becalmed and nostalgic.” – Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

“Franju’s career falls clearly into two parts, marked by the format of the films: the early period of documentary shorts, and a subsequent period of fictional features. The parts are connected by many links of theme, imagery attitude, and iconography.” – Robin Wood (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

“Some reckon him one of the greatest of all French film directors; others don’t reckon him all. Franju is cult material par excellence, and from his first bravura documentary release, Le Sang Des Bêtes (1949), in which he casts an unswerving eye on the brutal business of meat slaughtering, it was obvious that Franju was not to be conveniently filed and docketed. A co-founder of the French national film archive, he alternately stimulates and shocks, as for example, with his sensationally surreal horror classic Eyes without a Face.” – Mario Reading (The Movie Companion, 2006)

“First known as a documentarian, Franju has contributed some fine horror and suspense films.” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)

Franju’s films are a witchlike fusion of melodrama and expressionism. When we watch a Franju film, eyes stare soulfully out of the screen at us. They belong to men and women in an iron mask: to the heroine of Eyes Without a Face, whose scientist father abducts young girls and lifts their faces in an effort to repair her ruined mask; to Therese Desqueyroux, betrayed by curiosity into a rural bourgeois life that shuts like a prison around her; to Francois Gerance in La Tete contre les murs, consigned to an asylum by a father outraged by his motorcycle-boy defiance. Only in Judex is the concealment of the face the sign of liberation: and its hero is the superhuman masked man of popular fantasy, Fantomas, the French outlaw Batman; liberation is a beautiful dream. With their lilting music, Franju’s films are dark fairy tales in which people seeking to become themselves are rendered vulnerable by their hesitancy and suffer transformation into puppets by a bad sorcerer, a poetic version of the melodramatic villain. The girl wandering tentatively down a corridor, that key Franju image, is the soul trapped in a Gothic labyrinth expressionistically darkened by the impossibility of redemption. Only the eyes behind the mask tell us this person was once ‘one of us.’ As in German expressionist films, the mask is a trap glued to one’s face by society, the father – in short, an authority whose insanity is evident in the blank rigidity of the eyes at the heart of its mask. Franju’s heroes bang their heads against the asylum walls in an effort to dislodge the cage affixed to their faces. Like Francis in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, they have made a trip tot he fair that ended in a prison house.

- Paul Coates, Film at the Intersection of High and Mass Culture. Page 77

Despite, or because of , his links to the public institutions of cinema, Franju’s films sometimes occasioned scandal—Blood of the Beasts required the critical intervention of Jean Cocteau to speak up for its merits against controversy (Ince, 32), a defense which recalls Cocteau’s defense of Jean Genet, perhaps. (The letter Cocteau wrote with Jean-Paul Sartre, in defense of Genet, addressed to the President of the Republic, appeared in the same year as his defense of Blood, White, 1993, 334-335.) Nonetheless, Franju would later be dismissed as too ensconced inside the institution of culture, the view of some New Wave directors and the generation after 1968 (Ince, 7-8), for whom he was outmoded, a fuddy-duddy who favored literary adaptations and was part of a film establishment. His relation to what we might now, anachronistically, call splatter (for example, on-camera slaughter and dismemberment of a horse, cows, calves, and sheep in Blood; the notorious face removal in Eyes, the lingering depiction of a patient in straitjacket being force-fed in Head against the Walls [La tête contre les murs], 1958) apparently currently disqualifies him from any consideration other than as a cult film maker. Yet, one might argue that it is exactly his anomalous identity, part provocateur and part archivist, his lifelong alliance with a militant avant-garde while working in the mainstream of national cinematic culture, as well as his uncertain positioning between the institution and what it expels, that makes Franju a director who can speak with particular eloquence to contemporary concerns about social ambiguity and cultural ambivalence.

- Michael du Plessis, ”Fantasies of the Institution: The Films of Georges Franju

Read Kate Ince’s reply to Michael du Plessis’ critique of her book on Georges Franju

About Cinematographer Marcel Fradetal

Although Marcel Fradetal is most readily identified with the director Georges Franju, his career has evolved through association with several filmmakers. In the 1930s he worked under various leading cameramen, notably Rudolph Maté on Dreyer’s atmospheric Vampyr, Maurice Desfassieux on Henri Diamant-Berger’s Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Ted Pahle on L’Herbier’s Entente cordiale. Their influence is discernible in his work.

It is essentially his 30-year collaboration with Georges Franju, however, that has cemented Fradetal’s reputation. The association began in the 1940s with Le Sang des bêtes, and a series of documentaries, features, and eventually television films followed. Franju initially hired Fradetal because of his work with Maté whose insistence on lighting and composition corresponded to Franju’s own preoccupations.

Fradetal’s camerawork is equally vital to Franju’s features. In Pleins feux sur l’assassin an eerie son-et-lumière sequence at a castle is created, and in contrast an accelerated funeral, à la Clair, irreverently conveys the joy of the dead man’s beneficiaries. In Judex, a homage to Feuillade and the early serial, Fradetal brilliantly reproduces the orthochromatic tonal qualities of the silent cinema to create a visual symphony of light and dark effects as good and evil join battle. The screen version of Cocteau’s Thomas l’imposteur exposing the heroic myth renders concrete the writer’s imagery, such as the horse with its mane ablaze, while beautifully composed luminous shots of Belgian beaches with sea mists rolling across the trenches combine to produce a hauntingly atmospheric film about the realities and the unreality of war. For Zola’s La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, Fradetal achieved powerful, almost surrealist images such as the statue of the Virgin appearing to rise spontaneously from a packing case, but the essentially poetic quality of Zola’s work is often disappointingly labored in the visual transcription.

The quality of Fradetal’s camerawork ultimately resides in his experienced, sensitive, and appropriate response to his material. Where his camera is required to observe unobtrusively it does so, and where images of pristine clarity are expected then Fradetal provides them. Nevertheless, where a synthesizing image, or a telling close-up, or an atmospheric composition, or a specifically paced tracking shot is needed, he imaginatively satisfies his director’s wishes. A self-effacing professional, Fradetal has left his mark both on fictional as well as documentary cinema.

- R.F. Cousins, Film Reference.com