Monday, July 24, 2017

JUDEX (1963)


I've read any number of commentaries on the 1916 silent serial JUDEX, directed by Louis Feuillade, that compare the serial's hero with Batman and Superman. This 1963 quasi-remake by George Franju furthers this conceit, with a prelude that deems the original Judex as the putative ancestor of both characters. The only nice thing I can say about this is that I presume it was written before the Batman teleseries, so that Franju is perhaps innocent of pandering.

I may be alone in this opnion, but I found Feuillade's original JUDEX serial tedious and unimaginative. Franju's shortened version of the rambling serial-episodes is an immense improvement, and the crisp black-and-white cinematography gives the rather simple proceedings a vibrant look.

But-- Judex, a superhero? It's like no one thinks superheroes are defined by anything but the idea of having a funny name and a double identity.

Judex is an obsessed fellow, somewhat after the fashion of the Count of Monte Cristo, who holds a grudge against Favraux, a corrupt businessman who ruined the fellow's father. At the movie's beginning Favraux begins receiving letters sent to a mysterious "Judex,"threatening the man's ill-gotten security. Favraux tries to retaliate against the supposed blackmailer, who hides in a secret sanctum-- his "Batcave," I guess-- and wears a slouch hat, which I guess is supposed to be just as awe-imposing as the costumes of Shadow or Zorro. Eventually Judex drugs Favraux at a costume party. It's a fine scene, made surreal by the fact that Judex and many of the guests wear weird bird-masks.

But it's not a superhero scene. It's a "obsessed avenger" scene; an "exotic crime story" scene. Judex displays a few magician's tricks, which alone are enough to give the film an uncanny vibe. But there's no larger-than-life combat between Judex and his enemies, so even if Judex had bothered to wear a mask or a cape, I would not have deemed him a true superhero. (I should mention that there is a mildly interesting catfight in the film's climax.).

Franju succeeded in making an homage to the subtle aesthetics of black-and-white silent films, though one online source asserts that the director would rather have remade Feuillade's FANTOMAS.
But in terms of narrative, neither version of JUDEX has anything to do with the myth of the superhero, and only a lazy mind would make the connection.

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