Friday, September 19, 2014

Judex: a film

Judex, a French language film
Black-and-white, English subtitles
Directed by Georges Franju

The public library in Tucson publishes around the first of the month a list of acquisitions made during the previous month.  I always check it to see if anything interesting has come in.  In this way, I find  some intriguing books and films, many of which I had never heard of. This is how I found Judex.   Although it came out in 1963, it was in black-and-white.  It is also a French language film, with subtitles in English.

The description sounded intriguing. A corrupt banker is kidnapped by a shadowy crime fighter, Judex, played by the American magician, Channing Pollock.  The plot gets more complicated as a group of thieves led by the scheming Diana Monti attempts to benefit from the situation by getting their hands on some of the banker's files that have information about rich and powerful people and using the information for blackmail.  Diana had worked her way into the household by gaining a position as a maid and then getting the banker, a widower, to fall in love with her. 

A short way into the film, I began to think that this film resembles a serial and also a film that might have been produced much earlier, perhaps the 20s or before.  It was in black-and-white, and scene-changes were denoted by several seconds of darkness.  In addition,  text messages providing narrative information were provided during some of the scene changes.  Other elements were some vaguely SF or futuristic technology such as a closed circuit TV picture that resembles others I had seen in early serials and rock doors that slide open smoothly accompanied by a distinct hum, obviously the motor.  Some drugs with unusual properties were also used by various individuals in the film.

After viewing the film, I read the information booklet that came with it.  The film was produced in 1963 and directed by Georges Franju.  Franju's Judex, according to the booklet, is his homage to Louis Feuillade, who in 1916 had produced a five-and-a-half-hour, 12 episode serial by the same name.  Franju cut a considerable amount of the film that dealt with the backstory explaining Judex's motivation for attacking the banker.

Judex, when he is the crime fighter (he also had a secret identity, naturally), is dressed in black with a hat and cape that reminds me of Zorro (no sword though).  He is assisted by four or five men who also dress in black clothing and wear black masks.  Diana Monti, who leads the group of three or four thieves,  wears a tight, black outfit, reminiscent  of numerous catwoman outfits that have appeared over the years, and has a stiletto. strapped to her thigh.    

While there really are no cliffhangers, forcing one to wait for the next episode, the influence of the serial format appears clearly as every one of the major characters--the banker, Diana Monti (the chief villainess) , Judex,  Jacqueline (the banker's beautiful young daughter), and at least one of the thieves--is captured and either knocked out or drugged into insensibility at least once during the film and then manages to escape.  In fact, the banker's daughter spends much of her time unconscious and being carried about by the thieves, who plan to force her to reveal where her father's papers are hidden, or by Judex and his crew when they rescue her.

And, you mustn't miss the battle to the death on the rooftops between the attractive Diana Monti in her tight, black catwoman outfit and Daisy, an attractive circus performer, in her tight. white trapeze outfit.   

 Lots of fun.  I wonder if the original 12 episode serial is available somewhere.


  1. You always write about the most interesting films, Fred! Thank you for posting about this one. I'll have to see if I can find it.

  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the comment. Kind words are always appreciated. I just checked out Netflix and it has both films, the one I saw and the original silent film serial it was based on. Unfortunately both are in the SAVED section, so who knows when they will be available. We can only hope it will be soon..

  3. Here is a confession: I have never liked films with subtitles; I spend too much time reading and too little time watching and listening. I guess I am curse with a monaural rather than a multichannel stereo mind.

  4. RT,

    I understand for I also usually avoid films requiring subtitles, but I sometimes find one that looks to be worth the struggle.

  5. I found Judex on You Tube, but there are no English subtitles for it. I'll have to check my library.

  6. Cheryl,

    Do you have any independent video stores still in existence in your neighborhood? The reason I ask is that in Tucson there's a small independent place called Casa Video. Just out of curiosity I checked it's website, and if I read it correctly, both the original serial of 12 episodes and the 1963 remake are available. If you do have some independent places like that still around, you might want to check them out also. I'm going to check it out in a couple of weeks.

    Here's a thought. I wonder if DVDs can be borrowed through the inter-library loan process?. If so, I know of one library that does have the 1963 remake--the Pima County Public Library.

  7. Fred,

    Unfortunately, dvds cannot be borrowed via my library system's interlibrary loan program. They said the dvds have a tendency to break in the mail, so they don 't do it. I WISH I had an independent video rental store, sadly I don't. I will try Amazon,too, if it's not too expensive.

  8. Cheryl,

    They have a point. I get cracked DVDs in the mail from Netflix every so often.