Judex himself ostensibly fits the general requirements for the movies’ all-around good guy and doer of good deeds. Cultivated in the classic western European sense, actor René Cresté lends his tall, imposing figure (in cape and fedora) to imbue the role with dour conviction — excellent casting. The film does a remarkable job of drawing viewer empathy as Judex protects an innocent woman (Yvette Andréyor) and an elderly man (Gaston Michel) from an unscrupulous banker (Louis Leubas) and an inventive thief (Irma Vep herself, Musidora). Feuillade used many of these performers over the course of his career, and
reunites the brilliant physical comedian Marcel Lévesque (as private detective Cocantin) with the young Bout-de-Zan (whose ‘Licorice Kid’ character seems tailor-made for a spin-off series). A memorable pair in
as ‘Mazamette’ senior and junior, they liberally break the ‘fourth wall,’ addressing the camera to excellent effect.
As the story in the film unravels, so does Judex’s credibility — presenting a dichotomy glossed over by persuasive filmmaking. A fraud housing no less than three
identities, Judex’s motives are entirely biased. The name ‘Judex’ Latin for ‘justice,’ he assumes control over situations without regard to law or civil liberty, conspiring with his brother (Edouard Mathé) to torment suspected
tormentors. To draw on an easy reference, Judex
uses the persuasive (and ultimately dishonest) tactic employed by Don Siegel in Dirty Harry
(1971): the observation of criminals at work to absolve the hero’s fascism. If trained squarely on their protagonists, these would be horror films. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s character, Judex extends his lapsed morality to peripheral areas. He dupes an innocent woman — whom he claims to love! — into believing her father is dead (when, in fact, he’s being held captive), and callously initiates the frivolous drowning death of a close friend’s son.
These things considered, taking Judex
as a conventional cliffhanger, or believe it less anarchistic than Fantômas
or Les Vampires
is to deny Feuillade’s sharp wit and subtle nuance. True, unlike the earlier films it is more in keeping with the style of a standard linear narrative, and has the multi-tiered subplots of an epic. But Judex
delicately prods the politics of authority and pedigree underlined in the director’s earlier films. “French serials were popular precisely because they allowed audiences to revel in their anti-authoritarianism,” writes Horak, “even anarchy, even if not intended by the author.”
Following last year’s DVD revival of Lewis Milestone’s The Garden of Eden
marks the second release from the new independent company, Flicker Alley
. Both presentations are labors of love. Handsomely packaged and accompanied by Jan-Christopher Horak’s essay, Judex
looks marvelous, a good print with new color tints and title cards. Owning the DVD allows one to revisit key scenes, such as Feuillade’s occasional experiments with natural light in the last few chapters.
For the music, Robert Israel has arranged an infectious blend of themes by Charles V. Alkan, Herman Finck, Frederick Rosse, Edward Grieg, and Felix Fourdrain. For the DVD, Israel discusses the challenge of creating a five-hour score that evades repetition, and his grasp of the “emotional sphere” of the characters and the “ethical tone” required by their environment. It’s a flavorful, superbly orchestrated composition which captures the range and dimension of a master filmmaker’s unique vision.