The Judex-Files: Prologue

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Time I did another serial here. Opted to do a GOOD one. Louis Feuillade’s JUDEX somehow escaped getting watched by me previously, maybe because Georges Franju somewhat dissed it by saying he preferred FANTOMAS and only made his own remake of the mysterious crime-fighter’s adventures because he couldn’t get the rights to those if the mysterious crime-commiter. But then, he DID choose to remake it, so he must have liked it a bit, yes?

Anyway, I’m 100 years late to the party, as usual, but here goes…

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But JUDEX has all the charm you’d expect from its maker, with colossal old jalopies, elegant theatrical blocking, and Musidora skulking about under assumed names. Plus it has a slightly less episodic approach, with slow-burn plotlines set up in an elaborate prologue like a Victorian novel. A slightly daft Victorian novel, possibly, but a very constructed one, unlike the near-independent chapters of FANTOMAS and sequels.

Part one details the misdeeds of a nasty banker, who has a nice daughter and grandson. We meet various aggrieved parties, are introduced to the mystery of the old jailbird’s missing son, and the banker starts getting threatening letters, signed JUDEX. He hires a detective with an amusing comedy face and an un-amusing comedy sidekick. And then he drops dead of an apparent embolism.

“Where is this going?” 1916 audiences may have asked. And I did too, but none of us could stop watching…

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Star of the prologue is undoubtedly consulting detective Marcel Levesque. The banker is drawn to an ad in the paper representing a super-sleuth combining the best features of Auguste Dupin, Mandrake the Magician and Tarzan. But what he gets is this weedy figure reminiscent of James Finlayson, only without the machismo. I warmed to Levesque at once, even as he presides, as bodyguard, over the immediate death of his client. I’m sure his success rate will improve as the show goes on…

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To be continued…

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7 Responses to “The Judex-Files: Prologue”

  1. Feuillade’s Judex is lovely and very exciting, but Franju probably saw it as lacking the aura of anarchy that made Les Vampires so special — so in his masterful remake he added it.

    It should be pointed out that Medi Ben Barka was on his way to a meeting with Franju when he was kidnapped.

    And also (just to get it out of the way ) it was Franju who said to J-LG “But surely M. Godard you believe a film should have a beginning middle and an end” eliciting the sublime reply “Yes but not necessarily in that order.”

  2. In the BBC’s documentary on Carne, Franju is amusingly vociferous in his disdain for the nouvelle vague. Though with his own love of anarchy, he’s one pof the old guard who comes closest to their freewheeling approach. Him and Vigo.

    Yes, Judex isn’t as in love with villainy as Fantomas and Les Vampires, but there are many shots which look like Edward Gorey drawings, which is enough for me…

  3. Franju is “Old Guard” in the same way Melville is. They have much in common.

  4. revelator60 Says:

    Franju’s Judex is splendidly oneiric, but it doesn’t have the heart of Feuillade’s original, which is less concerned with glamorous anarchic villains and more with questions of family and social justice. Those themes might sound corny, but Feuillade expressed them with simple, moving sincerity–Judex has often been called a prototype of the superhero film, but it makes most films in that genre look fraudulent.
    Incidentally, does anyone know why Judex’s sequel, “La nouvelle mission de Judex,” remains so hard to see?

  5. The obvious answer would be if it’s incomplete? Tih Mihn and others have been hard to get, but not on this level.

  6. No spoilers: What’s interesting in the original serial is how throwaways in the movie turn out to be full-fledged characters and subplots. But the central puzzlement remains in both serial and movie: How the lavishly equipped, near-superhero Judex goes from playing offense against a powerful banker to playing defense against one determined woman.

    Intriguing that the serial form was once taken fairly seriously, especially in view of the juvenile turn they took in America (I don’t think any serial after “Flash Gordon” allowed villains to lust after heroines. And darn few allowed heroines and heroes to be more than chummy coworkers until a closing chapter smile).

    The serial form made a roundabout comeback in Hollywood franchises, starting with more continuity-heavy sequels (post-Star Wars, popcorn movies consciously plant sequel elements), proceeding to serialized literary properties like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and now to the “Marvel Universe” where superhero films are plotted to overlap (mirroring what the comic books had been doing for years).

    I remember when it was a big deal for a Frankenstein movie to remember where they left the Monster at the end of the last entry.

  7. In both Hammer and Universal Frankenstein films, there’s usually an attempt at continuity from film to film. In their Dracula films, for some reason, there really isn’t.

    While nothing in Judex is inappropriate for kids, it’s true that the whole seriousness of tone is adult.

    Not surprising there’s lust in Flash Gordon: the Alex Raymond comic was rather kinky, which is what initially attracted Nic Roeg to doing a remake (replacement directot Mike Hodges inherited the perversity).

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