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Rancid Popcorn » Please To Enjoy… #5

Please To Enjoy… #5

Judex (Franju, 1963)

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Over at Moon In The Gutter, Jeremy Richey has declared February his month to note favorite films Missing In Action on Region 1 DVD. This post is intended as a contribution to that.

A qualification: it is possible to get Judex in R1, as a DVD-R. Sinister Cinema makes one available. I would imagine its kinda greymarket at best. Also, having seen their release, I couldn’t help but think “this seems like an excellent film, I sure hope I get to actually see it one day.” In other words, awfully poor print. Sinister provides a useful stopgap service, and thank god there’s people like this who operate on the notion that movies exist to be seen, but in my mind Judex is not really available in R1 in any useful sense. How fortunate then that in R2-land, Masters of Cinema bailed us out last year with a lovely edition (itself a port of a French release).

Franju’s Judex exists, of course, as a reflection of Feuillade’s 1916 Judex. Franju was at least part film historian, helping found the French Cinemateque, so his interest in Feuillade and the first French cinema classics is no great surprise. His first wish was to do Fantomas instead, but circumstance forced him to settle for remaking/revisualizing Judex.

The film is awash with nods both to the cinema of 1916 and to the time itself – there are intertitles, iris fade ins/outs and no small number of wordless scenes. Watching in French without subtitles, you actually lose only a little of real consequence. Judex, as a proto-costumed hero, has his equivalent to the Batcave and all it’s gadgetry, yet it relies on turn of the century technologies.

This is not a rehash of Feuillade or a simple trip down pulp memory lane however – Judex, like Franju’s much more famous Eyes Without a Face, has a romantic’s heart, and pursues visual poetry out of these cheap adventure constructs. This is a lyrical and warm film, two qualities I suspect would be undetectable from the script. Surrealism, too, has something of a home here.

It stands on its own, deserves an R1 release, and with greater visibility would no doubt start popping up on best-of lists.

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A shoutout for Feuillade. Note the decorative yet antique looking credits.

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The camera’s iris opens to begin the film as in many a silent. This is Favraux the banker, a scoundrel who has tricked and thieved his way to wealth and a veneer of respectability. The target of Judex’ justice.

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Judex crashes Favraux’ costume party in this spectacular bird mask. Judex is played by american Channing Pollock, a very successful magician who had only recently taken up acting. Magic is a natural element to make part of Judex’ schtick, and that’s what he does here – one imagines these are some of Pollock’s regular dove tricks.

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This equally-striking bird mask is inhabited by Edith Scob, who owned the titular Eyes Without a Face in Franju’s horror success of a few years earlier. Here she plays Favraux’ innocent daughter Jacqueline. Judex conspires to cause Favraux to drop dead exactly at midnight at his party, just as he had warned.

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Except he’s not dead, just drugged to feign death. Judex has a retinue of assistants who help him steal the body and take it to the Batcave…er, his hideout.

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Channing Pollock, minus bird mask or other disguises.

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Edith Scob as Jacqueline, without her bird mask.

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Diana, the governess-turned kidnapper, murderer, whatever needs doing, played with relish by Francine Berge. Catsuits and domino masks, keeping with the superhero theme. Diana, despite being by action a simple rapacious villain, actually seems rather poignant – there are moments when you see a woman who’s simply not going to accept her lot to be poorer than all these wealthy jerks and has decided she will gut anyone to take it from them. If you could break down “Greed” into subcategories, she might be under a heading called “Rage at Standard Wealth Distribution.”

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Judex uses his internal surveillance system built of a network of mirrors to observe his prisoner.

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He uses a similar system and a projector to make this message appear on the ceiling of his prisoner’s jail cell.

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Never trust a nun.

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Nice touch.

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Another nod to Feuillade.

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Firing up the surveillance device.

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Judex tracks down the baddies.

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In the clutches of Diana!

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The last reel, and as we head into the big finish, this bit of weirdness happens. So the guy on the right is a rather fumbling private detective (wearing a deerstalker!) who weaves throughout the story. He has common cause with Judex and is trying to help, but surmises correctly that he is in trouble at the top of the tall building adjacent. Along comes a straggling wagon of circus performers, including Euro starlet Sylva Koscina (left), an acrobat. The private eye knows her, and with just a sketchy idea of the trouble above, she happily starts climbing the walls to go help Judex.

It may be observed that this doesn’t entirely make sense, or at least is absurdly forced. Yes. There’s a fair amount of that going around, much involving the bumbling detective. Some of that’s no doubt due to shrinking down so much story (Fueillade’s serial was 300 minutes after all), most probably because it’s just that kind of movie – one man’s contrivance is another’s serendipity.

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The acrobat ascends.

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Judex’ men hit the scene and follow suit.

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Acrobat versus Diana, in a catfight on the roof.

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2 Responses to “Please To Enjoy… #5”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Great stuff and thanks for participating. I love this film and have added the link over at Moon in the Gutter. Thanks again…

  2. Darrell says:

    Thanks for the link Jeremy. You were right to say there could be a blog just about MIA DVDs. Easily.

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