My first experience of Judex came in the early sixties when a friend and I went to Millbank for a screening of the complete 1916 Louis Feuillade serial which ran for about six hours. It was a great experience and was made even more special by having a live piano accompaniment by cinema pianist Arthur Dulay. Soon after that memorable afternoon George Franju's remake of JUDEX appeared and it has taken me forty-five years to catch up with it. Franju was not very interested in making JUDEX, his ambition was to remake Feuillade's other classic, FANTOMAS.
According to scriptwriter Jacques Champreux, Franju ignored Judex's motivation and preferred to concentrate on the recreation of the period and the evocation of the films of his youth. For today's viewers, the CGI generation, Franju's JUDEX would seem very slow, but it is necessary to remember not only how films were in the Sixties but how they were in the years preceeding. It would be easy to say that JUDEX is character driven but the truth is that there is little or no character development. It is to a degree plot driven but then Franju seems very cavalier about plot detail and the story chugs along on a series of unlikely coincidences. Champreux regards the film as pure expressionism. Feuillade set his story in a realistic France (albeit ignoring World War One that was raging at the time) while Franju has to recreate the past which gives his film a very potent "magical realism" which is potent. There are wonderful touches : nuns suddenly produce hypodermic needles, Judex is a precurser of Bat Man complete with a bat cave headquarters beneath a ruined castle, he wears a cloak and seems to have psychic control over a pack of dogs, Judex's black clade minions scale the outside of a building like insects. Almost as important is the fact that in Franju's film Judex is a conjuror - played by real life stage magician Channing Pollock. The female villain is played by a wonderfully coldhearted and calculating Francine Berge (Bardot was considered for the role but was too expensive), Edith Scob (so memorable in Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE) is her victim and Sylvia Koscina is a passing circus acrobat. The Andre Melies on the cast list is the son of the famous French cinema pioneer, Georges Melies. I think it is often instructive to ask oneself "Which film does this film most remind me of ?" Well, in the case of JUDEX, it is Jacques Becker's CASQUE D'OR which has a similar period setting....to my surprise there is a scene in JUDEX where Francine Berge and her boyfriend are dancing in a nightclub. They are doing a odd, jogging, little dance and the scene has (for me) a strange erotic quality...in CASQUE D'OR Serge Reggiani and Simone Signoret perform the same dance. Coincidence ? Rating ****