the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Flicker Alley presents

Judex (1917)

"Who am I? I am what you will become: a champion of justice!"- Judex (René Cresté)

Stars: René Cresté, Edouard Mathé, Musidora, Jean Devalde, Louis Leubas, Yvette Andréyor
Other Stars: Olinda Mano, Marcel Lévesque, Bout-de-Zan, Gaston Michel, Yvonne Dario, Georges Flateau, Juliette Clarens, Lily Deligny
Director: Louis Feuillade

Manufacturer: Ascent Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, suicide, mild drug use)
Run Time: 05h:15m:33s
Release Date: 2004-06-01
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-A- C+


DVD Review

Louis Feuillade, master of the early French serial, has undergone quite a little revival in recent years. His epic-length Les Vampires (1915) has received a full restoration and an acclaimed DVD release, while his seminal crime serial Fantomas was released in a terrific set in Region 2 (but alas not yet in the U.S.). Now his third great serial, Judex, the prototype for numerous television and comic book crime fighters, hits DVD with this second release from Flicker Alley.

Consisting of a prologue and 12 episodes, each ranging in length from eight to 37 minutes, the tale centers on the family of the evil banker Favraux (Louis Leubas), who has ruined hundreds over his career, and thereby caused numerous deaths and suicides through his financial machinations. Enter the mysterious and implacable Judex (René Cresté), a black-garbed minister of vigilante justice (the Latin for which being Judex) against Favraux, faking the banker's death, kidnapping him, tormenting him, and eventually driving him mad. Unfortunately for Judex, he has a soft spot for Favraux's widowed daughter, Jacqueline Aubry (Yvette Andréyor), and her son little Jean (Olinda Mano). Meanwhile, Jean's former governess, the evil Diana Monti (Musidora), who was angling to marry the banker and seize his wealth, suspects that Favraux is not dead and with the help of Morales (Jean Devalde) and the inept detective Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) tries to discover Judex's secret.

Unlike the American serial, which already by this time had adopted the convention of ending episodes in cliffhangers, Feuillade usually keeps the suspense within the episode, leaving the story of each part somewhat self-contained, though there are exceptions. The most notable of these is at the end of episode 10, when the audience is left wondering whether Jacqueline will learn Judex's true identity, and if so, what her reaction will be. This serial has a much tighter and linear narrative than did Les Vampires. While it thereby loses some of the anarchic energy of that crime drama, it's greatly helped by keeping a solid narrative focus that makes it a much more compulsive watch. There are still signs of improvisation, however. Very near the end, an important character, Miss Daisy Torp (Lily Deligny), suddenly shows up out of nowhere, even though she's not so much as mentioned by anyone previously. It's a bit of a head-scratcher, but it works well enough.

Much of the cast is the same as in Les Vampires, consisting of Feuillade's general stable of actors. René Cresté has a gaunt otherworldliness that serves him well as the hellhound on the heels of the evil banker; his look no doubt influenced the appearance of Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, made two years later in Germany. Some of his movements and poses are also echoed in Lon Chaney's Erik in the 1925 Phantom of the Opera. Cresté makes for an intriguing, if not exactly appealing, antihero who will stop at nothing in exacting his revenge. The script cleverly conceals what Judex's beef with Favraux is until well over halfway into the story, which also keeps interest up. This is probably an echo of the same device used by Poe in The Cask of Amontillado, though Poe never did exactly specify the "thousand injuries of Fortunato." Musidora essentially portrays Irma Vep yet again, but she's so good at it that one can hardly hold it against her. Seductive and utterly vicious, her Diana Monti also uses disguise several times as she schemes to get her way, and she's a sexy and wicked delight. Little Bout-de-Zan returns as the friend of Little Jean, and his stage presence, good already in 1915, skyrocketed in the intervening year or two. He's spunky and charming to an extreme, and even though I'm no fan of children in movies he makes for an entertaining exception.Feuillade's style is a bit more restrained than in the 1915 serial. The camera is no longer quite as active, but he does move in for closer two- and three-shots. But the pacing is excellent and the editing, while not flashy, is certainly serviceable. This serial was hugely popular in France (so much so that a sequel from Feuillade arrived later in 1917), and it's given a well-deserved revival here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Expectations cannot be too high for a film that is 87 years old. There's significant speckling throughout as well as numerous spots of wear and scratchiness, especially at the beginnings of reels. But the source material is plainly very early generation, since the film detail and greyscale are astoundingly crisp. A few scenes have blown-out whites, but these all seem to be ones shot outside in bright sunlight and thus a fault that appears on the original negative that nothing can be done about. That's certainly the exception, and it looks significantly better than did Les Vampires, which still looked quite good for its age and considering the reconstruction it had to undergo. The intertitles are in English and appear to be video-generated. They're the weak spot of this release since they don't match the character of the film well.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no

Audio Transfer Review: Robert Israel provides a score mostly derived from French compositions of the 1910s, most notably from Charles Alkans, but when appropriate ranging into Chopin and Grieg. Most of the score is played by Israel's Czech orchestra, rather than synthesizers or a small band, and it makes for very pleasant and involving listening indeed. Depth and range are first-rate with plausible directionality and plenty of surround activity. The piano segments have a transparency and delicacy that's very nice to listen to as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 66 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Double alpha
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The most significant extra is a 17m:53s audio essay by Robert Israel on constructing the accompaniment to the film and developing an orchestration that worked with the visuals without becoming distracting. It's quite fascinating and doesn't require a music background in order to be accessible. A rich set of liner notes by Jan-Christopher Horak and a text essay on Robert Israel are the only other extras. Chaptering is reasonably good for an epic of this length.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

A highly influential silent serial, with a very nice transfer and an excellent score compiled by Robert Israel, with a few interesting extras. Fans of silents will definitely want to acquire this gem.

Mark Zimmer 2004-05-30