Judex – A Serial In 12
Sound: B- Extras: C Chapters: B
The roots of so much adventure fiction goes back to print
serialization in magazines from the turn of the century, whether Charles
Dickens’ Pickwick Papers or the earliest adventures of Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In pop
culture, one likes to think detectives came from novels, while heroic figures
came out of comic strips and old Hollywood B-movies and action serials. However, any influences outside of The
States cannot be traced only to England.
The French also contributed to these genres early on, including the
detective Vidocq (recently revived by director Pitof in a digital HD feature) and
Judex, making the first of his four big screen appearances to date all
the way back to 1916.
Louis Feuillade’s first two Judex serials were
sensations; with this initial version now out on DVD from Flicker Alley, yet
another winning release from the company.
Printed chapters were even issued at the same time these filmed chapters
were hitting the big screen. Unlike the
later Hollywood serials from smaller independent companies and the three name
sources for them, Republic, Universal and Columbia, these were far more
literate and artistic. By comparison,
they were also more subversive, with the dark hero Judex (René Cresté) taking
on a very wealthy and evil adversary, a banker named Favraux (Louis Leubas) and
telling him what to do with his money or else!
Reactionaries and diehard capitalists would call him a
terrorist, but the idea is that the alter ego of Judex is exacting revenge on a
truly evil man, versus the Hollywood-like dictum (think of Potter in Frank
Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life) that people with a ton of money are above
criticism and even worse. That gives Judex
some amazing edge to it almost a century later and puts the serial above kiddie
fare, which is why a company that releases classics versus pop culture had to
issue the DVD set to begin with.
Needless to say, this is a silent classic (even ahead of
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis by eight years, if not as influential) and the
chapters even have exciting titles to go with them, as follows after a prologue
of some length:
Fantastic Dog Pack
Secret Of The Tomb
Woman In Black
Underground Passages Of The Chateau-Rouge
9) When The
10) Jacqueline’s Heart
11) The Water Goddess
12) Love’s Forgiveness
That sounds like everything form the Saturday chapter-plays
we know today all the way to the Indiana Jones franchise, but these programs do
not have that much physical action.
They are very complex for their time and watching it is never boring
throughout all 300 minutes of real entertainment. When they do happen, action sequences here are very interesting,
but the action here goes beyond the physical, which is why Judex is a
must-see classic that will shock those who have no idea how powerful and
entertaining silent movies they have never hear of can be.
The 1.33 X 1 image has all kinds of speckles and other
damage all around, but there was still plenty of restoration that did take
place and the result is that it is more watchable with a little more detail
than you would expect a nearly 90 year old filmed work to be. The solidness of the images and other
enhancements help, while cinematographers André Glatti and Léon Klausse
constantly make all their compositions involving and show off the terrific
production design by Robert-Jules Garnier.
Tinting is not overdone and sometimes amusing, though I personally am
not a fan of tinting in general. The
images with or without tinting are truly amazing in their visual density,
especially for their time.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound is a newly recorded score,
as is the case with so many silent films.
Robert Israel is the composer in this case and his score is not bad,
featuring Pro Logic surrounds to boot.
Extras include an 18-minutes-long featurette with Israel on scoring the
chapters that includes an amazing use and knowledge of various music of the
time resulting in a fine score, four text pages on Israel’s amazing career thus
far and a foldout inside the DVD case with some illustrations, chapter
information and essay by Jan-Christopher Horak. They are very valuable, well worth your time and Flicker Alley
has done another ace job here. A sequel
serial The New Mission Of Judex followed in late 1917, a Judex 34
release in 1933 and Georges Franju (of Eyes Without A Face) remade the
serial as a feature film in 1963. Hope
we see those next.
- Nicholas Sheffo