Release Date(s)1963 (June 17, 2014)
Studio(s)Janus Films (Criterion - Spine #710)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Curious to see a remake that actually works? Then look no further than Judex from 1963, which is actually the second remake of a French serial from 1916 of the same name. The film concerns a mysterious cloaked figure named Judex (Latin for “judge”) who takes revenge against a wealthy and immoral banker named Favraux. Favraux has fleeced a great number of people out of their money to build his fortune with and Judex threatens him with action unless he gives it all back. Complicating matters is the banker’s daughter, Jacqueline, who Judex falls in love with, but also Diana, a former governess who will stop at nothing to take the money for herself.
The story of Judex has a full-blown mystery element to it, but also a bit of science fiction, as well. It attempts to pay homage to its silent film counterpart in a variety of different ways, especially concerning the way the story is being told. It doesn’t quite go all the way with its attempt, at least not in the way that something like Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie did, but there are some notable attempts at telling the story without sound. At times it’s successful and at other times it’s not. The film’s finale is really where it’s put into play more heavily than anything proceeding it, and you can pick up on it a bit more. But that being said, it’s still a beautiful film to watch. It’s poetic, strange, and the frame is always filled with interesting imagery. There’s also a lot of illusion in the way the story is being presented, and I’m not just referring to Channing Pollock either. It’s basically in serial form, but it never really feels that way.
Judex was, of course, directed by Georges Franju, who also directed the great Eyes Without a Face. I find Franju to be an interesting director. He only made a handful of films in his life but he seemed to influence more people than a lot of filmmakers who have many more films under their belt. Some of his early critics derided him for a lack of film language, but what they didn’t understand is that he was creating his own film language. If you pay close attention to the way Judex is cut together, you realize that not only is it tightly-edited to focus the story, but it also has a sense of humor about it. And again, this confused a lot of early critics during its initial release. The way that it’s presented is subtly telling you to NOT take it so seriously and just enjoy the ride, but under the guise of something poetic. It’s clever and it’s a work of genius. It makes me wish that Franju had made more genre films in this way. But even with all of the film’s subtlety, Judex is still an excellent tale to be told, which counts for everything.
The Blu-ray presentation of Judex is yet another home run for the folks at Criterion, whose previous efforts on Eyes Without a Face were quite remarkable. The transfer for the film was sourced from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, which retained an enormous amount of fine image detail. The grain structure is very even and organic-looking, shadows are enormously detail-oriented, blacks are quite deep, and both contrast and brightness are at perfect levels. Stability is never an issue, there are no signs of digital enhancement, and any film artifacts or debris are virtually nonexistent, save only for a few lines on the left and right edges of the frame. The audio portion is equally pleasing, presented in the original French mono soundtrack in DTS-HD. Dialogue is always perfectly clean and clear, and both sound effects and score have plenty of room to breathe. The atmospherics are quite rich and there’s some surprising dynamic range to the track. It shows its age, of course, but never to the point of a loss in quality. The film’s aesthetic remains intact in all areas, both visually and aurally, easily making this a quality presentation. There are optional subtitles in English, as well.
For the supplemental material, you’ll find a nice array of things to dig through. There’s an interview with actor Francine Bergé; another interview with co-writer Jacques Champreux; Franju le visionnaire, a documentary on the work of Georges Franju; Le grand Méliès, a short film by Franju; Hôtel des Invalides, a short documentary by Franju; a 36-page insert booklet with an essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien and excerpts of comments on the film by Franju himself; and 2 DVDs with all of the same video content included.
Although it was never really an obscure film on home video, it’s nice to finally have Judex with a beautiful new high definition transfer and a wonderful set of extras. Georges Franju fans will, of course, be the most excited by this release, but if you’re a film fan, then you owe it to yourself to pick this release up. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons