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With: René Cresté, Louis Leubas, Yvette Andréyor, Msuidora, René Poyen, Édouard Mathé, Gaston Michel, Yvonne Dario
Written by: Arthur Bernède, Louis Feuillade
Directed by: Louis Feuillade
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 315
Date: 12/16/1916

Judex (1916)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Justice League

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great French director Louis Feuillade made his mark with silent crime and adventure serials at around the same time that D.W. Griffith was making his social masterworks in the USA. Working on location, Feuillade's films had a swiftness and a realism that beautifully carried them over their five- and six-hour running times.

Feuillade's best-known work is still Les Vampires (1915-16), but a celebration is in order now that Flicker Alley has released its amazingly cool follow-up, Judex (1917-18), on a new two-disc DVD.

After hitting the big time with Fantomas (1913-14) and Les Vampires, Feuillade was accused of celebrating crime with his films. So he cooked up an antidote to that problem with Judex.

Judex -- which means "justice" -- tells the story of a kind of early superhero (Rene Creste), who wears a black cloak and a black wide-brimmed hat. His first act is to ruin a wealthy banker (Louis Leubas) whose carelessness and selfishness has driven thousands to bankruptcy or suicide. But he falls in love with the banker's daughter (Yvette Andreyor) when she donates her entire inheritance to charity.

Unlike Les Vampires, which continued to cook up one evil scheme after another, Judex uses its 5 1/2 hour running time to continually flesh out its characters and build on an epic storyline, providing surprise twists well into the game.

Les Vampires and Judex both have their good points and weak points. The alluring Msuidora, who memorably played Irma Vep in Les Vampires returns here as villainess Diana Monti. Her wings seem slightly clipped, though; she's not as breathtakingly sensual as she is in the previous film. On the other hand, Creste provides a much more interesting hero in Judex than did the bland newspaper reporter in Les Vampires.

Still, both are unalloyed masterworks, establishing Feuillade as one of history's greatest directors. He had an uncanny knack for finding shocking beauty in simple images, such as a gate or a wall or an antique car driving down the road.

Flicker Alley's Judex DVD presents the most complete version of the film available today, restored and digitally mastered in 12 episodes (plus a prologue) on two discs. Composer Robert Israel has selected and adapted a new score to fill out all 5 1/2 hours, and he's done an extraordinary job. Israel discusses his work in a 17-minute featurette that appears on disc two. And Jan Christopher Horak provides an excellent liner notes essay.

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