A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, December 18, 2017

Judex (Georges Franju, 1963)

Michel Vitold and Channing Pollock in Judex
Judex/Vallières: Channing Pollock
Diana Monti/Marie Verdier: Francine Bergé
Jacqueline Favraux: Edith Scob
Favraux: Michel Vitold
Alfred Concantin: Jacques Jouanneau
Morales: Théo Sarapo
Daisy: Sylva Koscina

Director: Georges Franju
Screenplay: Jacques Champreux, Francis Lacassin
Based on a screenplay by Arthur Bernède and Louis Feuillade
Cinematography: Marcel Fradetal
Art direction: Robert Giordani
Music: Maurice Jarre

Judex is, like Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the subsequent Indiana Jones sequels, an hommage more than a spoof. In both cases, the filmmakers were affectionately mimicking films of their youth: the cliff-hanging serials that often accompanied feature films. Unlike Spielberg, director Georges Franju had a particular director in mind: Louis Feuillade, who crafted adventure thrillers usually involving master criminals like the titular protagonist of Fantômas (1913) and the sinister Irma Vep of Les Vampires (1915-16). The original Judex serial of 1916 featured a masked crime-fighter, a figure that became increasingly popular after Douglas Fairbanks adapted a magazine story in The Mark of Zorro (Fred Niblo, 1920), leading to numerous comic books and movies about swashbucklers and superheroes using disguises to protect their secret identity. The archetype became so prevalent that eventually it was subject to amused mockery, as in the camped-up Batman TV series of 1966-68. But Franju isn't out to mock Feuillade's serials so much as to recapture some of the innocent thrills of the original, with sets and costumes evoking a pre-World War I naïveté. Judex is a do-gooder who in the film is trying to expose the fraud and murder committed by a wealthy banker, Favraux. He has somehow disguised himself (with an obvious fake beard) as Favraux's secretary, Vallières -- the film never bothers with backstories of its characters, so we don't know how Judex/Vallières gained Favraux's confidence and trust -- and manages to fake Favraux's death and hide him away in an elaborate dungeon, where he watches Favraux via an improbably early version of television. But Judex's plans -- which are not entirely clear in any case -- are complicated by his adversary, Diana Monti, who has herself been operating as the governess for Favraux's granddaughter. And so on, through an increasingly intricate series of plot twists, clashes, escapes, last-minute rescues, and all of the trappings of the genre. It's really a good deal of fun, though it occasionally goes a little slack, especially if you're not in the mood for it. Marcel Fradetel's black-and-white cinematography mimics the silent-movie style to the mark, even using old-fashion iris shots for transition, and at one point having the comic-relief detective, Cocantin, peer through the keyhole, with what he witnesses viewed through a keyhole-shaped aperture. Judex is played by an American magician, Channing Pollock, who performs some sleight-of-hand involving doves. A very handsome presence but no actor, Pollock was hyped as a new Rudolph Valentino, but without success.

No comments: