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Judex (1963) July 11th, 2020

The July 2020 Barnes and Noble 50% off Criterion Collection sale is in full swing. I’ve added to my collection like a good sycophant and will review the new acquisitions in the coming… years? We’ll see how long I hold on to this domain. I haven’t watched a new movie in a while, Detour really got under my skin, but the apathetic noir cloud of gloom has cleared and I’m ready to see more movies.

Enter Judex. I went in expecting something about a guy with a bird’s head, doves flying and dying, and a lady in white being held at knife point by a Crazy 88 understudy. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” they say. Fine. But I’m not above judging a movie by its blu-ray cover. And I judge in favor! What’s the worst that can happen? I trust that high concept visuals can overcome the worst plots. They weren’t enough to stop me from walking out of Mortal Engines, but that’s a different story.

Judex begins as Mr. Favraux (a banker) discovers a plot to blackmail him out of his fortune for his white-collar criminal past. Who would be daring enough to attempt such a dangerous scheme? None other than the masked (and caped) vigilante… Judex! The rest of the film is a campy pulp adventure that ping-pongs from kidnappings to murder and even the supernatural (or at least unexplained… natural?). It’s goofy, it’s sinister, it’s fun.

In a surprise twist, the titular vigilante is not in the leading role. The vigilante crime-fighter is involved and helps guide the plot, but the story more closely follows the masked woman in black from the cover. Francine Bergé plays a cat-suited criminal who steals the show. Her effortlessly calm and cool performance made me believe she wasn’t only ruthless but perhaps sociopathic.

I couldn’t help being reminded of the 1960’s Batman series while watching Judex. Both Batman and Judex have technologically advanced hideouts and femme fatales in catsuits, but I’ve got to give the advantage to Judex for really climbing the side of a building instead of faking it by turning the camera on its side.

Judex was never going to be the bird faced vigilante, lady knife fight escapade I pictured from the cover. That’s ok. It’s still fun, and still weird. If you like weird and fun, check it out. Judex is revealed to mean Judge in Latin. So what did I get for judexing a book by its cover? A fine, if not supernaturally good film.

Oh yeah I almost forgot, it’s entirely in French, so expect subtitles.

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