Harsh Texture


A vigilante matches wits with a femme fatale while trying to bring a banker to justice

Every era had its superhumans. If we’re currently in the arc of the superheros, the 80’s had its impervious action heros, the mid twentieth century had its sharp shooting cowboys, and the dawning decades of the twentieth century had their master criminals and vigilantes. The Germans had Dr. Mabuse. The Americans had the Shadow. The French had their Fantomas, Lupin, and Judex.

The particulars are often similar. The resourceful detective every bit the foil of the protagonist, the masked figure attacking the elite whether seeking justice or just their wealth. Judex is pure vigilante, operating in an era before the police had much responsibility to the common people and well before things like business regulations and safe labor were commonplace. His target is Favraux, an unscrupulous banker who murdered his way into wealth and then cheated his clients when on the top. His sins are so great that Judex need not mention any specifically. He simply calls for Favraux to atone in a series of open ended blackmail notes.

The original Judex existed as a serial, as such its charms were spread over multiple installments. Director Franju instead loads every genre element into the running time.

So insistent on spectacle, he cast the magician Channing Pollock as Judex. Pollock’s talents wouldn’t go to waste in the production. Franju give his hero one of the greatest introductions in cinema. Arriving at a costume party in a sharp tuxedo and stunning bird mask, Judex navigates the crowd carrying a dead pigeon. After arousing a great deal of curiosity he springs the bird to life and proceeds to make pigeons appear from the scarves and napkins of the guests. This was of course Pollock’s signature trick in his day job.

Franju had a better trick up his sleeve. The evil banker dies after only twenty minutes of screen time, but this act kicks off a number of plot threads as Favraux’s fortune and source of wealth become sought by a pair of schemers. Along the way there are secret hideouts, disguises, acrobats, late night burglaries, booby traps, advanced technology, and perhaps most importantly a femme fatale who slips into a half dozen costumes over the running time.

Published: May 5, 2018, 7:28 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2018, 7:28 p.m.