Although just as beautiful, perhaps more so, Georges Franju’s remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1916 Judex is as different from the original as is night from day. It is slower and graver; it is also more darkly magical (Judex, this time, is a magician—a touch here of Fritz Lang’s 1921 Destiny?); its world isn’t ours, as it is in Feuillade’s version, but something stranger, more self-contained; it is a period-piece. It is also in black and white (Marcel Pradetal, his cinematographer, helps make Franju’s film by far the more gorgeous of the two); but Franju’s Judex is moody and mysterious, and also somewhat deterministic, while Feuillade’s is airier, freer, lighter and more open. Feuillade’s Judex is touched by dream(s); Franju’s whole film feels subterranean, as though playing out in his or somebody else’s unconscious. In both style and tone, the film is scarcely different from Franju’s grim, sorrowful Eyes Without a Face (1959), although here we get to see Edith Scob’s lovely face—and also likely determine that her profound performance far outdistances that of Feuillade’s Jacqueline, Yvette Andréyor. (On the other hand, Franju’s Jacques Jouanneau is no match for Feuillade’s Cocantin, Marcel Lévesque.)
Of course, another difference is striking and omnipresent: Feuillade’s film is silent; Franju’s isn’t—although the absence of extraneous noise gives his Judex, at times, an eerier quiet. There is considerable talk in both versions, but few titles in Feuillade’s, where the pantomime-like acting more often conveys the gist of what people are saying. (Yes, film actors had faces then—but also hands.)
One thing more: Franju’s camera moves, and evocatively; Feuillade’s doesn’t.
One of Franju’s most brilliant passages is the engagement party for Favraux’s daughter, where bird-head masks disguise the host, Jacqueline and the intruder, Judex. This grotesque expressionistic dream plays out in waking time.
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