Unboxing the Silents: Fantomas (1913-1914) on Blu-ray

Director Louis Feuillade is most famous for his stylish, anarchic serials featurig criminal masterminds, caped superheroes and crusading reporters. One of his most famous titles is Fantomas, which involves the titular supervillain and the intrepid policeman who pursues him. In celebration of the film’s 100th anniversary, it was given a 4K restoration. That restoration is finally available in North America. As always, thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.

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Silent Movie Bookshelf: JUDEX novelization by Louis Feuillade and Arthur Bernede

We are used to tie-in novels as part of the inevitable marketing campaigns that accompany films and movies nowadays. However, silent films had their own tie-ins and we are going to look at a special one.

Judex is called a serial but don’t let that put you off. The series is quirky, dark, funny, tragic and an absolute joy to watch. It captures everything that makes silent film wonderful in one thoroughly French package.

Availability

Available as both a physical and an ebook.

Like the film, the novelization of Judex was serialized. It has been translated into English for the first time by Rick Lai.

The book is a trade paperback with a print retail price of $24.95. I have seen it used for as low as $15 and a Kindle edition is available for $5.99 at the time of this writing.

The Plot: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the serial, here is a very brief description: Favraux is a despicable banker with a good and beautiful daughter, Jacqueline (villainy seems to be the one way to guarantee well-behaved offspring). He begins to receive threatening letters from a mysterious caped man who calls himself Judex. Judex says he will kill Favraux if he does not repent of his crimes and make amends. Favraux refuses and promptly dies exactly when Judex said he would.

Buffoonish detective Cocantin, Jacqueline, and fortune hunter Diana Monti all want to know what has happened. But Judex is in no mood to be found out.

Did I mention his wonderful cape? And his eclectic pack of trained dogs? And his cavern hideout? Keep in mind, this was made in 1916-17!

Sample page
Sample page

My favorite part: Like most film novelizations, the best part of Judex is the added detail about the characters and story. There is, for example, considerably more detail about the athletic Daisy, who famously saves the day late in the serial. The novel has a slightly darker flavor than the serial but they generally match one another quite well.

My least favorite part: Like most genre fiction of the period, Judex is quite melodramatic. Scenes and dialogue that worked fine in the silent film medium are a bit much on the printed page. I mean, I like people being dubbed “murderous scum” as much as the next serial watcher but it got to be a bit much at times.

Sample page
Sample page

Notes on the translation: In his afterword, Rick Lai notes that the original text was full of contradictions. That is understandable as the serialized story was doubtlessly rushed. Lai took the opportunity to correct some of the inconsistencies in the story.

Conclusion: Judex is a fun read for fans of the serial but non-fans may want to skip it. I enjoyed it greatly but I pretty much think the series is the best thing since instant black bean noodles (which are a very good thing indeed).

Fun Size Review: Judex (1916)

Have a spare 5 hours? Sure you do! For this you do. Legendary French serial expert Louis Feuillade creates the crazy-addictive tale of a caped crusader, a vamping criminal mastermind and some really cute kids. Judex is a mysterious avenger out to right the wrongs performed by a corrupt banker. It starts with threatening notes and escalates to murder (or does it?). Fast, funny, exciting and highly addictive.

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