Judex Is My New Favorite Pulp Hero

judex4As an extension of my interest in both superheroes and film noir, old pulp heroes are right up my alley, though much like film noir it’s an area where that interest has remained mostly academic. Nevertheless, I’m always hungry for new (or old, or any) takes on the Masked Hero concept, a hunger that was easily satisfied by Judex, a lost bit of awesomeness recently released by Criterion. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of Criterion’s work, and once again they’ve brought another forgotten great back from irrelevance. Good thing too, as Judex is a sprawling-but-intimate, intriguing, gorgeous bit of classic pulp that shows some of the untapped avenues of masked heroics on film.

While it might not be surprising given the time and place it was made, Judex stands in massive contrast with many comparable Masked Hero movies of the modern era. It’s closest comparison is probably The Dark Knight, in that its titular hero really functions as a prism to explore a whole world. But instead of the bustling modern Gotham City and its collection of cops, criminals and madmen, Judex takes a look at the between-wars French countryside and the dirty dealings of its few less-than-scrupulous citizens. In the process, we get a sizable collection of well-drawn characters and some pointed critique of upper class greed. But at the same time, the film is smart enough to not become too grandiose; while it might build a solid cast of characters, the conflict is kept contained amongst them, giving the whole story a very personal drive that also keeps the stakes high throughout.

The other thing that makes Judex so appealing is that he isn’t a big fisticuffs guy. His tactics are more subtle, and uses his smarts and trickery to manipulate events towards the justice he seeks. This is aided by the fact that the actor playing Judex was a magician in real life, and he makes some great use of his sleight-of-hand and makeup techniques (the bird mask he’s wearing when Judex is first introduced is stunning- see below- and one of the great twists in the story is based on how well he can disguise himself). Even his stage performer’s gait and posing helps, giving Judex a very specific and impressive bearing. And Judex isn’t the only dynamic character in play; the daughter of his target is a very strong-willed and principled woman whose greatest strength is her basic decency, and the thieves trying to turn the situation to their advantage are also equally engaging in their survivor’s tendencies.

judexI honestly don’t have too much more to say about Judex right now (though I’m sure I’ll find more to like the more I watch it), but I do think it’s the sort of movie more people need to see. Especially with superheroes reaching new heights of mainstream success right now (and being raked over the coals by uptight snobs for being too omnipresent), it’s good to be reminded of the different ways this genre can be approached and what the tropes can be used for. And it’s just a damn good movie. So please go see it!

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