Millionaire banker Favraux (Michel Vitold) has scaled the heights of success on the backs of those less fortunate than himself, but will he be forced to pay for his cruelty and avarice? This may turn out to be the case when he receives a letter from someone signing themselves Judex, the Latin for "justice", who tells him that come six o'clock tomorrow evening, if he has not provided compensation for all those whose lives he has ruined, he will die. He still feels safe, but Favraux has called on the services of a private detective, Concatin (Jacques Joanneau) for other work; it wouldn't hurt for him to track down the letter writer's identity, would it?
Director Georges Franju didn't really want to remake the silent classic Louis Feuillade film Judex when he was offered the job, no, the character he was more interested in was Feuillade's Fantomas, a shadowy and ambiguous figure who struck fear into the hearts of his victims. This could well be the reason that when he appears, the title character is oddly neglected after his terrific entrance where he crashes the masked ball Favraux is holding at his mansion, wearing a bird's head costume and performing magic tricks with doves appearing from nowhere.
This is because the actor playing the hero was Channing Pollock, a well known magician in his day here getting to perform some of his stage act and offering us optimism that the rest of the film will be as stylish. And yet, it never quite finds its feet after a strong, intriguing opening, probably because that hero fails to live up to his introduction, looking as if Franju simply wasn't that captivated by him. Who he was captivated by is the villainess, Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), a slinky and amoral brunette who, posing as Favraux's maid, has worked out a scheme involving his innocent daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob) and young granddaughter.
But before we reach those bits, Judex must exact his revenge on his target, and he manages to poison him so that he drops down dead at the ball. After he is buried, Judex digs him up again and takes the body to a secret hideaway - because he is not dead at all! No, Judex had given him a coma-inducing drug, and now, deciding not to kill him, plans to imprison him for the rest of his life, sparing him because of the affection the avenger has for Jacqueline. Which is all very well, but everything Judex does after that is distinctly underwhelming.
So it's Diana who makes the most of her screen time, disguising herself as a nun to kidnap Jacqueline, who she then plans to murder after she realises the woman recognises her and therefore can lead the police to her. There's a delicate nostalgia here for the times when adventures like this were par for the course, but a more robust approach might have been to the project's benefit, and on occasion it seems as if a strong gust of wind could send this all flying. Still, there are images that linger in the mind, such as Sylva Koscina as a circus acrobat who scales the wall of the bad guys' hideout to save the day, or that great bad girl Diana stripping out of her habit and slipping into the river to escape. If only the rest of Judex had been as effective. Music by Maurice Jarre.
French director with a poetic visual style and an important figure in film archival. In 1937 co-founded the Cinematheque Française, which became France's most renowned archive and where he worked full time until 1949. Franju's first film was the controversial abatoir documentary Blood of the Beasts, and other documentary shorts followed, such as Hôtel des Invalides and Mon Chien.
Franju's feature debut was the intense asylum drama Head Against the Wall in 1959, while Eyes Without a Face has become something of a horror classic. Subsequent work is less well known, although the superhero yarn Judex and the Jean Cocteau adaptation Thomas the Imposter were equally distinctive pictures.