Georges Franju's "Judex" (the avenger or judge) is a remake of a 1916, 12 part crime serial by Louis Feuillade. He retains much of the feel of the old serial melodramas including clear scene breaks but he adds many innovations that make this a fascinating and rather strange film.
Franju is clearly interested in the visual impression he makes. The plot and acting are rather secondary. We never know, for example, what Judex is avenging (the original made this clear). He filmed "Judex" using orthochromatic cinematography, which produces a harsh tonal contrast that is key to the stunning visual impact of this movie. It is filmed in black and white but is also literally black and white, using strong contrasts of black clothes and capes with white dresses; dark furniture and white stone and so on. The final fight to the death between two women has one dressed in black and one in white. Undoubtedly, for me, the best scene in the movie is a long shot that slowly reveals Judex in evening wear and sporting a large bird's head mask and holding an apparently dead dove which he carries slowly through a masked party. It is both surreal and frightening, supported by music by Maurice Jarre. This scene alone makes the movie worth having and it must rate as one of the best shots in movie history. Criterion's Blu-ray release showcases the magnificent photography.
The story is relatively straightforward. A wicked banker (a convincing Michel Vitold), who is shown willing to kill, is apparently murdered by an unidentified avenger, Judex (played in a rather limited way by magician, Channing Pollock). In fact, due to the virtues of his daughter (the almost Pre-Raphaelite Edith Scob ), Judex has decided to imprison him for life. However, the plot is complicated by a wicked ex-governess, marvelously played by Francine Berge, who proceeds to kidnap and attempt to kill various characters. In the end, of course, right wins out and the hero gets the girl. Berge is really evil and there is good comic relief from a private detective and a young boy(Jacques Jouanneau and Benjamin Boda respectively).
Franju makes a movie that is a homage to a melodrama of the past, an early version of camped-up superheroes, a morality play and a surreal dream. Hard to accurately describe, "Judex" is the work of a master film maker.