The Secret of the Tomb (1917)
In this episode of “Judex” we get to see the ongoing scheming of Judex’s enemies, and our friend Bout-de-Zan makes another appearance, but the story doesn’t move as rapidly as in the previous episode, and we see far less of the title character.
The movie begins with Diana Monti (Musidora) and her fellow criminals driving in the country. They stop on a remote road and break into a cemetery. They quickly ascertain that the coffin which supposedly holds the banker Favraux is, in fact, empty. Now Monti and Morales (Jean Devalde) go to visit the private detective Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque), to see what he knew about his employer’s demise. He greets them warmly, but they are having none of it. They believe they have solved the mystery: Cocantin himself is Judex! Cocantin tells them about the threatening letters Favraux had received from Judex, and this convinces them that he knows nothing more than he seems to. They also realize that if Favraux is found alive, his fortune (donated to charity by his daughter) will be restored to him, making it possible once again for them to steal it. They now hire him to find the living Favraux, offering him 100,000 francs if he succeeds.
Realizing that she will need to get rid of Favraux’s daughter if her plan is to succeed, Monti blackmails Morales with the threat of exposing his involvement to this point, and makes a plan to kill Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor). Jaqueline receives a telegram, which tells her that her son, who is living on a farm in the country with former servants, has fallen ill. She immediately runs out to see him, and is assaulted walking over a bridge. Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano) meanwhile is fishing with Bout-de-Zan (René Poyen) near a railroad bridge. The attackers knock Jacqueline out and throw her into the water, and the kids snap into action, rowing a boat out to save the unfortunate victim, then dragging her, unconscious and veiled, back to shore. Bout-de-Zan figures out who it is and prevents Jean from seeing, telling him to go get help, which he obediently does, bringing assistance in the form of the farm couple who are his foster parents. Bout-de-Zan brings them into the conspiracy of silence, and they manage to get Jacqueline back to the house without Jean learning who she is. Once there, however, the secret is quickly out and Jean sits next to his convalescent mother in suspense, while the doctor tells them that the situation is serious. He is finally led away to give her a chance to rest and Bout-de-Zan takes up a vigil over her.
Now we finally return to the secret headquarters of Judex, where Pierre Kerjean (Gaston Michel), a former victim of Favraux, is now his jailer. Judex (René Cresté) is concerned to know whether Kerjean is happy in his new life, and Kerjean tells him that he wishes only to see the old mill where his son was born, and his wife died. This, Judex gladly grants, and Kerjean goes on his way. Judex and his brother now learn of the attack on Jacueline in the paper, recognizing the assumed name that she lives under when it is reported. Judex snaps on his cape and goes out to investigate. Meanwhile, the doctor recommends Jacqueline’s transfer to a clinic, since her condition is not improving. When the farmer woman goes out to make arrangements, she is accosted by a curious stranger who inquires about her patient. He apparently reports to Monti, because in the next scene we see her making a phone call to determine when the ambulance will arrive. And the episode ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.
This episode hinges upon the audience’s concern over Jaqueline and Jean’s plight, but doesn’t do much to the plot. I was hoping that Monti and Morales would persist in their belief that Cocantin was Judex, and that he would wind up having to seek Judex’s protection. It seems like the two of them would be a good team. But, unfortunately, he’s been hired by the other side and then dropped for now. Musidora wasn’t directly involved in any of the villainy of this episode: She stays in the car while the grave-robbers invade the cemetery, and she isn’t on hand during the attack on Jacqueline either. There’s also a surprising amount of affectionate kissing between Le Petite Jean and Bout-de-Zan, which I suppose is more normal among French children, but it has an odd feeling to it, especially since Jean has long hair and looks like a little girl.
The logic problem that haunts this series is the motivation of the villains. Surely they could find some other rich person to rob, aside from one that’s presumed dead and whose fortune has already been given away and could be locked up for years in legal limbo while he re-establishes his right to it, assuming that he’s ever found in the first place. Morales shows repeatedly that he really doesn’t have the stomach for going after Jacqueline, and has to be bullied by Musidora, but she doesn’t have anything on him that he doesn’t have on her as well, so her threats seem unconvincing. In the end, the movie still works, but you just have to suspend disbelief and accept that the bad guys do bad things because they’re bad, not with any clear objective in mind. As a final note, this is possibly the least visually interesting work I’ve seen from Louis Feuillade. I had to struggle to come up with any stills to use – most of it is just people in one-room sets talking to one another.
Director: Louis Feuillade
Camera: André Glatti and Léon Klausse
Starring: René Cresté, Musidora, Yvette Andréyor, Jean Devalde, Louis Leubas, Marcel Levésque, Olinda Mano, Édouard Mathé, Gaston Michel, René Poyen
Run Time: 25 Min
You can watch it for free: here.