When the Child Appeared (1917)
This episode of the serial Judex does contain a kidnapping, trespassing, and a sexy swimsuit, but is mostly pretty staid family fare overall. As the plot develops, we become more concerned with family relations than with crime and revenge.
The movie begins at a Mediterranean estate, where Madame Tremuese (Yvonne Dario) has brought Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor), Robert (Édouard Mathé), Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano), and the Licorice Kid (René Poyen). Apparently, they are all relaxing and enjoying themselves, and also feel reasonably secure from the scheming of the villains, since the kids are allowed to play unsupervised, and the adults spend their time at the seashore. Next door, we learn, Judex (René Cresté) has brought Kerjean (Gaston Michel) and Favraux (Louis Leubas), who also needs some time in the sun to recover his sanity after his long imprisonment below ground. Judex reassumes the title Jacques de Tremeuse and arrives at his mother’s estate, announcing that he has only just returned from the colonies, but both Jaqueline and Le Petit Jean feel they have seen him before. It is decided to invite Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) down to see them as well, and this gives Diana Monti (Musidora) and Morales (Jean Devalde) a chance to tail him in hope of finding Favraux.
With all of the characters once again in one place, things can now start to happen. One day, Le Petit Jean and the Licorice Kid are playing with a ball, when it accidentally goes over a fence. They get the bright idea to use a wheelbarrow to help them scale the fence, and Le Petit Jean climbs over with a boost from the Kid. Favraux, who is hanging around unsupervised as well, has found the ball and is staring at it in his infirmity, when he sees Jean, who immediately cries out “Grandpa!” and embraces him. Favraux seems confused, but the child triggers a partial awakening of his memory. He runs back to tell the Kid and his mother. Meanwhile, Diana Monti and Morales have been scanning the town with binoculars, and they manage to spot Favraux. They descend and cold-cock Kerjean, tying him to a tree, and haul Favraux off to a boat docked nearby.
Le Petit Jean is able to convince Jacqueline to investigate, and she brings Jacques/Judex along. They find the gate to the fence has been forced, and find Kerjean tied to the tree, but they do not find Favraux. Judex is in a pickle, because he can’t tell Jacqueline who he is or who Kerjean was guarding. Meanwhile, Monti and Morales are spinning a yarn to Favraux in which they claim to have liberated him from his evil captors, who are still holding Jacqueline and Le Petit Jean. To round out the episode, we then see Cocantin on his daily walk along the beach in his overcoat. He finds an abandoned bathrobe and wonders who would be brave enough to go swimming on such a cold day (evidently it’s February). He spies the swimmer, frolicking in her skimpy bathing suit an runs up to give her her bathrobe when she comes ashore. He is surprised to see he recognizes her – it is a circus performer he is “quite smitten with” (called Miss Daisy Torp here, but I believe she is called “Gisele” on the imdb and other sources, and thus played by Juliette Clarens). She immediately embraces him and makes a date to meet him later. The episode ends on this odd note.
I’m going to admit that this series has become entirely too wholesome for my tastes. Compared to the gleeful anarchy of “Fantômas” or the diabolical machinations of “Les Vampires,” this movie is just about children and temporarily unrequited love affairs. Judex himself is a great character, but in order to achieve his goals he has to suppress his most interesting features. Even the revenge theme seems to be circling the drain, as the Tremeuse family prepares to unite with the Favrauxs. It’s always fun to watch Lévesque flirting, but the attempt to add a love interest for him feels awkward and forced.
The one thing you can say for it is that Feuillade’s film technique, and especially editing, have improved. Since this one was shot well before its release, it’s possible that there was time to put more work into the editing and bring the feel of it a bit more up-to-date, but the use of closer-angle shots on the characters was clearly planned out at the time, and viewers will find this a much more “modern” looking movie than “Fantômas” was. As is often the case, the locations add a great deal of flavor as well, as we see the resort town, the estates, the beaches and the shipyards of a century ago in very crisp images. I think as far as the acting goes, I was most impressed with Leubas, who manages to look dazed and uncertain, but with a growing awareness, over the course of the film. This has really been his first chance to do anything more than look glum or frightened since the first episode.
Director: Louis Feuillade
Starring: Yvette Andréyor, René Cresté, Jean Devalde, Musidora, Louis Leubas, Olinda Mano, René Poyen, Édouard Mathé, Gaston Michel, Juliette Clarens, Yvonne Dario, Marcel Lévesque
Run Time: 24 Min
You can watch it for free: here.