The Water Goddess (1917)
The penultimate episode of “Judex” has what appears to be the final cycle of capture-and-release for the serial, ending on the cusp of a final resolution. An empowered female hero arises, even as our traditional male superhero begins to soften and appear more human.
The episode begins with Judex (René Cresté) explaining his determination to negotiate for the life of Favraux (Louis Leubas) to his brother (Édouard Mathé). He shows him a big wad of francs he intends to pay as ransom, then goes off to wait at the seashore. Even though he has foolishly gone alone, he is observed by chance by Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) and his new fiancée, Daisy Torp (I believe she is played by Juliette Clarens). They are able to clearly see the rowboat “sneaking” up to shore behind Judex, but he obstinately stares in another direction, being surprised when Diana Monti (Musidora) reveals herself. He offers to negotiate for Favraux, but Monti makes him come back to the Eaglet with her, and Favraux asks him to write another note to his daughter, telling her that Judex’s life will only be spared if she comes herself. He refuses, giving away his identity and telling Favraux that when he comes back to his senses, he will realize that he does not belong with Monti and Morales (Jean Devalde). They respond by tying him to a post in the cabin.
Meanwhile, Cocantin and Torp have not sat idle. Daisy strips off her clothes to reveal a one-piece bathing suit and dives into the frigid waters, swimming out to the moored boat. Cocantin, who cannot swim, holds her discarded wardrobe and looks about desperately for a suitcase to put it in, eventually losing his hat and replacing it with hers. She gets there before the villains decide to cast off, and meanwhile Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) and the Countess (Yvonne Dario) observe the late-night sailing through binoculars. Torp is able to find Judex through a porthole, and sneaks into his cabin to free him. Meanwhile, Monti is alarmed that Favraux might be swayed by Judex’s words and orders Morales to throw Judex into the sea. He bribes some crewmen to assist, going in first alone to knock him out. Of course, the tables are turned when the “helpless” Judex attacks him. When the crewmen come in, however, they find a single unconscious figure tied to the post. They take him and toss him in the ocean.
Now, Judex reveals himself to Monti and Favraux, telling them that Monti is responsible for the murder of her partner. This shakes Favraux, and Monti realizes that the gig is up. She sneaks off and jumps into the water, intending an escape, but is soon in distress. Torp leaps in to try to save her. Judex takes over the helm and brings in the ship, meeting his brother and Cocantin at the shore. Cocantin, who has now taken to wearing some of the discarded clothing to keep warm, asks about his fiancée, but Judex simply shrugs his shoulders (awfully callous, considering she just saved his life!). Cocantin finds a fisherman in a boat and convinces him to search. They find Torp and bring her ashore – she wears Cocantin’s coat while he wears her hat. Judex brings Favraux back to the villa and introduces Kerjean (Gaston Michel). Kerjean inquires about his son Morales, and Judex sadly shakes his hand.
In past episodes, Judex has always been unstoppable and heroic (if sometimes a bit tragic), but here he seems vulnerable and flawed. It is almost as if giving away the secret of his identity has robbed him of his powers. Meanwhile Daisy Torp has become a new kind of female action hero. When I saw the title of this episode, I immediately thought of Esther Williams, and, in fact, I do get the impression that she was written in specifically because they had an actress who could swim well. She wears what I think is the skimpiest bathing suit I’ve seen in the nineteen-teens. A lot of this episode also seems to be dedicated to getting the most out of the fancy boat they rented. It must have been a big chunk of the budget. From a production standpoint, the episode is in line with what we expect. It is quite well-done, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Tinting is used to show us the transition from night to dawn over the course of the episode. The editing is effective, there are a few close-ups, and much of the episode is done in medium shot and relatively long takes.
It feels to me like the story is pretty well over, apart from the reconciliation of Favraux with his daughter. I was surprised with how Morales ended up. He had redeemed himself in “The Tragic Mill” only to be tempted back into crime in “The Underground Passages of the Chateau Rouge.” In the past, when asked to commit murder, he always balked. This time he did not hesitate, and he wound up dead himself. Or apparently dead, he could always make a surprise return in the final episode. I suspect that Monti will, at least, since it would be disappointing to just have her disappear at sea without a clear reprisal. Tune in next week and find out if I’m right!
Director: Louis Feuillade:
Starring: René Cresté, Yvette Andréyor, Musidora, Louis Leubas, Juliette Clarens, Marcel Lévesque, Jean Devalde, Gaston Michel, Yvonne Dario, Édouard Mathé
Run Time: 25 Min
You can watch it for free: here.