Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Crime films

Love’s Forgiveness (1917)

The final episode of “Judex” lives up to its title by being more about love and forgiveness than about crime and revenge. It serves almost as more of an epilogue than a discreet chapter of the serial.

The movie begins at the seaside villa which has served as Judex’s headquarters for the final parts of the story. Judex (René Cresté) and his brother (Édouard Mathé) lead Favraux (Louis Leubas) into a room and put him in a chair, where he contemplates his fate alone, and breaks down crying. Shortly, Judex leads Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) into the room to see her father. When he leaves the room, she reaches out at first towards him as if she cannot bear his departure, but then turns her attention to her father, embracing him. Judex rejoins his brother and mother, Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario), looking downcast. His mother assures him that Jacqueline now knows the truth, and that she loves him. The Countess now brings Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano) to Jacqueline and Favraux, and the child seems to break the grandfather from his stupor, as he again accepts his role in the loving family. His expression resumes its blank look when Judex walks into the room and asks for Favraux to pronounce judgment upon him. Favraux asks to see the Countess first. Judex leads Favraux to his mother, and Favraux breaks down and begs her forgiveness. The Countess informs him that he is forgiven, because of the harm that revenge will bring to the innocent Jacqueline and Jean.

Meanwhile, the Licorice Kid (René Poyen) has found Robert in the yard and asks to see Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque). Robert takes him to the marina, where Cocantin and Daisy Torp (Juliette Clarens, if my deductions are correct) are returning from their adventures. Cocantin, still wearing Daisy’s hat, introduces her as his fiancée. The Licorice Kid appears to approve of his choice. The next day, Kerjean (Gaston Michel) is walking on the seaside when he finds the body of a woman – it is Diana Monti (Musidora), who evidently drowned in her attempt to escape justice the previous night. Michel, who has been deprived of his son by this woman’s machinations, appears to be bitterly satisfied at the discovery.

The official “Epilogue” is now announced with an Intertitle, and we see Judex’s now united family, represented by Robert, the Countess, and Le Petit Jean walking in the woods. They find Kerjean sitting sadly at the seaside and Jean runs up to him and kisses him, which brings him out of his reverie. Although he has lost his son, it seems he has a place with the family and can still partake of their love. Favraux, we learn, chooses to live in ongoing isolation without reclaiming his fortune. We see him pruning a tree in his old garden. He interrupts his work when a poor girl comes begging at the gate, and he gives her some money – proving his repentance is sincere, since the series began with him turning away a similar beggar in the Prologue. Next we see Cocantin and Daisy Torp in wedded bliss, with the Licorice Kid as their officially adopted ward. Cocantin proves his love by demonstrating that he is learning to swim on a tabletop. Finally, Judex and Jacqueline are shown in a happy embrace, having overcome everything to be together in one another’s arms.

And so ends “Judex,” the third of the crime serials directed by Louis Feuillade, perhaps France’s most important director of the late Nickelodeon period. I’ve seen all three now, and, due to the nature of this project, I wound up seeing them in the sequential order of their release: first “Fantômas,” then “Les Vampires,” and finally “Judex.” During that time I’ve discovered that each one has its fans and devotees, and that there isn’t agreement on which is the “best” of the three serials. I usually try to avoid reducing my reviews to simple analyses of whether I like a film or not, but I have to admit that for me the progression has been pretty much downward. “Fantômas” remains my favorite, then “Les Vampires,” and “Judex” is at the bottom of the list. This despite the fact that the filmmaking techniques, and especially the editing, decidedly improved over time. I have a theory that which one will be your favorite depends on which one you see first. They’re each so different that if you go into the second and third ones expecting more of what you got in the first, you’re bound to be disappointed.

That’s a compliment to Feuillade, really, a reflection of the breadth of his skill and imagination. He did not simply make three serials that were all the same, he made three very distinct cinematic experiences, linking them only in terms of cast and themes. And, just because “Judex” seems to me the least of the three Feuillade serials, doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed watching it. It’s easily one of the best serials of the period, even if it isn’t “Fantômas.” (I have yet to meet a silent fan who regards “The Perils of Pauline” with the devotion so many give to these movies. “Judex” was made in part as a response to criticism that Feuillade’s earlier crime films had glamorized criminals and de-emphasized the heroes. I think that’s part of why it seems less modern and interesting to me. I think Feuillade tries so hard to emphasize redemption and love that he forgets to include enough action, and his fascinating villainess winds up being cast off, literally killed off as an afterthought at the end of the series. But, in doing this he also more or less invented the concept of the superhero, an iconic figure that the world would spend the next century exploring and re-examining. That’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvette Andréyor, Musidora, Édouard Mathé, Gaston Michel, Yvonne Dario, René Poyen, Marcel Lévesque, Louis Leubas, Olinda Mano, Juliette Clarens

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (episode incomplete. I have not found the complete episode for free online. If you do, let me know in the comments).

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.

An oblivious Judex.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Jacqueline’s Heart (1917)

This episode of “Judex” serves as something of an interlude in the action of capture-and-release, but it does further the plot with an important discovery and confession. If you’re worried about “spoilers,” you’ll want to watch it before reading!

The entire episode takes place within the confines of the Mediterranean estate where the Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario) has brought Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) to recuperate after her most recent ordeals. Jacqueline is pouring her heart out to the Countess at the beginning of the episode, in distress because of her father’s fate. The audience, of course, knows that the Countess is the instigator of this tragedy, in her blind desire for revenge (see “The Woman in Black”). Her son Jacques de Tremeuse (René Cresté) listens in from a convenient balcony while Jacqueline wishes aloud that Vallieres were present to advise her. He immediately goes to his room and puts on his “Vallieres” disguise. Amost as soon as he arrives, Jacqueline gets a note from her father, tellng her he is alive and asking her to meet him at night in a secluded area with Le Petit Jean (Olinda Mano) After consoling her for a while, Vallieres/Jacques retires to his room and changes into his “Judex” outfit, presumably to meet the villains who have “liberated” her father.

At least we get to see him in the cape!

It is now night, and Jacqueline peers out of her window to see a caped figure creeping through the garden. Immediately, she runs to Vallieres’s room to awaken him, but instead she finds the wig and beard that Jacques wears when he’s dressed as Vallieres! The Countess comes in and sees her turmoil. She takes the confused Jacqueline out to a veranda and says that it is time to tell her the whole truth. We see their conversation acted out without Intertitles, although the audience knows what she has to say: Jaqueline now must realize that Jacques and Vallieres are one and the same, and that both are actually Judex.

The running times of episodes in Feuillade’s serials often vary greatly, but this one stands out as unusually short. Most of the “Judex” episodes have run about two reels long, but this clocks in at less than ten minutes, presumably not even a full reel of film. It’s possible that there’s some missing footage, but I haven’t read anything to confirm that and the episode as it stands clearly moves the plot forward (more than some of the longer episodes have in fact), so I’m inclined to think that it was meant to be this way. It’s also possible that title cards have been dropped from the discussion at the climax of the movie, but as it is, it leaves the audience to fill in the details of the Countess’s revelations and Jacqueline’s reactions from our memories and imaginations. The two actresses do a remarkable job of carrying off this emotional scene.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvonne Dario, Yvette Andréyor, Olinda Mano, René Poyen

Run Time: 8 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

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.

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The Usurer’s Grip (1912)

This educational film from Edison was made in collaboration with a Progressive-Era nonprofit that was fighting for equitable credit for working people. It has a clear message about the “right way to get a loan,” but is rather basic in terms of film technique.

The movie begins by introducing our protagonists: The “Jenks,” a middle class family with a sick daughter (Edna May Weick) on a set that appears to be a crowded urban apartment. The Intertitles inform us that they are having financial concerns due to the unexpected expense of her malady, and there is concern that they will lose their rented furniture. Then, Mr. Jenks (Water Edwin) spots an ad in the paper for a loan company that promises low rates and easy payments. The next scene shows the office of the loan company. Here, a poor woman on one side of a counter pleads for assistance, but is turned away by the female clerk on the other side. Then, our couple enters. The wife (Gertrude McCoy) takes a seat while the man goes up to the same counter the poor woman was turned away from. He is chastised when he steps a bit too far into the workspace of the clerk. She takes his information, however, and in the next scene we see the loan agent (played by Charles Ogle, who was the Frankenstein monster in the 1910 “Frankenstein”) visiting their home to make certain they have adequate collateral. He offers them a $25 loan, to be paid back in six “easy” payments of $7.50 per month – totalling $45! Mr. Jenks at first refuses, but the loan shark won’t negotiate and he needs the money, so he reluctantly signs the papers. The loan shark gives him the money, then takes a bill off the top to cover “drawing up the paperwork.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Underground Passages of the Chateau Rouge (1917)

This week’s episode of “Judex” continues the theme of mercy versus vengeance from the previous story and also provides another cycle of capture-and-rescue, so common to serials throughout their history. As a movie, it is roughly divided between the two plotlines.

As the movie begins, the Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario) demands that her son Judex (René Cresté) show her the prison cell where the banker Favraux (Louis Leubas) is being held. He brings her to the Chateau Rouge and conducts her into the secret hideout beneath the Chateau, where they meet Judex’s brother Roger (Édouard Mathé) and their new collaborator Kerjean (Gaston Michel), who was also wronged by Favraux. Not content with viewing Favraux through the camera-mirror, the Countess asks to visit his cell. When they go in, Favraux grins blandly and plays with a chain on his wall. They realize that he has gone mad, and Judex asks if he has not suffered enough, but the Countess is conscious of her oath to her dead husband and does not reply. Evidently she needs more time to think about the situation.

The mad Favraux

Meanwhile, Judex receives a note from Kerjean’s son (Jean Devalde), who, under the name of Morales had been acting as a villain. Now, he informs Judex that he plans to enlist in the foreign service in order to atone for his error. Judex looks concerned at this news. We soon see that he was right to be worried when Morales shows up at the home of Diana Monti (Musidora) to say goodbye on his way to the enlistment station. Of course, she seduces him with promises of the two of them living together in wealth, and so he divulges the secret location of Favraux. Soon, Monti and her ally the Marquis de la Rochefontaine (Georges Flateau) have gathered a group of thugs to make a raid on the castle.

Sex Appeal.

This raid seems to go well when the thugs are able to chloroform the figure sleeping in the cell bed and take him off in a car without anyone detecting them. Morales hangs around to “establish an alibi” and discovers that Favraux is actually sleeping in his father’s bed! Robert informs him that when they discovered Favraux’s condition, they gave him the nicer bed and it was actually Kerjean that was kidnapped. When Monti discovers that they’ve brought her the wrong man, she tells her goons to go dump him in the river (this is her solution to everything).

Now, Judex and Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque) both go out to investigate Monti’s hideout and they see the gangsters trying to escape with their victim and pursue in a car. The car is overtaken and a shootout occurs in which the Marquis is killed. Kerjean is liberated, however, and despite the tragedy it appears that the good guys have the upper hand once again.

Look! An underground passage!

This episode lacks some elements I look forward to in the series, notably the Licorice Kid and Le Petit Jean. I can’t complain that this episode lacked in action or suspense, but once again I’m left with the feeling that the criminals are annoyingly ineffectual. They almost never seem to pull anything clever, in contrast to “Fantômas” or the various leaders of “Les Vampires.” At least Musidora had a chance to use her feminine wiles. I still don’t understand why she expects to get rich by helping Favraux, and Morales’ idea of establishing his alibi by announcing his presence literally at the scene of the crime (when everyone thought he was at the Front) makes no sense at all. But, it a Feuillade serial made sense, it wouldn’t be half as much fun.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvonne Dario, Édouard Mathé, Louis Leubas, Jean Devalde, Musidora, Gaston Michel, Georges Flateau, Marcel Lévesque

Run Time: 24 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Voice of the Violin (1909)

This early effort by D.W. Griffith is far from his most sophisticated work, but it does show real talent at an early point in his career. It focuses on immigrants and their differing responses to American culture, with a definite message concerning those responses.

The movie begins with a long scene that establishes most of the conflict – after spoiling this with a forward-facing Intertitle that reads “scorned by the heiress, the music master listens to the reasoning of the anarchists.” Arthur V. Johnson plays a character called “Von Schmitt,’ who is the music master. We see him in his modest home, and he is visited by a mustached fellow who shows him a pamphlet and makes some gestures describing the divide between rich and poor, and advocating equality for all. Von Schmitt is unimpressed, and shows him out before his pupil, a wealthy young lady (Marion Leonard), arrives with her maid (Anita Hendrie) in tow.  This is Helen Walker, the “heiress” of the Intertitle. The two of them stand very close and speak animatedly while staring into one another’s eyes, demonstrating their apparent affection, and the maid interrupts by giving the heiress her violin and bow. When she plays, it is obvious that she has little promise as a violinist, but Von Schmitt continues to try to woo her. Eventually, he goes too far, and she is offended. Her father (Frank Powell), a wealthy man in a fur coat, then comes in and quarrels with Von Schmitt, taking his daughter away from the upstart. Now his friend returns with a more polished radical (David Miles), and they repeat the gestures and the slogan “No High. No Low. All Equal” is revealed in an Intertitle. This time Von Schmitt is more responsive, angry as he is at the rich for excluding him, and he sees this as a way to eliminate the barrier between himself and Helen.

The next scene shows a radical meeting, and signs are posted in the background to again communicate the slogan and aims of the organization. Many of the actors in this scene are made up to look like immigrants, and there is also a somewhat masculine woman (possibly a reference to Emma Goldman?) who leads some of the discussion. A poverty-stricken child is put on a table to demonstrate how wealth inequality hurts the innocent. When Von Schmitt and his friend enter, they are welcomed as comrades. The entire group repeats the high/low/equal gestures, and Von Schmitt echoes it. Then there is a drawing of lots to see who will plant a bomb against a “monopolist.” Of course, Von Schmitt and his friend are the lucky winners. After having their wrists cut to seal their oath, they are presented with a classic round black spherical bomb with a long fuse.

The next scene is on a New York street, in front of a brownstone festooned with American flags. We see Helen and her father drive up in a fancy car and enter the house, letting the audience know who “the monopolist” in question will be before the anarchists arrive. Von Schmitt and his friend walk up shortly afterwards and look around suspiciously. They go down to the lower level entrance and force open a basement window. The friend goes in while Von Schmitt stands watch outside. The scene cuts to the interior of the basement, and the friend sets up the bomb and lights the fuse, having some difficulty getting it started. As he hesitates, he points to the wound on his wrist, reminding himself of his pledge, and this gives him the fortitude to carry on.

We then cut back outside to see Von Schmitt, who hears music from inside the house. He peers in the window and we see Helen playing, inside her well-appointed home. He realizes at last whose home he has been sent out to destroy, and rushes down to the basement, desperate to convince his friend to douse the fuse, or to do it himself. The friend again makes the ritual gestures and also points to the wounds on their wrists, but Von Schmitt is determined to stop the bomb blast. So, the two fight and Von Schmitt is tied up and left in the basement. He wakes up as the time runs down and worms his way across the floor to the fuse, biting it with his teeth to prevent the explosion. In doing so, he makes enough noise that a liveried servant comes down to investigate, and he reports to Mr. Walker what he has found. Soon, the whole household is in the basement, and Von Schmitt is freed and thanked for saving everyone’s lives. Mr. Walker picks up the bomb carefully and takes it upstairs with him.

The final scene shows Von Schmitt and Helen at another lesson, this time in the Walkers’ home. The maid again intervenes when they get too close, but ultimately Mr. Walker comes in and encourages their embrace.

Now, I’ve been pretty critical on this blog about D.W. Griffith’s most famous features, but I’m generally a fan of the shorts he made at Biograph. To the degree that he did innovate and invent the “grammar” of motion pictures (I tend to consider this claim to be an inflation of his importance), I think it can best be appreciated in this early work. Here, although the tension is ruined by the Intertitles and there are other problems, we do see him experimenting with cross-cutting in the bomb-lighting sequence between the basement, the stoop, and Helen’s apartment. The biggest problem with that scene is the resolution – there is no insert shot showing Von Schmitt biting the fuse, so it’s hard to see what’s happening at that point. The first time I watched, I thought it was Walker who defused the bomb at the point when he picked it up. Still, comparing this to the completely sequential rescue scene in “The Black Hand,” it is undeniably the more sophisticated approach.

Anarchism and other forms of radicalism were associated at this time both with immigration and with terrorism, so one can see this movie as promoting a nationalist or even jingoist position. However, Biograph was aware that much of the audience for their movies came from urban immigrant areas, so this message is tempered by the “good” immigrant, who comes to be accepted by the wealthy Mr. Walker, once he has demonstrated his merit. Von Schmitt is only tempted by the radical message when class prejudice keeps him from Helen, but he isn’t basically evil or un-American. The portrayal of the radical meeting is interesting, showing both rabble-like agitation and also conspiratorial discipline. During the oath-taking, there are members dressed in dark robes reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, which Griffith would later make into the heroes of “The Birth of a Nation,” but here the robed figures are undeniably sinister, but perhaps also a bit comic in their inappropriateness to the situation. Griffith may have intended this to show the corruption of symbolism through its appropriation by the enemies of justice, although to us today it seems like an unlikely depiction of urban radicalism.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer and Arthur Marvin

Starring: Arthur V. Johnson, Marion Leonard, David Miles, Anita Hendrie, Frank Powell, Mack Sennett, John R. Cumpson, Dorothy West

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

 

How They Rob Men in Chicago (1900)

AKA: “How They Welcome Strangers in Chicago”

This short comedy from the Biograph studio pokes fun at urban crime. In its short running time, it manage to make a sly New York observation about the corruption of another city as well.

A man dressed as a “swell” walks onto a set representing a city street, with stores in the background. He stops and turns as a woman walks by smiling at him, and this allows a nearby thug to approach him from behind and “sap” him with a blackjack. He goes down, and the mugger grabs what he can before running off. A policeman walks on set from the other direction, and noticing the unconscious man, he leans down. Rather than helping him, he removes another item from the victim and pockets it before leaving.

New York and Chicago, as two of the largest cities in the US, have long had a friendly rivalry over their relative conditions and safety. At the time this movie was made, Chicago’s police force were untrained patrolmen who had to pay a share of their wages to political bosses, and many of them supplemented their earnings through graft and bribes. The Biograph company, located in New York, also a locus of criminal and police collusion, took advantage of the known situation in their rival city to produce this film. I admit, the policeman’s actions got a laugh out of me over a hundred and fifteen years after its production.

Director: Wallace McCutcheon

Camera: Arthur Marvin

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

 

The Woman in Black (1917)

An origin story at last! “Judex” is a bit past halfway, and with this episode, the serial tells us the reason that he is…Judex.

The movie begins by showing us a woman we have not seen before, living on an estate, who receives a telegram from her son “Jacques” telling her that he is coming. This is the Countess de Tremeuse (Yvonne Dario), and the telegram opens a floodgate of memories, which we see in flashbacks. “At a time when her hair was blonde instead of gray,” the subtitles tell us (actually it looks brunette to me, but whatever), she was happily married and raising two sons of the nobility. But, her husband had dealings with the corrupt banker Favraux (Louis Leubas, here made up to look much younger than in earlier episodes). He became romantically interested in the young Countess, and tried to leverage his financial power to gain her favors. When the Countess objected, he pulled out all of his support and the family was ruined. This results in her husband’s suicide. Moments after the Count’s impetuous act, news comes that an African gold mine has paid off and so the family will not face poverty after all. When the Count is laid to rest, Madame de Tremeuse makes her sons swear that they will avenge their father when they are old enough. They do so with right-handed Roman salutes, in the style that would soon be adopted by fascists and later by Nazis.

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The Black Hand (1906)

This short from Biograph disproves the commonly-made claim that “Musketeers of Pig Alley” was the first gangster movie. Unlike that movie, however, it shows little noble or romantic in the behavior of immigrant criminals, instead emphasizing the decency of the police and of the victims.

The movie consists of just a few shots, mostly with the action staged at quite a distance from the camera. The first shot is somewhat closer, however, and gives us a view of the villains of the story as they write out a note demanding extortion money from “Mr. Angelo,” threatening him with property destruction and the abduction of his daughter if he fails to comply. The gangsters are clearly marked as Sicilian in their attire and appearance, and their poor education is emphasized in the badly spelled ransom note. Read the rest of this entry »