Louis Feuillade’s 1916 silent classic, Judex, is a 12-episode serial spanning approximately five hours. Adding in the prologue and epilogue, and that is almost seven hours of fun. I don’t know if the titular character was the first superhero in film, but he must have been an inspiration for Batman and other masked vigilantes.
Our story finds us in the turn of the century France. Thanks partly to the greedy banker Favraux (Louis Leubas), the economy is in bad shape. Many of his countrymen and customers lost everything when they gave their fortunes to the corrupt man. When confronted by one of his victims, Kerjean (Gaton Michel), Favraux rebuffs him and later attempts to run Kerjean over with his car.
“…the mysterious Judex…demands Favraux gives half his fortune away…”
Meanwhile, there is a grand celebration for Favraux because his recently widowed daughter Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) is about to remarry. Before the festivities begin, Favraux receives a note from the mysterious Judex (René Cresté) stating he knows he killed Kerjean and demands Favraux gives half his fortune away to charity or he will receive a similar fate. Of course, Favraux ignores the threat, and during the engagement party, Favraux is poisoned and dies.
After discovering her father’s deceit, Jacqueline sells off her father’s possessions and gives away his fortune in atonement for his sins. She then sends her 5-year-old son, Jean (Olinda Mano), to live with a foster family while she earns a legitimate living in hopes of getting her son back.
Who is this Judex anyways? Like many of our favorite American vigilantes such as The Shadow and Batman, Judex is the son of a former aristocrat who committed suicide after Favraux ruined him. As a child, justice was instilled in Judex as a young boy; though in his particular case, it is more revenge. With no help from the authorities, Judex’s plan to right wrongs is aided by his brother, Roger (Edouard Mathe), and a rehabilitated Kerjean. Speaking of not dead, Judex stole the body of the not-dead Favraux and imprisoned him for all eternity in his lair.
"…like Superman, only needs a hat and a cape to hide his identity."