A wanted gangster is both king and prisoner of the Casbah. He is protected from arrest by his friends, but is torn by his desire for freedom outside. A visiting Parisian beauty may just temp... Read allA wanted gangster is both king and prisoner of the Casbah. He is protected from arrest by his friends, but is torn by his desire for freedom outside. A visiting Parisian beauty may just tempt his fate.A wanted gangster is both king and prisoner of the Casbah. He is protected from arrest by his friends, but is torn by his desire for freedom outside. A visiting Parisian beauty may just tempt his fate.
I say Duvivier.His career spans half a century,from the silent era to the sixties,full of detours and retreats.But when he broke through -and his epiphanies were many and various, (there are masterpieces all along his career;never until the very end he produced anything mediocre)he made brilliant films.
But those precious years just before WW2 were justly looked upon as the best French cinema that had ever been.And Duvivier was among the creme de la creme ,producing during this golden era a chef-d'oeuvre a year (la belle equipe:1936;la fin du jour:1939).But 1937 was Duvivier's year:he made not one but two classics :"un carnet de bal" and "Pepe le Moko" both rated four stars by Leonard Maltin.
"Pepe le Moko" 's screenplay is so simple it's a wonder Duvivier could make such a masterwork from such a script.More than the story itself,it's the atmosphere which matters ,and a bevy of colorful characters surrounding the hero,played by the director's favorite actor Jean Gabin :one often forgets that it's Duvivier who launched Gabin,the most famous French star of the era (and maybe of all time)in such works as "la bandera" (1935)and "la belle equipe" (1936).
"Pepe " takes place in Algiers ,in some kind of ghetto" la casbah" .the hero is a gangster who reigns in this underground world ,but we soon discover he is actually a prisoner:a cop,like a spider on its web, is waiting for him to leave his refuge to arrest him.Duvivier's camera work is dazzling ,using panoramic shots which depicts la casbah as a maze ;when Pepe finally leaves the place ,the background behind him becomes blurred ,then merges with the sea,the gate of freedom.More than a gangster story ,it's a tale of nostalgia.Pepe falls in love with a woman (Mireille Balin) "from the outside world" while talking with her about different places in Paris,ending with la place blanche where they both belong.There 's the harrowing sequence where a has-been chanteuse (Frehel) plays one of her records on a gramophone ,thinks of her glorious past,and sings the chorus with her youth's voice as her tears fall down.
There are also exciting film noir sequences:the informer (Charpin) ,more and more terrified ,as the room fills with men ready to kill him;his death against a player piano ;Pepe behind the gates in the harbor.All the final scenes had probably a strong influence on Carol Reed's "odd man out" (1947)
Remade as "Algiers" by John Cromwell(1938) ,Charles Boyer taking on Gabin's part.
- May 5, 2004