13 November 2006 | blanche-2
Rock the Casbah
A gang of thieves hide out above Algiers in the Arab section of the city, the Casbah, in "Pepe le Moko," a 1937 film - an homage to the U.S. gangster movie - that is often credited as the inspiration for the film noir craze that swept U.S. cinema. In order to draw attention to the American version, "Algiers," producer Walter Wanger tried to destroy all copies, subsequently buying the rights to keep it off the screen. But you can't keep a good movie down.
Pepe le Moko (Jean Gabin) is wanted by the police, so if he leaves the crowded and maze-like Casbah to go into town, they will nail him. There is an inspector who keeps an eye on Pepe, Inspector Slimane. Pepe and the inspector have become friends, but Pepe knows Slimane is just waiting for him to make his move. When Pepe meets the exotic and bejeweled Gaby, a situation presents itself where he might risk his freedom.
Pepe is the great French actor Jean Gabin, a marvelous-looking, rugged actor with tremendous magnetism. It's no wonder Marlene Dietrich chased him all over the world. Gabin's Pepe is the forerunner of the Bogart persona - he's a confident, handsome man, dismissive of women and has the ability to be both funny and cruel. He lives with his devoted girlfriend, Ines, and is surrounded by his motley mob who are familiar with the seedier side of life.
There are some brilliant moments and great performances in this film, which is rich in atmosphere and interesting faces. The French star Mireille Balin, whose real-life story is more bizarre than any fiction, is Gaby, a kept woman who enchants le Moko as they talk about their great love for Paris, most especially, Place Blanche. Line Noro is Ines, doomed to love and lose Pepe, and Frehel is Tania, a friend. In one of the best scenes in the film, Tania reminisces about her youth and sings along with her own recording. A wonderful artist. The entire cast is marvelous. The director, Julien Duvivier, orchestrates the proceedings with tremendous style and tension, capturing the heat, the light and the sounds of the Casbah.
Often imitated - by "The Third Man," "Odd Man Out," "Casablanca," "The Time Of Your Life," "To Have And Have Not," "The Wages of Fear," -- and let's not forget Pepe le Pew - "Pepe le Moko" and Jean Gabin's Pepe stand on their own as hallmarks in film history.