23 June 2017 | robert-temple-1
Identity swap brings complications
This is the second of the two films which Jean Gabin made while in exile during the War in America, having escaped from the German occupation of Paris. The first of his films was MOONTIDE (1942, see my review), a film of no merit in itself, but important and interesting because of its casting of Gabin opposite Ida Lupino. This film is much better, though because of the nature of the story, there is no female lead. The film, made in English, is known to the French as L'IMPOSTEUR (THE IMPOSTOR), and the French like to watch it with French subtitles because of the hero-worship there of Jean Gabin. The film was produced and directed by French director Julien Duvivier, who also wrote the original screenplay. Duvivier was also in America at that time to get away from the Nazis. It seems odd that when he returned home after the War his reputation was damaged because he had left. One would think that the collaborators who continued to work in French films while the Nazis were controlling all the film production were the people whose reputations should be ruined, not merely damaged. This shows the hypocrisy of some. Duvivier had worked with Gabin before and was responsible for making him an international star during the 1930s. Duvivier and Gabin worked together again in France after the War, in TWELVE HOURS TO LIVE (aka VOICI LE TEMPS DES ASSASSSINS, 1956). This film has an ingenious story. It concerns a condemned murderer (Gabin) who escapes prison and execution in France because the prison is bombed. Hitching a lift in a truck with French soldiers who are fleeing south, a German fighter plane strafes the truck and kills the soldiers. Gabin escapes, and as he has nothing but the clothes he is wearing, takes the papers of a dead sergeant and dons his uniform, and heads south with a new identity. But he is swept up in the Free French Army and gets onto a boat taking him and other real soldiers to French Equatorial Africa, which is still under Free French control and loyal to de Gaulle. He helps to construct a jungle airfield, and later he fights in Libya where he becomes a hero. He is eventually promoted to Lieutenant. But the question of his identity becomes a real problem when he is awarded a medal for bravery in an earlier action in France, an action carried out by the dead man. Then a woman comes searching for him, and his position becomes shakier and shakier. Will he be unmasked as an impostor? What will become of him? The film was made on a relatively low budget and lacks production values, but because of the good direction and acting, the film is worthwhile. It also gives some useful background on what the Free French were up to during the War, about which too little is known. We are used to patriotic war films in English beating the drums for America and for the British, but here is one beating the drums for the French instead, with a few lines thrown into the dialogue about what good fellows the Americans are, doubtless necessary for a film made in Hollywood. The film is therefore interesting for several reasons, and for those who follow Gabin and Duvivier, a necessity.