Pépé le Moko
Details: (PG), 94 mins, France,
Synopsis: Notorious gangster Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin) is a criminal mastermind. Having eluded the French authorities and disappeared into the Algerian Casbah, he has escaped capture for over two years thanks to the Casbah's labyrinthine alleys and the love and generosity of its inhabitants. Although the French police have sent in several spies to monitor Pépé's movements, he is untouchable. However, of late the once-welcome shelter of the Casbah has felt increasingly like a prison, and the lure of gay Paris with its wide open streets has become almost unbearable. And when Pépé meets the glamourous Gaby (Mireille Balin), his homesickness reaches unfathomable heights.
French film noir one of the greats.
Anyone who assumes Hollywood’s habit for remaking foreign hits is a recent phenomenon might like to think again. Algiers, a largely faithful 1938 remake of Julien Duvivier’s 1936 French classic set in the Algerian capital, was the sound era’s first notable example of a US studio remake from a European film.
Though the US version makes for rewarding viewing, there’s nothing quite like the original, which stars the charismatic Jean Gabin – the Gerard Depardieu of his day – as a French master criminal hiding out in the densely populated Casbah district and brought undone by his love of a woman (Mireille Balin).
Without this film there would have been no Casablanca, more distantly, perhaps no Battle of Algiers – and certainly no Pepe le Pew, Warner Bros.’ animated skunk. Pépé le Moko is considered a prime example of French cinema’s “poetic realism”, a key influence on what would come to be known as film noir, though the phrase “realism” seems odd today, given its style is so seductively romantic and visually lush – closer to Joseph von Sternberg (whose 1930 Morocco was a likely influence) than Italy’s Neo-Realism of the following decade.
Graham Greene wrote at the time that he couldn’t recall a film “which has succeeded so admirably in raising the thriller to a poetic level” and there’s no question its poetry still hits a chord. A dreamy and visually heightened sensibility suffuses the entire film, with its evocative recreation of the Casbah’s labyrinthine alleyways and backyards. A scene where detectives sneak up to le Moko’s suspected hideout is choreographed almost like a ballet. Equally memorable is the informer who accidentally triggers a Player Piano into musical life as he’s about to be shot – as is the doomed romanticism of the finale.
This DVD transfer superbly captures Marc Fossard and Jules Kruger’s handsome, monochrome cinematography and includes an audio commentary by La Trobe University’s Anna Dzenis and Rick Thompson.
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