Category Archives: Il Cinema Ritrovato

Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937)

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Pépé Le Moko is all attitude and atmosphere. It was remade in Hollywood as Algiers (John Cromwell, 1938) with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, a blockbuster success which made a star of Lamarr and inspired the ‘take me to the casbah’ tagline still vivid to a generation of filmgoers. Boyer as Pépé was the inspiration for Pepe le Pew, the romantic cartoon skunk, enveloped in stink but searching for love.

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Jean Gabin´s Pépé is more reminiscent of Bogart in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), an outer cynicism masking a fatal romanticism, smart and witty, cool and up for a joke in the most trying circumstances. The dialogue by Henri Jeanson overlays wit with ironic nonchalance and underlays it with danger and threat: it´s brilliant.

Pépé´s on the lam from the law, continuing to rob, the leader of his gang and a legend in the casbah. The casbah is such a jumble of doorways, alleyways and rooftops, that he can escape the police. But it has become its own prison. He´s sure to be arrested once he leaves it and descends into town. He dreams of freedom and Paris but makes do. He says  he´s happy to give his body to any woman but he won´t lose his head by giving up his heart. That is until he meets Gabby (Mireille Balin). The scene where he eyes up her jewellery is superb, all close-up longing, and initially one´s unsure if that longing is for the jewels or the woman.

Duvivier brilliantly directs for tone, atmosphere, and he knows how to get the joke in. The film has memorable set-pieces (the retribution for the betrayal of Pépé´s younger side-kick), Gabin and Frehél sing in the same film for the first time since Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1932) . And there´s a swoonily fatalistic  romantic ending where Pépé yells to his beloved. She´s on a ship  returning to France and his voice is drowned out by the ship´s whistle. Like in the great noirs that were to come later in the forties, he´s so undone by love, regret, a possibility receding before his very eyes, already crying for her, that he chooses death over prison and a life without Paris and her. It´s terrific.

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Gabin weeps his loss.

Gabin had already worked with Duvivier four times previously, in Maria Chapdelain (1934), Golgotha (1935), La Bandera (1935) and La Belle équipe (1936), and they would make other films together in the future (e.g. Voici le temps des assassins), But Pépé might well be the pinnacle of their success. In Pépé le Moko, her BFI book on the film, Ginette Vincendeau has convincingly argued that Pépé is the film that clinches the Gabin myth.  It´s a film that tried to find a vein and tone with which to communicate with its audience  in as entertaining a way as possible. This helped make it a blockbuster success then and that it continues to speak to several other generations of audiences means that it´s enjoyed enduring popularity since.

José Arroyo

Hollywood Home Movies From The Academy Film Archive (USA, 1931-1970)

Hollywood Home Movies From The Academy Film Archive (USA, 1931-1970)

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Il Cinema Ritrovato showcased a program of home movies donated to The Academy Film Archive and, in this instance, narrated live by Michael Pogorzelski, who told us where these movies came from (Fred McMurray, Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s estate, etc.) and who was in them (the audience sometimes seemed to know more than Pogorzelski). The collection of short home movies was exciting to see because these people figure in our pasts, sometimes in an intimate way, so this was a way of making part of their private life intersect with part of ours.

It was wonderful to see Randolph Scott gently stroke Cary Grant’s shoulder in a the way familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a couple, as a gesture, tender but proprietary, that only established couples do to let the other know they’re there, besides them, and that they are thinking of them, with love. And perhaps to let others know to buzz off – that person’s taken, mine. That gesture did more to convince me of something between those two, than all the gossip I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen thus far.

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I loved seeing: Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. pretending to be Tyrolean peasants in their huge mansion-size ‘little cottage’ whilst changing into dozens of outfits; Cary Grant, more handsome than I’ve ever seen with practically no upper lip and a lower lip three times the size of anyone I know, on the set of Gunga Din; some rare colour footage of Carole Lombard, always the liveliest and most beautiful person in any film she graces, including these home movies; Fred McMurray’s home movies, in three-strip technicolor, and showing him as the athletic and handsome leading man he was but that can be so difficult to detect in some of his films, particularly the later ones, or for that generation of people who grew up with him as a Disney star or as the father in My Three Sons. Also who knew he was a blond?

I adored also the footage of one of Hearst’s 1930s parties, all of the stars on their best behaviour, like at the boss’ house, and pretending to enjoy the prank of a shaft of air being wooshed up lady’s dresses from below. Marilyn was to be shown enjoying a heightened and eroticised version of this two decades later in The Seven Year Itch. But practically every ‘30s star you care to mention is shown here in that very human contradiction of being extremely annoyed and trying to have the good manners not to show it, particularly to someone who’s got power over one’s job. It felt a privilege to have been able to see these films.

José Arroyo