Before I get into the film, I wanted to point out how you (regardless of who you are) are familiar with Pepe le Moko. This 1937 film was immediately remade by Hollywood as Algiers in 1938 (and also as a musical in 1948's Casbah). "Oh, of course! It's my love of Algiers that makes me familiar with this movie!" Don't sass me, boy, I'm not done yet. While Hollywood did change the title of the movie, they kept the name of the main character, Pepe le Moko. The character's name and Charles Boyer's portrayal of Pepe inspired Mel Blanc's vocal stylings when Pepe le Pew was created in 1945. So, in a roundabout way, this film led to the creation of the first sexual predator cartoon character. The second, obviously, would be the Humping Robot.
Enough trivia! On with the show! Pepe le Moko (Jean Gabin) is a charming jewel thief who has pulled one heist too many; after his last big job in Algiers, he narrowly escaped the police by seeking refuge in the labyrinth of the Casbah. If your knowledge of the Casbah begins and ends with the Clash song, it was a quasi-slum, filled with all sorts of unsavory characters and its winding streets were impossible to navigate by outsiders.
|"...you just go down that alley, through the window, down the stairs to the rooftop, up the ladder..."|
That day might be closer than Pepe thinks. While he has been safe being a big fish in a small pond for almost two years, the Casbah is starting to wear on him. His gypsy lover (Line Noro) isn't enough to keep him satisfied, so Pepe charms and seduces any beauty he encounters.
|She's got |
|Pepe le Moko, pouting at a city|
While the acting in Pepe le Moko is, one the whole, not terribly impressive, there are some standout performances. Jean Gabin was wonderful as Pepe. It's difficult to be charming and dangerous, crafty and fatally flawed, but Gabin pulled it off. Just look at him:
|"You're right! If you look at her from the side, she is two-dimensional!"|
This is the first French film I have watched from this time period, so I don't know how Julien Duvivier's work here fits into the larger picture of French filmmaking. I do know this, though: it's reeeel purrty. Claustrophobia is a difficult sensation to convey well on film, especially when the enclosed space is fairly large, like the Casbah. Without any clumsy camera zooms or anything obvious, though, Duvivier made Pepe's need to escape the Casbah feel urgent enough to not seem incredibly stupid to the audience. That is an accomplishment. Duvivier did wonders with the lighting and framing of certain scenes.
I don't have any strong complaints about this film, aside from the weak female roles. I wish the movie wasn't framed as a romance, because it's misleading; Pepe's love was for his against-the-system lifestyle, not for a particular person. I think this film would be infinitely more satisfying if that concept was explored more explicitly, because Pepe's romantic motives seem a little unrealistic. And how could they make a movie about a criminal in the Casbah and not have a ridiculously awesome chase sequence through those winding alleys? That was a missed opportunity. That said, Pepe le Moko is a very well-made film with good direction and a stellar lead actor. Genuinely good stuff.
The Clash - Rock The Casbah by zebenj