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Pépé le Moko - 1937

Directed by Julien Duvivier

Written by Jacques Constant & Julien Duvivier
Based on a novel by Henri La Barthe

Starring Jean Gabin, Lucas Gridoux, Mireille Balin
Line Noro & Gilbert Gil

This review contains spoilers

Watching early French films, you often see Algiers - it's surrounds and various people - such is the fascination which drew many a French story over to that locale. In Pépé le Moko we drift over towards The Casbah, in which our titular anti-hero resides. This isn't a "day in the life" - it's a story where his love for a woman and yearning to return home to Paris prove too great an influence, and where an unstoppable force meet an immovable object. It's a film that was good enough to have had two remakes trailing in it's wake just over ten years after it's release - but this original had the benefit of having Jean Gabin as it's lead. It proved to be another influence in a trend towards the creation of film noir, and just happens to be a very well made gangster film, pure and simple. There are shades of Casablanca, which was obviously inspired by a lot of what we see in this, and a shift in storytelling where the criminal isn't simply a dupe set up to be taken down, but a complicated character who earns the sympathy of an audience, despite his criminality. It's also a very enjoyable and engrossing movie to watch.

A team of police, both from France and Algiers, are discussing their consistent failure over the preceding two years to arrest Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin), a man who has been protected by sequestering himself in The Casbah, where a mix of races and cultures live in crowded squalor, and where le Moko's friends and compatriots protect him. Although feeling as if he's the king of the underground there, it also happens to be his de facto prison, and the thief yearns for the familiar streets of Paris. Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux) - both friend and enemy, knows this, so when Pépé falls in love with a beautiful tourist by the name of Gaby Gould (Mireille Balin) he finally has the kind of lure to really set a trap with. In the middle of all of this is le Moko's regular girl, Inès (Line Noro) who is despondent enough at losing him to this breezy French girl that she may be willing to sell him out. If she can't have him, nobody can. If Pépé le Moko can't control these impulses and emotions they may just be his undoing. After all, his beloved friend Pierrot (Gilbert Gil) has already met the same fate because his emotions held sway over logic - allowing him to be betrayed.

The style of this film lends itself to the French Poetic Realism prevalent in the 1930s, and common to director Julien Duvivier's work. This realism didn't extend to shooting on location, but did go so far to create realistic Casbah slums in a studio near Paris, which neatly lend themselves to real Algiers footage, which is used and inter-cut into the film. Of course, Poetic Realism is fairly fatalistic, and there is no fairy-tale kind of beats in any narrative sense in Pépé le Moko - not in a romantic sense, and not in any kind of Robin Hood-like storytelling style. No matter how sympathetic le Moko might seem, he's in this for himself and has the cut-throat sensibilities of a real gangster. Also - just because our anti-hero has hidden himself amongst the poor Algerian rabble that populate The Casbah doesn't mean he (or the film) considers them as equals. Arabs are never really referred to in any sense, and when they appear in a visual sense, Gabin is usually throwing bottles at them or telling them to get out of his way. He considers himself king of a kingdom he wants nothing more to do with, and it's his constant yearning, grief and disappointments that set the tone for the film.

Jean Gabin himself is an irresistible presence in the film, and there's something about him in a visual sense that can give us everything we need to know in a look or gesture. There's his performance, but there's also just who he is and his general aura that's magnificent. You don't really come away from the film having noticed anyone else, because all of your attention is taken up by the French film star. I remember seeing him in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (another example of French Poetic Realism) where he gave another great performance. Line Noro, as le Moko's Algerian girlfriend gets a lot to work with as an actress and really impressed me as well in what is ultimately a very sad role. Actors like Lucas Gridoux and Gilbert Gil have plenty to do, but I wouldn't necessarily recognize them again if I saw them in another French film. Jean Gabin is immediately recognizable, and I feel drawn towards his features. There is one scene though, where a singer and actress called Fréhel listens to a record (purportedly one of her own) as she sadly sings along with it, remembering the Parisian streets with tears in her eyes - it was very affecting. One of her songs would later feature in the film Amélie.

Jules Kruger and Marc Fossard provide cinematography which at times remind me very much of the film noir style that would come into vogue some time later - always there are distinct shadows and dark patches, and often you find characters set against bars, fences and shadowy prisons of darkness. Faces are often obscured - half in shadow. There's a lot of camera movement when our characters are on the move, and every such shot seems perfectly suited to the story, guiding our eyes in a way that those most expert of cinematic storytellers do to tell the story in a visual way. It was cinematography that pleased me in the way it moved, instead of what exactly it showed. The music from Vincent Scotto is what you'd expect from the period - different tones emphasized at different times in a way that thankfully wasn't too overbearing, as I've found some earlier cinematic scores to be. An Algerian influence obviously infused into it at times. Overall, the extensive high-definition digital transfer made from the 35mm restoration makes this a pleasure to watch these days in a visual sense.

So, overall I genuinely enjoy watching Pépé le Moko for it's historical perspective, as well as the satisfaction I get from Gabin's performance and the narrative from Henri La Barthe's French novel. (Also worth mentioning are the sets from Jacques Krauss, which provide a much richer and more realistic setting than you'd find in your average 1930s film.) It has it's share of iconic moments - take the one when Gabin's eyes meet those of Mireille Balin, then shift to her obviously very valuable jewelry, which she then deigns to hide with her hands, after which his eyes meet hers again and seem to suggest he's more interested in her than her wealth, even if he'd sized the moment up out of habit. I also have to mention the tremendously powerful noir ending, with le Moko's final few requests from Slimane, and his tragic final act which Inès witnesses - all taking place as our anti-hero watches the Ville d'Oran slip away from the pier and start out to sea. That ending was absolutely perfect - and perfect endings are so hard to get exactly right.

Some of the casual racism, and the seeming acceptance of domestic violence as part of a natural way of life I could have done without. Fréhel mentions that she thinks she just has the kind of face men like to hit, and that she's tried changing it to lessen the frequency of the blows. Likewise, I found the way le Moko jettisons his girlfriend (with some annoyance) when he meets Gould difficult to swallow. But then again, you could say all of that is setting these men up for their deserved fall. They are crooks and scoundrels after all. Other than that, I'm very glad to have Pépé le Moko under my belt, and to have it sized up to the extent that I can read many of the steps Michael Curtiz makes in Casablanca as from a very familiar dance which has it's origins here - likewise film noir as a whole. It's a damn good movie - and one that keeps growing on me. 1937 was a good year for cinema, it seems, with several stylistically important films being released - ones that would have far reaching influence, and remain exciting to watch ever after. French Poetic Realism has some very agreeable aspects as far as I'm concerned.



Pépé le Moko and La Grande Illusion was my introduction to both MyMan! Jean Gabin and a stepping stone into not only French Poetic Realism of the Thirties but several Directors of the time, Marcel Carné being at the top of that list of enamored filmmaking, to a variety of French films from the following decades of forties, fifties, and sixties.
I had nominated it in the Thirties HoF after discovering this, at the time, unknown original; when searching for a link for the remake, I had watched it many times due to the utterly intoxicating Hedy Lamar. Now, I do enjoy Charles Boyer, but he never seemed to inspire the alleged fear and respect in me. Then I witnessed Gabin, and that cinched it for me. "THAT is how it's played," I thought and grew hungry for more of this charismatic French actor.
I cannot revisit Algiers and have watched Pépé le Moko several times since. A small part that seals it for me is When Walter Wanger produced Algiers (1938), the American remake, he tried to have all copies of this movie destroyed. Fortunately, he was not able to do so. He secured that the French original was not allowed to be shown in theaters until two years after Algiers' debut. Not to mention snatching up the secondary actors and many of the outdoor shots. He tried to get Gabin to re-do his role in his remake. Gabin didn't want anything to do with it. BRAVO, Gabin, SCREW YOU, Wanger.

Anyway, I've been excited to see your reaction and enjoy your intricate review. So very happy to see you enjoyed it.
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It's time to have some fun
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

I don't watch much animation but I do appreciate some of it, probably my favorites are from Studio Ghibli with my favorite being Spirited Away.

I though Grave of the Fireflies was well done and I enjoyed the simplicity of the story of the war orphans. I liked the turn of the events as the story progressed and I can see why it's a classic. But I don't know enough about animation to comment on the style and look of the film, but it worked for me.

I do know people talk about how emotionally devastating Grave of the Fireflies is, but I didn't feel any strong emotions, though I do recognize the story was meant to be tragically sad. It's just that I can't really connect on an emotional level to animation as my brain is saying those aren't real people, so no fault of the film it's just that I was never raised on animation so it never resonates with me on an emotional level.




11 Foreign Language movies to go
I saw Grave of the Fireflies for the first time in a cinema a few years ago - a friend took me, and I had no idea of what I was in for. In the end, it turned out to be one of the greatest animated films I've ever seen. It hit all of my emotions pretty hard.
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.

Latest Review : Paper Moon (1973)



I remember thinking it was good, but it didn't hit me as hard as I thought it would. The characters could get annoying with their constant crying and, as a result, it felt overly schmaltzy at times. I did enjoy the animation though and the more devastating scenes in tthe film were pretty memorable.



My problem with Grave of the Fireflies is that it starts at the end of the story, so you know exactly what's going to happen. I basically had no emotional investment, so the events of the film, while tragic, didn't really have much of an impact. Had the film not given away the ending, I think it would've been much more powerful.



11 Foreign Language movies to go


Paper Moon - 1973

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Written by Alvin Sargent
Based on a novel by Joe David Brown

Starring Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal & Madeline Kahn

No doubt about it - watching Tatum O'Neal's performance in Paper Moon is one of the greatest things about seeing the film. She wasn't necessarily a natural - and she didn't necessarily find it easy, but with a lot of patience from director Peter Bogdanovich, and having the calming reassurance of father Ryan O'Neal as costar she provides us with something you'd never expect from a girl less than 10 years-of-age. At the 1974 Academy Awards she won Best Supporting Actress and made history as the youngest actress (or person) to ever win an Academy Award - which is a record that stands to this day. She does seem to be beyond her years, and some of that even shows in behind-the-scenes footage, but at times multiple takes were needed to get shots that were needed. Many, many takes. Regardless of any of that - she's so much fun in the movie, which is a credit to everyone involved. There are many little touches - a raised eyebrow here, a skip there, which accentuate the little things, and her various facial expressions are very winning. Her Addie Loggins character is nearly a tiny adult, very quick on the uptake, but her angry jealousy and cantankerous nature are very funny. She's also a great foil for her father's character, Moses "Moze" Pray.

Moses meets her for the first time at her mother's funeral. It's Depression-era Kansas, and Addie has a feeling Moses is her father, so as he's heading in the general direction of her Aunt's house in Missouri he's put upon to take her with him. His attempts to shake her loose, after using her to scam $200 from someone tenuously connected with her mother's death, all come to nothing when she demands the money he gained go to her. On the road, Addie learns of the bible scam Moses regularly pulls, and even helps him refine and run it. It seems like a happy partnership, until Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn) becomes romantically entangled with him. Addie has to use her considerable abilities to outsmart them all and set Trixie up for her eventual fall. Later on down the road the two run into a bootlegger who they successfully play by selling him his own product after swiping it from his hiding place. Unfortunately this bootlegger has a brother who is a police officer, and the pair end up being shaken down for the cash they've made on their trip. Escaping the law will provide them their biggest test, and may not only cost them all of the money they've accrued but also the close camaraderie they've developed on this remarkable road trip.

Paper Moon is one of those films which has been shot in a very interesting way. It's surprising that Bogdanovich wanted so many long takes in the film, considering the difficulty this created around Tatum O'Neal's ability to remember her lines and successfully get through each elongated shot. Some shots, which needed a mile of road and a lot of film, took over a day to get just right. Cinematographer László Kovács, who was familiar with Bogdanovich, used a lot of deep focus and a large depth of field which keeps many important details in the foreground and background in focus. Take the shot at the train station at the beginning, with children playing in the distance seen through a window and the reverse where Addie is sullenly stood on the tracks. In both shots Ryan O'Neal and the actor he's talking to are what we're principally focused on, but those other aspects are also clear to us, despite being in the background. Bogdanovich decided that black and white would suit the depression-era setting, and take us back in time, while Kovács had some advice from Orson Welles as to the kind of filters best to use. Personally, I always enjoy scenes with long takes in them because they feel more natural, and they also happen to be more impressive considering how much more planning and expertise they need to be captured successfully. One shot includes a couple of 360 degree sweeps as two cars change direction mid-car chase, and it looks wonderful.

I was also excited to hear that Verna Fields did the editing on this film - not that I think it makes a great deal of difference here, but because she edited so few films in her career. Fields ended up being the editor on Jaws, and really came to my attention when finding out more about that classic - she ended up winning an Oscar for her work there. With Paper Moon, the editing was basically done "in camera" - which means that the film was shot pretty much in a manner where the ends and beginnings of shots would mostly fit together as they were filmed, which means the editor of this film required less artistry and imagination putting it together - but I can never talk about a film Verna Fields edited without mentioning her, and her kind mentorship to Steven Spielberg. The only technical Oscar Paper Moon would be nominated for was for it's Sound, going to Richard Portman (who once won for The Deer Hunter) and Les Fresholtz (a two-time winner for All the President's Men and 1988 film Bird) - so there were obviously a very talented crew of people who worked on Paper Moon and it shows. The Best Sound Oscar that year ended up going to The Exorcist.

Peter Bogdanovich decided in the end that he didn't want Paper Moon to have a cinematic score to be prompting people's emotive responses to the film, so what mostly takes it's place is the radio both Addie and Moze listen to quite often. We get a great many catchy 1920s and 1930s tunes (of which "It's Only a Paper Moon" is one - the song which gave the director his idea for the film's title) and also the occasional radio shows which were popular back in that day. I prefer a lot of films this way. So many films from previous eras become absolutely overbearing with very insistent, loud, and not very inconspicuous musical cues pounded into the audience. These pieces of music help certain films at certain times, but when there's been an arbitrary decision that a film must have a score it can make flaws appear more obvious or distract from moments that should be played with more subtlety. Everything in Paper Moon comes directly from Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal - this is very much a film of facial expressions and voice, and it's one that has been expertly directed and provided much magic with our two main performers.

The story central to the film was published in 1971 as "Addie Pray" by Joe David Brown - it was adapted for the screen to Peter Bogdanovich's specifications by Alvin Sargent, but the story morphed and changed even as filming was underway, and there are numerous differences between book and film. Alvin Sargent was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to William Peter Blatty for The Exorcist (again) - Sargent has won Oscars for 1977 film Julia and Ordinary People. I like Paper Moon more for it's two central performances than it's story, but it holds up really well and perfectly showcases the two O'Neals. It has that familiar kind of depression-era desperation, and the kind of pioneering spirit crime-wise that these kinds of confidence tricksters had. Many of the tricks used I've never seen before, and seem so very well worked out - too intricate to be anything but real tricks that have been used. Bogdanovich mentions The Grapes of Wrath quite a lot when talking about this film, and various moments recall that seminal piece of work and it's cinematic adaptation by John Ford. This film has a much different spirit to it, obviously, and the focus isn't on the depression, but solely on the father/daughter relationship these two people have.

Paper Moon feels like a comedy that isn't conspiring to set up outright "jokes" but rather gets by with amusing moments and a plethora of little touches which charm and win us over. It's the way the actors play the scenes and their lines which provoke laughter and enjoyment. Addie's demeanor throughout the whole film is funny, especially as little adult-like moments start to build up. Addie smokes and swears and seems as expert a confidence trickster as her "father" is - she demands what's hers and isn't easily fooled. In many situations she's a lot smarter than the adults in the film. Best of all is when Addie is angry, and the look we get from Tatum O'Neal is priceless. She really projects herself well, and can of course play off of her father with ease. Madeline Kahn comes in for the film's second act and gives us the exact kind of persona that would tick little Addie off - especially seeing as it comes between her and her newfound benefactor. Moze seems to be mostly attracted by her jiggling features, and the film points this out in a very simple and straightforward manner. Trixie Delight has a young girl, Imogene (P.J. Johnson) work for her, and it's this girl that talks to Addie and fills in most of the gaps.

Just to quickly mention all of the other touches I liked about the film - I got a kick out of seeing Randy Quaid in such an early role (his first ever appearance was in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show.) I thought all of the period touches were perfect, and there was a great variety of automobiles used - Addie and Moze go through about 4 cars from beginning to end. Kansas seems to have been a good place to shoot, because of the open spaces and the fact that a lot of town streets have architecture which goes back to this period. Oscar nominee Polly Platt did a great job as production designer for all of the store interiors - and she was also costume designer on this film - so she really outdid herself. I really enjoy hearing old tunes that remind me of watching Dennis Potter teleplays. But of course, in the end it just came back down to Tatum O'Neal and the way she played Addie. Apparently, Ryan O'Neal was pretty upset when Tatum was nominated for an Oscar and he wasn't - and that's not even mentioning what he felt when she won (a little proud I'd hope - but yeah, he's an actor, so insanely jealous as well.) I feel if there was ever a deserved Oscar going to a child actor - I'd want it to go to her. Paper Moon was her movie.




I like both Paper Moon and Grave Of The Fireflies but it has been long enough that both would have to be rewatched for me to have any strong opinions on them. I definitely remember not having a very strong emotional reaction to Fireflies, which I think effected my score a bit. It’s very easy to tug on my heart strings, especially with stuff involving children. So something didn’t quite work like it should have.
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It's time to have some fun
Paper Moon was choose for me in an earlier PR and I loved it. Been many to watch more of Peter Bogdanovich's films, especially some of his lesser known films.



The world doesn't owe you a damn thing
I have never heard of Underground. For the life of me, I am SO UNSURE about ever seeing it; I can not type an iota of . . . anyway.
Can WHOLE HEARTEDLY state: PLEASE, EVERYONE! Me no not ever, ever, ever, never wanna see Night and Fog. No. No thank you, no.
Thank you.
Oh, and an American remake that may rival the original, in this case, The Bélier Family, which I did enjoy, I may seriously need to see CODA.

I truly hoped you'd get a kick out of The Servant, @cricket and had a good feeling you would, considering the lil rabbit hole spiral from posh to not so much. lol


I had wrote:
Cinematically, Director Losey creates a surreal, feverous, almost nightmarish imagery as control is spun around; the sexual, alcohol-dependent depravity/darkness takes the foreground away from the initially depicted normality of proper/accepted behavior.
Much like a classic horror film, the "monster" is never seen and only alluded to. Brilliantly.


Best Years of Our Lives is one I had only seen in the most recent years, and was highly taken by it and impressed by some of its honesty. Great film. Should revisit that one.

LOVED weeping to Make Way For Tomorrow. Well, except during the Bridge game, I got pissed. Getting agitated by a rocking chair? A ROCKING CHAIR?? [email protected] you people - that was me yelling at the screen. Then when her husband calls and their seeing the guilt on their faces, I added, "Aww, feel like right d!cks, now, huh? GOOD, [email protected]
But, oh how I adored that final day together:
The long walks, the ride to the hotel they honeymooned at, and how total strangers all gave them such courtesy without knowing the full details of what that day meant to them.
Also, the little comments and looks they gave each other throughout. You could see a couple who had spent a life together.
Truly wonderful scenes.
LOVED the phone call Bark made telling their kids they wouldn't be back. Put a huge grin on my face.

And, oh my god, the goodbye!!
My heart STILL hurts thinking about it!
Especially the final fade out as Lucy's smile fades and she looks about and behind her.

Beautiful, beautiful film.

And CR, I was dying to find out what ya thought of Army of Shadows. I got to nearly devour Melville's list of films last year beyond Cool 101 Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge. This was a lovely gift in the Foreign Language Personal Rec HoF featuring three beloved actors, Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, and Paul Meurisse.
This is one of many - in my fanboy rave - brilliant films by Melville. This was my #2 Nomination for you.

Paper Moon is one of the most continuous appearances and one I love to see shared so much. With a Phoenix penned (typed) Saga de Grande expressing the very reasons why. VERY nice!
I watched this in my youth any time it played on Movie Night on TV during the seventies. And yes, absolutely, Phoenix, this IS Tatum O'Neil's film. Excellently so.

And yes, there is NO spoiler to Grave of Fireflies but, OH, how it hits you anyway!




Setsuko: Why do fireflies die so soon?

I ADORE this film. Took forever to see, and almost impossible to experience again, but I truly do adore it.



I truly hoped you'd get a kick out of The Servant, @cricket and had a good feeling you would, considering the lil rabbit hole spiral from posh to not so much. lol


I had wrote:
Cinematically, Director Losey creates a surreal, feverous, almost nightmarish imagery as control is spun around; the sexual, alcohol-dependent depravity/darkness takes the foreground away from the initially depicted normality of proper/accepted behavior.
Much like a classic horror film, the "monster" is never seen and only alluded to. Brilliantly.
That was a really nice out of the blue choice for me, and I think it's a movie that would be a good pick for a general HoF.



It's time to have some fun

T-Men (Anthony Mann 1947)

If I was a betting man I'd wager that this classic noir directed by one of the great mid-century directors would hit pay dirt. It was a good call to chose this for me. I mean just take a gander at my Top 10 profile and you'll see it's dominated by film noir. Somebody made a wise choice with choosing this...and so I'm sorry to say it didn't work for me. In a nut shell I found the movie dull. There was no character development, no cool noir lingo, no interesting plot twist, zip. I'll give it points for being a very early police procedural noir. Well in this case it's the Treasury Department doing the procedural work. 'Police/detective' procedural noirs were popular in the mid and late 1950s so T-Men is an early example of a noir that follows the procedure of the Treasury men as they go after a counterfeiting ring.

The problem is, besides being dull, is that the film is over bearing in it's narration during the first half of the film. I'm not talking inner monologue narration, I'm talking about some guy explaining everything we're seeing on the screen like we don't understand the basic elements of undercover work.

T-Men just proves what I already thought and that is the BFI doesn't know squat about noir. We so need a real noir list on MoFo.

*Still I'm glad to have watched this as I've wondered about it for years.



The world doesn't owe you a damn thing
That was a really nice out of the blue choice for me, and I think it's a movie that would be a good pick for a general HoF.
I have been very tempted a few times to do just that. Funny you mentioned it.



The world doesn't owe you a damn thing

T-Men (Anthony Mann 1947)

If I was a betting man I'd wager that this classic noir directed by one of the great mid-century directors would hit pay dirt. It was a good call to chose this for me. I mean just take a gander at my Top 10 profile and you'll see it's dominated by film noir. Somebody made a wise choice with choosing this...and so I'm sorry to say it didn't work for me. In a nut shell I found the movie dull. There was no character development, no cool noir lingo, no interesting plot twist, zip. I'll give it points for being a very early police procedural noir. Well in this case it's the Treasury Department doing the procedural work. 'Police/detective' procedural noirs were popular in the mid and late 1950s so T-Men is an early example of a noir that follows the procedure of the Treasury men as they go after a counterfeiting ring.

The problem is, besides being dull, is that the film is over bearing in it's narration during the first half of the film. I'm not talking inner monologue narration, I'm talking about some guy explaining everything we're seeing on the screen like we don't understand the basic elements of undercover work.

T-Men just proves what I already thought and that is the BFI doesn't know squat about noir. We so need a real noir list on MoFo.

*Still I'm glad to have watched this as I've wondered about it for years.
I've wondered as well and had a concern it may have been one of those heavy-handed "this is how we do it" overly explained films about how great law enforcement is. And yeah, we SO need a more valid noir list here. lol



It's time to have some fun
I've wondered as well and had a concern it may have been one of those heavy-handed "this is how we do it" overly explained films about how great law enforcement is. And yeah, we SO need a more valid noir list here. lol
Usually those how we do it type noirs are fine, one of my favorites investigative/procedural noirs is The Naked City (1948) which isn't even on the BFI Noir list