Pepé le Moko (1937)

I don’t really know much about Julien Duvivier beyond the poetic realism thing, this getting remade in Hollywood just a year later (one of the first examples of Hollywood remaking a popular hit from another country?), him having a spell in Hollywood himself, and him kind of being one of the nouvelle vague’s victims. This comes quite some way into Duvivier’s long career (1919-1967) and was an apparently enormous hit, which is totally understandable; likewise, the frequently made claims that Pepé prefigures film noir also make total sense to me now that I’ve seen it, cos almost all the elements are there, except there’s also a layer of romance in the narrative that I’m not sure American noir always finds room for. The femme indeed winds up being fatale, though not in the more common American way. The Casbah itself arguably constitutes a character of some importance, functioning almost as a single entity, the place serving both as protection and prison for Pepé, a French jewel thief on the lam for some years hiding out in what was still a French colony at the time the film was made; he’s virtually unassailable inside it, and the cordial relationship he has with Slimane, the local chief of police, illustrates his own obvious sense that he’s untouchable there, but outside the Casbah is another matter. You can say the film is, on some level, really about the idea of safety becoming entrapment. (Interesting point too in the DVD commentary—I have the Madman DVD—about Pepé and Slimane being reminiscent of De Niro and Pacino in Heat.) Like I said, I don’t know that much about Duvivier and his career except in outline, but I’d be interested to see more of his films now; I can’t imagine Pepé le Moko being the only thing worth a damn in his filmography, but even if it were Duvivier can nonetheless claim at least one excellent 1930s classic to his credit…


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