234. Le Quai des Brumes (Fr 1938)
Director: Marcel Carné
Starring: Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Michel Simon
Cinematography: Eugene Schufftan
Music: Maurice Jaubert
Novel: Pierre Dumarchais
Script: Jacques Prévert (aka Wor Jackie Pervert)
Fact: The French government of the time believed that Carné's/Gabin's/Prevert's films engendered such a mood of hopelessness in the country that they helped the Germans to waltz into the country in 1940.
"Nice pak-a-mac, girl."
"Fuck off, big nose."
In one line: Deserter tries to save prostitute from bad company.
Jean (Gabin) a deserter from the French army finds himself in Le Havre. He is befriended by a tramp and is taken to an isolated dockside inn where he meets various down-at-heel characters including the beautiful Nellly (Morgan). Nelly is trying to escape the clutches of her 'protector' Zabel, and a trio of gangsters.
Jean saves Nelly from gangster boss Lucien and spends the night with her. Jean is given the chance to escape to Venezuela via an altruistic suicide victim (who leaves him his clothes and papers) and a kindly sea captain who likes the cut of his jib.
Jean is about to take the figurative road to freedom, but the siren call of Nelly proves too much and he returns for one last time....
By virtue of an ancient French law, I have to mention the phrase 'Poetic Realism' when discussing this film. Carné's films capture the existential nature of a doomed existence and make the journey to an inevitable, tragic death seem almost appealing for ninety minutes or so. Just like Everton, I suppose. Le Quai des Brumes is a fantastic film - beautiful to look at (especially on my giant, chavvy TV*), expertly and cleverly written, and acted with a genuine sense of fatalism by Gabin and Morgan.
"it wouldn't kill you to clean these windows once in a while."
The foggy docklands of Le Havre have their own shadowy beauty and Carné seems to anticipate film noir some six years before its American incarnation.
Everyone looks like someone familiar as if you are watching an ale-fuelled dream - the tramp looks like Paul Whitehouse; Panama looks like Lance Henriksen; Morgan looks like a better-looking Lisa Stansfield circa 1988 (and minus the Shaun Ryder nose) and Gabin looks former Toffees and Birmingham City striker Alan Biley (if Alan Biley had looked like Jean Gabin, that is).
Fatalism hasn't looked so appealing to me since the early 70s BBC2 version of The Roads to Freedom (with the excellent, and much missed Michael Bryant), and after watching this film I drank seven pints of cheap red wine, started smoking Gauloise unfiltered down to the last millimeter and tried to defend the honour of these two ladies who'd been slighted by a rough looking gentleman in spats:
And that's the true power of cinema.
*She called it that. Not me. I only bought it to enhance the visceral and almost tangibly magical qualities of film.
And Quincy. And Comedy Central's repeats of Man About the House. And original Bullseye on 'Challenge' ("Are you askin' me, or tellin' me?" "I'll go over there and tattoo it on your face in a minute, cunt."