Friday, December 07, 2007

Dir. by Julien Duvivier

Pepe le Moko is one of the prototypes of the gangster movie. Where Scarface and Little Caesar and Public Enemy lurked in the grim slums of America’s metropolises, Julien Duvivier went looking for his gangsters in the sun-drenched exoticism of the Kasbah. Pepe straddles the world of Public Enemy and Casablanca.

Pepe (Jean Gabin) is the most wanted man in Algeria (a French colony at the time). A detective from Paris has come to arrest him for his multitudinous crimes. Easier said than done. Pepe is vigilantly alert to the wiles of informers and the people of the Kasbah protect him. If the police come in force, Pepe is forewarned, he can shoot it out with les flics and then high tail it through the myriad hidden passages of the Kasbah. The one exception to Pepe’s no-cops rule is Slimane (Lucas Gridoux), a local detective who Pepe tolerates because he is either ineffective or paid off.

This would be a perfect set up until Pepe meets his one true kryptonite, a high-class Parisienne out slumming. Her name is Gaby (Mireille Balin) and she and Pepe are drawn like moths to each other’s flames. As his gang gets picked off, Pepe becomes increasingly vulnerable, and increasingly violent.

Pepe le Moko is a compelling film. In truth it is a film noir before there was a film noir. Pepe is a film perhaps most often viewed as an artifact, a stage in the development of film noir. I can say you should watch it, just because it is so very good to watch.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

Did this come out before Casablanca or afterward? Something about the description reminds me of the other movie.

Dave Hardy said...

Casablanca was 1942 and this was 1937.

I guess the setting and the tension between a guy from the tough side of town and a classy lady are similar. But Pepe is really a gangland film, where Casablanca is much more focused on WWII.