Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hiding Out in the Casbah: Julien Duvivier's 'Pépé le Moko' (1937)

Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937) bears seeing once, twice, thrice. . . or more. Professional criminal Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin) is holed up in the Casbah / Kasbah quarter of Algiers / Alger in between the world wars -- and he's really trapped. The police can't grab him from within the labyrinthine (or labyrinthian, if you prefer) recesses of the Casbah, but they will nab or kill him if he leaves it.  Excellent premise for the whole film.

Besides Gabin, who has been fantastic in everything I've seen him in, cherchez la femme: actually there are two key paramours involved -- Inès (Line Noro), from Algeria, and Gabby (Mireille Balin), from Paris, the latter carried along to Algiers by her Daddy Warbucks while he's on (colonial exploitation) business. Also involved are fellow criminals of dubious stability, numerous Algerian "hosts," French and Algerian police and Pépé's crafty, somewhat smarmy frenemy-nemesis, Inspector Slimane. 

Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko is not only a fun and imaginative movie, it's also an absorbing cultural artifact wide open to consideration from various engaged perspectives (postcolonialism, feminism, etc.).   
The tone of Pépé le Moko moves along and includes dark as well as comic moments -- very much like HBO's The Sopranos. The paramours have real "sex appeal" (a term used in the film itself), covered by humor. What have Pépé and Gabby been doing so clandestinely in the Casbah? "Painting watercolors together," Pépé quips.

The movie, which has been remade by other directors under different titles, is based on the 1931 novel Pépé le Moko by "Détective Ashelbé" (aka Henri La Barthe, 1887-1963). 

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.

1 comment:

jodi said...

Erik-so that's where the Casbah is!