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  Quai des Brumes, Le Footsteps In The FogBuy this film here.
Year: 1938
Director: Marcel Carné
Stars: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Édouard Delmont, Raymond Aimos, Robert Le Vigan, René Génin, Marcel Pérès, Jenny Burnay, Roger Legris, Martial Rèbe
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Romance
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jean (Jean Gabin) is a deserter from the French Army who is walking his way to the port of Le Havre when by chance a truck drives up and he stops it, persuading the driver to give him a lift for the next twenty miles to his destination. He doesn't feel like talking much, but does accept a cigarette or two until a stray dog runs in front of the vehicle and Jean grabs the steering wheel to swerve and avoid it. The driver is furious and they get out to have a punch up, but Jean's not really in the mood, and they've arrived anyway, so he shakes hands with him and ventures off into the night...

With the dog following him, as if his act of gruff charity has proven to the mutt that he is a noble fellow and worth sticking with, which we in the audience think too. In the wake of Pépé le Moko, Le Quai des Brumes, or The Port of Shadows if you prefer the translation, established the gloomy, doomladen noir style that was picked up by Hollywood in the war years, so much so that this, one of the originals, now looks like a bundle of dejected clichés. But if you would respond to such classic movie conventions presented in an archetypal manner, and plenty do, then it was easy to see the attraction in Gabin's thwarted hero.

Interestingly, we don't even hear that he is a deserter in the film, mainly because the authorities who were very suspcious of the production refused to allow any reference to that action so we had to work that out for ourselves. Yet this offered an intriguing note of mystery to the Jean character as he never opens up about his background, so we can only guess why he has ended up at this point in life so keen to leave the country on the next available ship out of Le Havre. All that matters is the here and now, and any attempt to tie him down to a relationship spells his undoing, though he cannot help himself when he sees young Nelly and senses a damsel in some distress of some form.

Nelly was played by a seventeen-year-old Michèle Morgan, one of the great beauties of French cinema here starting her career and making a big impression with moviegoers, as Gabin was. The other star was Michel Simon, who in the book this was based on played Nelly's pimp, but as the censors were breathing down the necks of director Marcel Carné and his writer Jacques Prévert he had to be changed to her godfather Zabel. A far cry from his loveable turn in L'Atalante a few years before, here Simon was weirdly loathsome, not quite eclipsing the emotional pain in Zabel's situation, but not excusing his machinations and essential corruption either, which he tries to hide behind a veneer of downmarket sophistication, a trait which only serves to make him more unpleasant.

This film's high reputation carried it ever since the French made it a hit back in the thirties, but not everyone liked it: when France lost the war to the Nazis some blamed this film for instilling the nation with a sense of fatalism and defeat. That aside, there are problems with its plotting, mainly in the way events bring down Jean: we're meant to accept that he gets the cops on his trail because he takes the clothes of a painter who has turned up dead, fair enough, that is quite suspicious, but he was given them due to their previous owner being a suffering artist (everyone's suffering here) who conveniently committed suicide for creative reasons (!). Anyway, that's by the by because this simply makes it all the more imperative that Jean get out of town on the ship but Nelly keeps him lingering too long and it's another factor which brings about the well-telegraphed unhappy denouement. If you can overlook the wallowing in romantic misery, then the cast convey it well enough to excuse what now looks almost parodic if you were not captivated by that thick atmosphere. Music by Maurice Jaubert.

[Studio Canal have released this on Blu-ray along with Orson Welles' The Trial and Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire. Here the extras are an introduction by an expert, a featurette on the film, and one on its restoration (which looks excellent).]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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