|Jean Gabin as pepe le moko, the original film noir.|
Pépé le moko(1937)
d. Julien Duvivier
Criterion Collection #172
I saw Pépé le moko during a college class I took on film noir. It seems crazy that you could actually take a class in film noir, but I suppose it's no crazier than people who major in literature. Majoring in literature, what a hilarious thought. The Criterion Collection essay by Michael Atkinson has a great graph on the historical significance of this film:
Without its iconic precedent there would have been no Humphrey Bogart, no John Garfield, no Robert Mitchum, no Randolph Scott, no Jean-Paul Belmondo (or Breathless or Pierrot le fou), no Jean-Pierre Melville or Alain Delon, no Steve McQueen, no Chinatown, no Bruce Willis, no movie-star heritage of weathered cool, vulnerable nihilism, bruised masculinity-as-cultural syndrome. (André Bazin, writing in 1957, demarcates the difference between Pépé le moko’s Jean Gabin and late Bogart by maintaining that “the fate of Gabin is precisely to be duped by life. But Bogart is man defined by fate,” a distinction made less by character, I think, than by the twenty-year progress toward a grimmer sensibility that began in Pépé.) Most vitally, there would have been no film noir––not as we know it today.Atkinson goes on to claim that somehow Pepe le moko is not credited as being the originator of film noir, but my film noir class, which I took in 1999, said that it was, so I guess perhaps opinion was split prior to this Criterion Collection edition coming out in 2003. It is a paradox of older movies that have inspired entire genres that the original movie ends up paling in comparison to its own imitators. As you watch Pepe le moko, you can't but help think about some of the actors listed above, and their iconic roles, and kind of yawn at this trailblazer.