Based on the life of a real criminal who hid in the Casbah under the protection of his pals, PEPE LE MOKO stars Jean Gabin as the title thief, brigand, and charmer, who has surrounded himself with loyal gang members and keeps them in line through the sheer force of his personality, never
resorting to violence. Tired of life with his moll, Ines (Line Noro), and of being on the run, Pepe yearns for his old days in Paris. He falls in love with a gorgeous tourist, Gaby Gould (Mireille Balin), but in the process lets his guard down and gives Algerian police inspector Slimane (Lucas
Gridoux) the opportunity to finally nab him.
PEPE LE MOKO owes a thematic and stylistic debt to the early Hollywood gangster films, most notably Howard Hawks' SCARFACE, but director Julien Duvivier took the conventional mix of love and bullets and made it into dark poetry.Indeed this film is cited as a prime example of the Poetic Realism
movement in France. The camera undulates through dingy realistic sets cloaked in deep shadow. The performances are so naturalistic that the actors don't seem to be acting, and the lack of sentimentality deserves special praise.
The film's success and the universality of its themes can be attested to by the fact that a Hollywood version, ALGIERS, was made immediately after PEPE LE MOKO and released in the States before the original could be imported. Charles Boyer turned the part of Pepe down when it was offered by
Duvivier, then starred in the US version when Gabin refused to make the trip to Hollywood, explaining that he, like French wine, "didn't travel well." WhenWW II started, the French government banned the film as too depressing and demoralizing, especially since the news from the front was also
bleak. The Germans took over and their puppet government retained the ban, but the moment the war ended, PEPE LE MOKO was again shown and hailed as a classic.
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