Monday, 6 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1937: Jean Gabin in Pepe Le Moko

Jean Gabin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Pepe Le Moko.

Pepe Le Moko is the superior original film about a wanted thief who avoids police capture in Algiers by hiding in a densely populated district known as the Casbah.

Pepe Le Moko was remade the very next year as Algiers in 1938 in which the role was played by another Frenchman, Charles Boyer. Jean Gabin, who never broke out in America the way Boyer did, possibly because his English speaking accent unfortunately sounded a little goofy, though he was perhaps the most popular French dramatic actor of the period in France whereas Boyer was perhaps the most popular French dramatic actor in America. Boyer was Oscar nominated for that performance and it is interesting to see the separate interpretations to the character granted by Boyer and Gabin since they are rather different performers in style. Boyer's charisma stemming oddly enough from kind of a cold command, but Gabin is more directly charming. Gabin played a thief just the previous year in The Lower Depths, and he does offers that sort of suave style once again, but this is in no way a repetition of that previous performance.

Gabin is certainly suave as he was in the Lower Depths, but Gabin adjusts this properly to a "high class" type of criminal rather than the lower class thief he portrayed in that earlier film. Gabin was a quieter technically more innately likable sort there, whereas here Gabin plays the role with a bit more flamboyance fitting to a man who has become the obsession of the police force. Gabin brings a more overt style to the man, Gabin technically playing it up purposefully as a man who plays it up himself. Gabin, whenever Pepe is the presence of the police or a potential "fan", presents himself as the affable rogue he should be at least in their view. Gabin offers the right performance of a suave man who knows he's being suave. As he bargains a deal for some of his stolen jewels in the view of so many, Gabin infuses Le Moko with just the right assurance of a man living in success rather than a desperate man trying to find a way to make money.

Gabin of course offers the expected charm to the role and is very convincing as he wins the hearts of two separate women. This is in opposition to Boyer's methods in the same role where he provided more of the intensity within the charisma. Gabin though is more appealing frankly, but he importantly does not use this to simplify Le Moko as a simple romantic though. Gabin brings a harder edge to the role, as he cultivates this definite darkness in the role even within his most charming moments. There is this incisiveness within Gabin's eyes even as he negotiates a price for stolen goods seemingly with such ease. Gabin alludes to a far more intense figure than Le Moko likes to provide to most who see him. This darker side though only becomes all the more evident as Le Moko deals with members of his cadre who do not listen to his order directly. Gabin provides a more vicious edge fitting to a criminal, that is almost his true self that Gabin provides whenever Le Moko truly needs to take care business.

The one major element that was lacking in Charles Boyer's performance, which is only all the more evident when watching this performance, is the idea of Pepe Le Moko being technically a captive of sort in the Casbah. Boyer never seemed too uncomfortable with his life, and his downfall almost seems to come just by carelessness. Gabin crafts a far more captivating and complex depiction of Le Moko by giving weight to Le Moko's circumstances. Again Gabin reveals far more of the man within the margins, whenever we witness away from the crowd and within more vulnerable circumstances. Gabin portrays Le Moko without that confidence, or charm instead revealing a definite desperation within the man suffering from a sort of cabin fever within the Casbah. Gabin infuses so much discontent in the way he slowly conveys a growing unease in Le Moko as he lies alone, or seems to see that he is imprisoning himself by avoiding prison. Even in the central romantic relationship Gabin portrays on the edges of his charm a weakness showing that his desire for the woman, from outside the Casbah, also is a desire to escape the Casbah. Gabin slowly loses the character's "cool" throughout the film showing more and more the real man beneath it all from scene to scene. When he leaves the Casbah it is a far more emotional moment than it is in Algiers, because Gabin infuses this strange hope with hopelessness. As Gabin shows such pain as he is within the Casbah yet still in his eyes reveals this eagerness as though Le Moko is walking towards a wonderful dream. A far stronger finale comes in through Gabin as he strips down his work in the final moments of the film to reveal only a sad man beneath the fancy scarf no longer even able to hang onto the image he has crafted for himself. Gabin's work adds so much more substance to the story by making Pepe Le Moko so much more than just this "sly thief" who has a romance on the side that almost accidentally is his downfall. He gives an excellent performance by complicating the story with his striking realization of a man struggling to maintain freedom in mind as well as body.

23 comments:

Charles Heiston said...

I really want to see this. Pepe Lo Moko wouldn't make your top 10 for 1937?

Anonymous said...

He might win the line-up.

Luke Higham said...

I don't think Colman's taking this. I expect no more than a 4.5 for him.

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

I'll be updating the top ten when I post the results.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis: You see Get Out yet?

Calvin Law said...

Unrelated but I just re-watched Paths of Glory and I think it's officially my new favourite Kubrick film.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert:

Not yet, but I'll probably see it on Friday.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Since we're talking about Kubrick, If there's one film, I wish were a masterpiece, it's Barry Lyndon.

Luke Higham said...

It'll be interesting to see if you save Kaluuya and Co. We're off to a great start so far with Jackman and Stewart.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I'm curious if you'll be as impressed with Allison Williams as I was.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: If The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara manages to be released by the end of the year, do you think Isaac could get an nomination.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Possible for both he and Rylance to be nominated I think. The film certainly has the pedigree for it.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Is it possible for Gabin to go up for The Human Beast.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Yes.

Matt Mustin said...

I saw Get Out. I thought it was great. I think it works well as a horror film, but *really* shines as a satire.

Kaluuya-5
Williams-4.5(could go higher)
Whitford-3.5
Keener-3.5
Stanfield-4
Howery-4
Gabriel-3
Jones-2.5
Root-3

Charles Heiston said...

I'm glad to hear Gabin could go to a 5 for The Human Beast. My win for that year.

Michael McCarthy said...

Louis, do you have any suggestions for how I might be able to watch this film?

Louis Morgan said...

Filmstruck

Anonymous said...

Louis: Since Douglas has been downgraded to a 4 for his performance in Detective Story, has Parker's performance been downgraded as well, or is she still a 3,5?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your ratings for Schroder, Wangenheim and Granach in Nosferatu.

Varun Neermul said...

Louis, your top 10 Viola Davis acting moments.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

3's. Ganz and Adjani were major upgrades, though the original performers were decent.

Varun:

1. The Ending - Fences
2. Confronting Troy - Fences
3. Late Night Call - Fences
4. Bad Morning - Fences
5. Confrontation - The Help
6. Her Scene - Antwone Fisher
7. Her Son - The Help
8. Her Scene - Doubt
9. Dinner Proposal - Suicide Squad
10. Being shown the Prisoner - Prisoners

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

No.