Pépé le Moko

A part of this view­ing listCri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #172: Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko.

The strange start of this film — all the time spent describ­ing the cos­mopoli­tan melange of the Alger­ian cas­bah trav­el­ogue-style — is the key to under­stand­ing what’s hap­pen­ing inside the typ­i­cal­ly clever head of noto­ri­ous jew­el-thief Pépé le Moko. The man is an arche­typ­al old-school gang­ster, and he is so secure in the riot of the cas­bah that even the Alger­ian inspec­tor has a friend­ly rival­rous rela­tion­ship with him.

For a man of his mag­ni­tude, how­ev­er, even being lord of a micro­cos­mic world is not enough. When he falls for a French kept woman, he is remind­ed of all the things he has cho­sen to leave behind. The inspec­tor uses this knowl­edge to his ben­e­fit, bides his time, par­tic­i­pates in some care­ful­ly planned mis­di­rec­tion, and ulti­mate­ly nabs his man when he leaves  the cas­bah in love-lorn-and-lost pur­suit of what he has thrown away. In the end, he real­izes that even a prison of his own choos­ing is still a prison. Too late.

Though this fits the style of noir, I don’t know that it fits the tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tion. There’s plen­ty of chiaroscuro, and the sub­ject mat­ter fits the bill as well, but the­mat­i­cal­ly there’s less grit and grey-moral­i­ty than most oth­er exam­ples of the genre.

Jean Gabin is a great ras­cal.