Carné is one of the great French filmmakers, and this is one of his finest. For Quai des Brumes he had two of the most glittering French stars, Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan. Gabin plays a deserter in Le Havre, trying to make good. But the Morgan character has another suitor, a menacing criminal. This is proto-film noir and an exercise in poetic realism. (Cert PG)
Dirs: Marcel Carné 86 mins France 1938
Tonight we welcome Ann Miller of the Leicester University French Department to introduce a Francophone film for the 14th time.
Thursday, 14 January 2010
QUAI DES BRUMES (Port of Shadows)
France 1938 87 minutes Cert. PG
Jean (Jean Gabin), a deserter, arrives in foggy Le Havre accompanied by a dog he met en route. Evading the local police he arrives at the Panama club, where he first encounters Nelly (Michèle Morgan), an orphaned girl in her late teens and a beauty in a plastic mac. Her guardian, Zabel (Michel Simon), is hiding outside from hoodlum Lucien (Pierre Brasseur) and his gang, who are also in search of her boyfriend Maurice.
Over the next days Jean sees more of Nelly, intervening when Lucien harasses her over Maurice’s whereabouts and then in Zabel’s shop. Provided with new clothes and identity, thanks to another customer of the Panama, Jean books a passage to Venezuela before taking Nelly to the carnival. Events take charge, however, in a dramatic conclusion.
This is the first of the three films by Marcel Carné in the French ‘poetic realist’ style, the others being Hôtel du Nord (1938) and Le Jour se Lève (1939). Other directors in this movement included Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, and these films frequently included the lead actors in tonight’s film: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon and Michèle Morgan and also Simone Signoret. They influenced the Italian neorealists and the French New Wave of later decades.
The film was also the first critically acclaimed collaboration by Carné and his screenwriter, Jacques Prévert. They had worked together previously on Jenny (1936) and Drôle de Drame (1937) and would go on to Le Jour se Lève, Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942) and, famously, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).
Raoul Ploquin, then head of French productions at Universum Film AG in Berlin (to which Carné was under contract), is said to have introduced the Pierre Mac Orlan novel to Carné but Josef Goebbels forbade its production on account of its decadence. The rights were then obtained by the Russian-German film producer Gregor Rabinovitch, then working in Paris. Even in Vichy France there were Ministry of War concerns, with stipulations that the word ‘deserter’ was not to be used and that his uniform be treated with respect.
In the original novel by Mac Orlan, Nelly is not a respectable orphan but a prostitute at the Lapin Agile in Montmartre who kills her pimp.
In an interview for the Daily Telegraph, British director Desmond Davies describes how Gabin and Morgan fell for each other during filming. She was only about 17 and Gabin was already married. Pierre Brasseur (gangster Lucien in the film) also expressed interest, so when Jean slaps Lucien at the Dodgems it is no stage slap – as can be seen from Lucien’s reaction – to Carné’s delight.
Jean – Jean Gabin
Lucien – Pierre Brasseur
Nelly – Michèle Morgan
Zabel – Michel Simon
Panama – Edouard Delmont
Director – Marcel Carné
Screenplay – Jacques Prévert
Cinematography – Eugen Schüfftan
Original Music – Maurice Jaubert
Producers – Gregor Rabinovitch
“At that time the screens were full of comedies, musical or otherwise, sparkling, sunny and swarming with extras. And then I arrived with my empty night club, my fog, my greyness, my wet pavement and my street lamp.” Marcel Carné, writing in his memoirs.
We welcome Ann Miller, Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Leicester, to ABCD to introduce and discuss a French language film for the fourteenth time. Ann is an expert in bande dessinée (French-language comic strip) and French cinema.
“[This film is] exactly why I joined a film society!”
“Always good to see Jean Gabin and what a wonderful performance from Michel Simon.”
“A different era but Gabin and Morgan were wonderful!”
“Nice to be reminded of films with dialogue!”
“Didn’t feel dated – moved right along but not just the action. Enjoyed it very much.”
“Very enjoyable [with] excellent performances. The suicide was a bit of a mystery and the ending very sudden but excellent all round.”
“Lovely close-up shots but a rather foggy film.”
“A bleak film, loaded with symbolism. Enjoyable nonetheless.”
“Very atmospheric but not too believable”
“An entertaining, if simplistic, thriller. Probably worth another look to appreciate its historical context.”
“The birth of ‘cool’ [and] kiss-me-quick!”
“Mostly a very good film, slightly let down by a few weaknesses in the plot and the softy gangsters!”
“I usually find discussions a little uninteresting – eg, the producer’s second wife’s name – but the exploration of the social/political setup was good.”
“Nice print [used for transfer to DVD]”
“Indulgently dismal. I shall never see a kiss-me-quick hat again and feel quite the same.”