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Jean Gabinâ(TM)s first Hollywood picture (he didnâ(TM)t make many) sees him playing a dockworker who may have killed a man during a drunken binge that he canâ(TM)t remember. But that summary makes this film sound a lot more noir than it really is (despite Fritz Langâ(TM)s reported early involvement). Instead, it is more of a drama about a group of people kicking around a dead end port city in Southern California. Gabin has to put up with Thomas Mitchellâ(TM)s character sponging off him (because he knows a dark secret from the past) but heâ(TM)s easy-going about it. However, when he falls in love with Ida Lupino (after rescuing her from attempted suicide by drowning), there is friction because Mitchell would rather leave and prevent their marriage. (I didnâ(TM)t notice the gay subtext until later). Gabin also makes friends with Claude Rainsâ(TM) night watchmen who seems a key suspect for the murder, particularly when he burns some of the evidence; however, this might also be read as his effort to protect Gabin. Everybody loves the Frenchman and Gabinâ(TM)s charisma mostly translates into English â" but this vehicle is a bit too stodgy and less cool than he needed. Still, there is some charm here and the sense of community that is built, particularly coming together for the wedding, is not really that far from what Renoir often achieved (and of course Gabin starred in one of that masterâ(TM)s greats). The stellar black and white cinematography by Charles G. Clarke was nominated for an Oscar. But if you want the best of Gabin, stick with his French films (by Renoir, CarnÃ (C), Becker).
Feeling like a little slice of real life, a gypsy dockworker saves a suicidal prostitute, and then they save each other. There's some other pepper thrown in for spice but the game try for a cinema verite feel of the thing enthralls till the end for the most part. Gabin has most of the load thrown on him and he pretty much carries the thing, growling throughout, even when he smiles. Tommy Mitchell and Claude Rains deliver with their usual competent panache . Ida Lupino does relieved-not-to-kill-herself pretty good, too.
A thoroughly enjoyable film, but it ended up being much closer to a melodrama than the Film Noir selection I was expecting. Still, Gabin and Lupino are amazing together and it's well worth checking out for them alone.
An interesting film noir movie .
A decent noir with a few really nice touches, such as the main stars--Warm, offbeat, professional!!
An engrossing little slice of dockside drama that is (unfortunately) more of a reflection of the Hayes Code than it is of the original source material.
And Yet Somehow It Got Made Anyway
The DVD comes with a featurette about the "star-crossed" nature of the production. And it's true that they were originally planning to film in San Pedro Harbor or similar, which didn't happen on account of Pearl Harbor. It's true that star Jean Gabin had a fight with original director Fritz Lang and got him fired over Marlene Dietrich. But that's pretty much it, at least of the unexpected stuff. A lot of what they discuss is actually things they had to have known would be a problem. Like that the Hayes Office wasn't all that inclined to let the movie get made. The book talks about a wide range of subjects that simply weren't allowed under the Code, and it doesn't even have a happy ending. (The movie does, because Darryl Zanuck thought it should.) Yet somehow, most of the sins it portrays make it onscreen relatively untouched, though some are implied more than stated.
Bobo (Gabin) is a drunken French dock worker. One night, he rescues Anna (Ida Lupino) from drowning; she's going to walk into the sea, and he goes after her. He even prevents her from being arrested by lying to a cop. Bobo spends most of the night with his best friend, Tiny (Thomas Mitchell), in a drunken haze--and that night, Pop Kelly (Arthur Aylesworth) is murdered. Bobo isn't sure if he did it or not, and somehow, he ends up with Pop's hat. Still, he pushes aside his fears and asks Anna to move in with him. He has gotten a job tending a barge for Takeo (Victor Sen Yung), and Anna joins him on the barge and fixes it up. They don't see Tiny much, because Tiny is jealous of Anna, but they have each other and Nutsy (Claude Rains). Anna even gets Bobo to stop drinking. Things go relatively well for them, though there's always the fear in the back of Bobo's mind that he killed Pop Kelly. Pop Kelly was strangled, and that's how Bobo reacts when he loses his temper. But things aren't bad, and they decide to get married.
So here's one of the two things about the movie which bothered me most. Bobo flirts with Mildred (Robin Raymond), obviously if not explicitly a prostitute. This even happens a time or two after he is involved with Anna, though at that point he doesn't mean anything by it. However, his wedding gift to his new bride is the dress Mildred wears to work. Claude Rains has the misfortune of being asked to deliver a monologue about how modesty has no place in the marriage bed, that basically men want to be married to a skank. They probably mean "passionate woman," but that's not how it comes across. But I mean, it's one thing to buy her a revealing dress. It's another to literally buy her the used dress of a prostitute. Nutsy acknowledges to Anna that Mildred is awfully popular when she wears it. I'm not going to even begin to explain the sexual dynamics involved here, because that would require understanding them myself. That may well be the weirdest gift I've ever seen in a movie.
The other odd thing was that Gabin's character was actually named Bobo. Now, according to the featurette, the character in the book, and original screenplay, is called "Frenchy." Gabin objected, and I can't say as I blame him. He acknowledged that it was the kind of thing Americans would call a French man in their midst, but he found it demeaning. Which I can totally understand. I agree with him. But "Bobo"? This is somehow better? I mean, while Gabin was proud of his French origins--and was only in Hollywood because the Nazis were in France--there was more to him than just being French. Okay. But when you hear the word "Bobo," do you think of a dog? A monkey? Professor Bobo from the Sci-Fi years of [i]MST3K[/i]? The point is that it's an animal name, not a human name. Or possibly a clown. But no real live humans have it as a real name, and I'd fight like crazy if someone tried to bestow it on me as a nickname, and it seems like this Bobo isn't someone you'd want fighting you.
This isn't really a [i]noir[/i], not really. I spent the whole movie waiting for Anna to become sinister, because everyone kept calling the thing a [i]noir[/i], and any good [i]noir[/i] needs a [i]femme fatale[/i]. But it isn't and she isn't. She's been around the block a time or two, to be sure, but she really loves Bobo and is extremely grateful to him. Honestly, I thought possibly it was going to turn out that she'd killed Pop Kelly. Mildred isn't exactly bright and sunny, but she's basically a good person doing the best she can. If it weren't for Tiny, things would almost be innocent. But the presence of Tiny adds a dark hint of obsession to the proceedings. Bobo doesn't understand why Tiny never approves of the women Bobo goes out with, but a modern audience can't mistake it. Tiny doesn't want to share. It's 1942, so he may or may not know why or what he wants to do, but it's obvious that he's in love. Or at least obsessed. One of the people in the featurette refers to this as something of a dark fairy tale, and it that's so, Tiny is the necessary touch of evil.
Jean Gabin's ill fated stint in Hollywood during the Nazi occupation of France was much hyped by Fox for this studio-bound tale of wharf rats mingling with love, fate, murder, and deception amongst the shadows and fog. The expressionistic lighting is reminiscent of the kind of poetic realism Gabin's French films, especially "Port of Shadows", would have been known for in 1941.
so-called critics complaining this film is not a film noir may as well add it's not a musical nor a bowl of porridge. while not as creative as Lang's silent work, his hand is apparent through-out the film, in his american mode. Gabin is naturalistic, almost method, and delivers a number of his lines with humour and charisma. Lupino too is excellent, in fact this performance is among her best. Mitchel and Rains are cast against character which is somewhat interesting for cinemaddicts, but doesn't particularly work. Ok, so it's naive and simplistic, and even sentimental, but that is not only the result of the code and Hollywood in general but reflects the era itself. the plot doesn't exactly twist and turn, but between the acting and the nuanced milleu it's a good late night or rainy day film to watch.
The only Film Noir movie I ever actually liked