In "Le quai des brumes" ("Port of Shadows") (1939) a black and white film noir crime/ drama/romance/thriller, and another bleak classic of French cinema, the extraordinary French director Marcel Carne (Criterion Coll: Children of Paradise (2pc) (Sub) [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC
]) teams once again with that extraordinary French actor Jean Gabin (Essential Art House: Grand Illusion (Full Sub) [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC
]) to give us a film you won't soon forget. The script was written by Jacques Prevert, Carne's frequent collaborator, based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan.
As the film opens, we see Jean (Gabin), an army deserter, traveling down a desolate, fog-bound, tree lined road to the port city of LeHavre. The protocol of French cinema between the world wars was supposed to be "poetic realism," but, frankly, this magnificent long opening shot looks more like German expressionism to me, as do the shots of "Panama's" shack, where Jean takes refuge, on an empty beach that looks a lot like the end of the world. Jean must leave metropolitan France - that's what he's doing in Le Havre, but at Panama's, he meets the gorgeous 17-year old Nelly, played by the everlastingly beautiful, high cheek-boned, Michele Morgan (Passage To Marseilles  [VHS
]). And he finds it very difficult to leave her. Following on the deaths of her parents, Nelly has found herself the ward of Zabel, played by Michel Simon,(Criterion Coll: Boudu Saved From Drowning (Sub) [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC
]),a successful shopkeeper and vendor of souvenirs of the town, who also loves her, and yearns for her charms. Conflict ensues, of course, and Jean finds that no good deed of his goes unpunished, as he unwittingly, unwillingly, becomes front-page news in the town. The acting is fine, the company rounded out by a passel of one-named actors, presumably from the Comedie Francaise.
The photography is marvelously detailed and moody; the original score by Maurice Jaubert adds greatly to the atmosphere of the film, and Nelly is appropriately dressed in a wardrobe by the unaccredited Coco Chanel. Carne, of course, managed to make "Les Enfants" during the World War II German Occupation of France: it hints at many things that would have angered the German censors, had they realized the undertones were there. And Gabin? Of working class birth - born in Montmartre, Paris, he had a particular gift for playing the working class anti-hero, the soft-hearted tough guy. A deservedly enduring film and a must-see.