6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Director Marcel Carne, here in just pre-war 1938, made many notable films but for many World Cinema devotees, he is an unknown, or in my case, a newcomer. His Les Enfants de Paradis (1946) is one of the most enchanting and beautiful of all French films, from any period and remains one of my all-time favourites.
However, I find his feature films with Jean Gabin a rather jagged little pill. In both his later Le Jour Se Leve and here, Gabin plays rather unlikeable lead roles and I find him difficult to warm to. Though in this case, assisted by screenwriter Jacques Prévert, as army deserter "Jean", he certainly is a complex fellow, whose psyche snaps back and fore as his bewildered despondency on life puts up barriers and communication to others.
There's a visual semblance in Gabin of a cross between Spencer Tracey and James Cagney (to my eyes) and also almost in their usual characters - the caring, humane Tracey and the snarling Cagney. Michelle Morgan plays the dark and beautiful Nelly and the two floating into love seems as fleeting and ephemeral as the shifting mists of the title - translated as 'Port Of Shadows'.
That Port is Le Havre and the evocative cinematography is the film's finest feature, a real mood-piece that eschews a clammy emptiness. The tonal range of Eugen Schüfftan's black & white camerawork is superb and is fully realised by this digital restoration, without blemish or flaw.
The dog that tags on is a nice touch and suits Gabin's character - restless, looking for both company and opportunity but I'm afraid I couldn't settle with the false-bearded Michel Simon, with that hair-piece visibly having gaps in it. A small point to moan about, if one is totally content with the rest of the film but when one isn't totally, these little things stick out like a sore thumb and become annoying.
There is no doubt that Le Quai des Brumes is a very good film, that is loved by many and this release is the one to get, unless one goes for the blu-ray, of course. That it didn't totally do "it" for me is down to personal choice, though.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Life is a curious thing. At least what you see of it between midnight and three AM."
A success in 1938 but decried in 1940 as `immoral, depressing and distressing for young people, Le Quai des Brumes has been censored and cut so many times over the years that the original negative is incomplete and some footage is still missing even on StudioCanal's recent and sadly unsatisfying restoration of the film. Marcel Carne's downbeat drama is still one of the high water marks of the strain of doomed romanticism that was so influential in pre-war French cinema, providing Jean Gabin with another of his luckless disillusioned romantics who finds love and his own destruction at the same time, in this case as a deserter who falls for Michele Morgan's abused shop assistant and crosses some gangsters who are looking for incriminating documents held by her former lover who may have been murdered by her creepy guardian Michel Simon. For once Gabin is overshadowed by his supporting players, with Morgan the kind of luminous presence who can even make a plastic mac look good and Simon's overtly pious and loquacious but quietly seedy bearded and rabbit-toothed hypocrite rank with decayed morality creating the most memorable characters in the veritable rogues gallery Carne and screenwriter Jacques Prevert conjure up. The film simply oozes atmosphere even in the compromised versions that have been seen over the years - just as well, because StudioCanal's release of the Cinematheque Francaise's restoration of the film is quite a disappointment.
Because part of the film had to be reconstructed from prints (which were used as guides for grading even though old black and white prints don't always look the same as when they were new), picture quality is variable, with the blacks in the opening sequence looking a particularly milky grey even though the definition is improved. While they did go back to the original but incomplete negative and an old damaged nitrate print, the result in many of the exteriors is the kind of flat contrast and boosted brightness that's more often a feature of being sourced from a dupe print even though the image is considerably sharper: in the absence of the original grading information, it does seem as if they've taken the condition of the deteriorated print today as the way it looked several decades earlier, which is a contentious decision at the best of times. By contrast, Criterion's deleted DVD had much more convincing grading in the night scenes, with truer blacks and, for the most part, a much more satisfying translation that was slightly Americanised but still retained a pulp poetry that's often lacking in StudioCanal's at times rather blander English subtitles, losing some of the all important atmosphere. It doesn't help that, as is their irritating habit on their Blu-ray titles, the subtitles are absurdly small: the opening scrawl about the cutting and restoration of the print is so tiny it's hard to read even on a 40inch screen
On the plus side, despite losing the opening logo and having a slightly different opening credits sequence, StudioCanal's Blu-ray is slightly longer than the version Criterion released, with a bit more of the suicidal poet's self-pitying in his first scene. The sound quality has also seen considerable improvement, with Maurice Jaubert's terrific and vividly emotional score as much a beneficiary as the dialogue.
Although the original trailer (the only extra on the Criterion edition) is missing, it fares better on the extras, with an introduction by Ginette Vincendeau, a self-justifying featurette on the decisions behind the restoration and a 45-minute documentary on the making of the film, with the initial copies coming in a hardback digibook with English-language booklet. But it still feels like a missed opportunity.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2008
a fantastic, moody drama. a french soldier awol goes to a port to take a ship to escape his life. he runs into a local gangster, a girl and her guardian. terrific acting and superbly gloomy photography. you can smell the sea as well as the mood
a true classic
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2012
In Marcel Carné's visually stunning black & white film we follow Jean, a deserter who arrives at night in the northern French port town of Le Havre, looking to leave French shores for good. Jean is your classic outsider. He gets lucky whilst waiting around for a ship to take him to Venezuela: he gets civilian clothes, a little bit of money, a passport, a dog, and he also falls in love with Nelly (played by the stunningly beautiful Michéle Morgan) - a 17-year-old desperate to escape the clutches of her lecherous godfather, Zabel. In your typical film noir, Nelly would be the femme fatale - but Carné makes her too innocent to be one. Although she is the object of lust of various men including her (missing) boyfriend Maurice, her protector Zabel, and the local wannabe-gangster, Lucien, she exudes an innocence not found in your classic maneater.
Understandably, Jean falls deeply for Nelly. Their gradual domestication is symbolised by the their walking around together along the streets of Le Havre. Nelly stops to buy their (stray) dog a collar and lead. But is this domestic bliss between the lovers doomed? Does Jean anticipate a sad end for the couple by saying that the dog doesn't like the collar - it prefers to be free? Jean's ship is leaving for Venezuela in a matter of hours, but he's in love with Nelly. Will he leave her behind? Or is visiting the port-side dive bar, Panama's, the closest he'll get to Central/Sth America?
So much for the plot, but there is so much else in this beautifully harsh film. On the surface 'Le Quai des brumes' is your classic film noir: the outsider on the run; the gangsters; the femme fatale etc. But Carné plays with these tropes and adds another layer. There are discussions on art, war, and death to name but a few. For example, Jean meets an artist who comments that, "You have to be an idiot to go on living with such discontent, such anxiety." And Jean later has a heated discussion with the captain of the Venezuelan-bound ship on cubism:
"You're not a Cubist, are you?"
"Cubist? Of course not."
"Thank God. Cubism's not my thing."
Not your typical film noir dialogue, and it is all the more refreshing for it - even after all these years (the film was made over 70 years ago).
'Le Quai des Brumes' is existential film noir, par excellence. Highly recommended.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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.
It is often the case that English translations of foreign film titles do not really work. However, in the case of Marcel Carné’s 1938 outstanding poetic-noir (a new film genre?) Port of Shadows captures the film’s reflective, sombre mood and atmosphere pretty well (maybe Port of Darkness might be still more appropriate). The dark, fatalistic themes Carné established with Brumes would be continued, both in the same year’s Hotel du Nord and, more directly, 1939’s Le Jour se Lève. In common with Le Quai des Brumes, the latter film would also feature another bravura central performance from Jean Gabin, another sharp, ironic screenplay by Jacques Prévert and another dramatic score by Maurice Jaubert. The (largely) oppressive ambience of Brumes is rounded off by Eugen Schüfftan’s evocative cinematography of the 'murky underworld’ of the industrial port of Le Havre (the film’s setting).
Carné’s film has a particularly impressive set-up. The first half-hour or so fuses the visual and verbal to mesmerising effect as Gabin’s alternately phlegmatic and highly-strung army deserter, Jean, arrives in the sea port looking for 'escape’, prompted into reliving nightmares at the front and life-saver to his newly-found canine companion (later to provide the film’s sixth sense in irresistible fashion). Not only do Carné and Schüfftan work visual magic here, but the film’s cynical take on fate and destiny is reinforced by Édouard Delmont’s barman, Panama, who nails his barometer to ensure 'fair weather’, and by Raymond Aimos’ entrepreneurial drunk, Quart Vittel (a recurring, entertaining presence in the film) and Robert Le Vigan’s suicidal artist. The unveiling, bedecked in shiny raincoat and beret, of a stunning Michèle Morgan’s vulnerable femme-fatale, Nelly, is a highlight – and a moment from which we suspect Jean’s fate is sealed (remarkably the '17-year old Nelly’ actually reflected Morgan’s age at the time). Elsewhere, there is another superb turn from Michel Simon as the obsequious (and highly suspect) guardian to Nelly, Zabel, as well as Pierre Brasseur’s impressive depiction of the volatile, cowardly small-time gangster, Lucien.
The scenes between Gabin and Morgan come across as highly stylised, cinematic magic – recalling those between Bogart and Bacall in the likes of To Have And Have Not (even if the Gabin-Morgan age difference of 17 years is rather less than the 25 years difference between Bogey and Bacall). Both actors are outstanding – Gabin (in, admittedly, his stock role) as the conflicted (but hopeful) pessimist and Morgan, belying her inexperience, in an emotionally complex turn. The film also flaunts its 'European-ness’ – the sight of the youthful Morgan, negligée-clad in bed, with Gabin sitting close by, would certainly never have made it past the Production Code’s scrutiny.
For me, Carné’s film works primarily by dint of its atmosphere and characterisations. Having said this, the plot and pace rarely slacken and there is a rather unexpected twist along the way. Certainly, the denouement montage makes for another memorable sequence in what is an outstanding, and highly influential, piece of cinema.
The restored 2012 Studiocanal DVD provides a strikingly clear picture, as well as an interesting (but brief) introduction to the film from critic Ginette Vincendeau.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
So atmospheric,it easily eclipses most of the American film noir greats of the 40's.It was made in 1938 and came out in 1939.Do I really see shadows of the coming war in the dark locations and the looming ,all-pervasive fog,or is it my imagination?
The restoration on this is fantastic;the images are really clear,but,comme d'habitude,the plot becomes muddier and gloomier as events reach their inevitable conclusion.At least the dog gets away in the end.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2015
A wonderfully melancholic movie, dark, romantic and so immensely popular that it is reliably said to be one of the reasons why, in a mood of romantic pessimism, the French capitulated so easily to the Germans at the start of World War 2.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2014
Poetic realism at its greatest
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2014