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Pépé le Moko

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pépé le Moko
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJulien Duvivier
Screenplay byJulien Duvivier
Henri La Barthe
Jacques Constant (adaptation)
Henri Jeanson (dialogue)
Based onPépé le Moko
1937 novel
by Henri La Barthe
Produced byRaymond Hakim
Robert Hakim
StarringJean Gabin
CinematographyMarc Fossard
Jules Kruger
Edited byMarguerite Beaugé
Music byVincent Scotto
Mohamed Ygerbuchen
Distributed byArthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn (USA, 1941)
The Criterion Collection (Region 1 DVD, 2004)
Release dates
  • 28 January 1937 (1937-01-28) (France)
  • 3 March 1941 (1941-03-03) (US)
Running time
94 minutes

Pépé le Moko ([ lə mo.ko]) is a 1937 French film directed by Julien Duvivier starring Jean Gabin, based on a novel of the same name by Henri La Barthe and with sets by Jacques Krauss. An example of the 1930s French movement known as poetic realism, it recounts the trapping of a gangster on the run in Algiers, who believes that he is safe from arrest in the Casbah.

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Pépé le Moko, played by Jean Gabin, is a notorious thief who has been hiding in the labyrinthine Casbah for nearly two years. Despite the police's awareness of his presence, they have been unable to capture him due to the community's support and intricate layout. Pépé's life in the Casbah becomes monotonous, but leaving would result in his arrest. Inspector Slimane, portrayed by Lucas Gridoux, forms an unusual relationship with Pépé and vows to arrest him if he ever tries to leave.

One night, Pépé meets the Parisienne, Gaby, portrayed by Mireille Balin, and falls for her. Meanwhile, Régis, a Casbah resident, collaborates with the police and proposes a plan to use Pépé's friend Pierrot as bait to lure him out of the Casbah. Slimane also realizes Pépé's attraction to Gaby and brings her and her group to the Casbah to see Pépé.

Tension between Pépé and Régis boils over when Pierrot goes missing, and Pépé confronts Régis. Gaby and Pépé meet in the Casbah again and spend a night together. However, when Pierrot dies, Régis is killed, and Gaby leaves without saying goodbye. Pépé spirals into a nervous breakdown, but Ines keeps him in the Casbah by lying about Gaby's whereabouts.

Pépé later finds Gaby in the Casbah and they have a passionate encounter. They agree to see each other again the next day. However, Slimane intervenes and tells Gaby's fiancé that it is dangerous for her to visit the Casbah, hoping that Pepe will come looking for her if she doesn't show for their rendez-vous. Despite this warning, Gaby chooses to ignore her fiancé and meet with Pepe again. But Slimane tells Gaby that Pepe is dead.

Pépé writes a letter to Gaby, which he gives to Carlos and asks him to deliver it to her hotel. When Pépé is later informed that Gaby is leaving Algiers after being told he was dead by Slimane, he leaves the Casbah to find her. Ines tells Slimane about Pepe's plan, leading to his arrest at the harbor. Pepe watches the ship take Gaby away and commits suicide with a knife.



Principal photography for the film was shot at a replica of the Casbah at Joinville-le-Pont, near Paris, and only exterior shots were filmed in Algiers. Lead actress Mireille Balin never set foot in Algeria during the making of the film.

The set design that Jacques Krauss created for the film established the setting in the Casbah. With little to no location shooting, Krauss' work was central to the production of the film. At that time in French cinema, shooting on sets was preferred to location shooting because of the artistic control it gave to designers such as Krauss.

Duvivier utilized multiple methods of creating a sense of realism despite filming on a set. He introduced the setting of the Casbah with documentary style footage. This included longer establishing shots of the Casbah in its entirety along with shorter shots that showed the chaotic atmosphere. Also, Duvivier included longer shots when focusing on characters. This technique made scenes feel like they were happening in real time.

Another element of the production was the film noir style. Multiple shots include the shadow of venetian blinds or other pieces of Krauss' set design that obscure characters with shadows, which is a common effect used in the genre of film noir.

Dialogue was important to French filmmaking at the time Pépé le Moko was made because of the recent introduction of sound. The screenplay and dialogue were written separately for this film with Henri La Barthe, Julien Duvivier, and Jacques Constant credited for writing the screenplay, and Henri Jeanson for the dialogue.

Jean Gabin was a skilled singer and there are multiple moments in the film when he sings songs that are relevant to his character and the story. Fréhel, another skilled singer, also sings during the film as her character.[1]

Critical reception

Negative reviews of "Pépé le Moko" are fairly rare, with critics generally praising the film for its direction, performances, and themes. Most critics and scholars mark the film to be a crucial and noteworthy work of early French cinema. However, as with most works of art, there are differing opinions and interpretations, with some viewers and critics not responding to the film as positively as others.

Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 100% based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 8.65/10.[2] Metacritic reports a score of 98, based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[3]

English author Graham Greene in a review of the film for The Spectator asserted: "One of the most exciting and moving films I can remember seeing". It succeeds in "raising the thriller to a poetic level".[4] According to a BBC documentary, it served as inspiration for Greene's screenplay for The Third Man. It has many similarities with the American film Casablanca, which was released a few years later.

In a review, writer James Travers states that the 1937 film could be considered the "most evocative of the early American film noir".[5] Due to the arrival of the Second World War and the dark nature of the film, French authorities grew increasingly concerned over the "demoralizing influence"[5] and eventually decided to bar citizens from viewing the film.

Though the American opening of the film had been delayed for roughly four years by Walter Wagner, director of Algiers, (U.S. release date March 3, 1941 compared to the French release in 1937[6]) due to his purchase of the rights to the film within America, the film was well-received as reported by the New York Times. [7]


The film was remade in America in 1938 as Algiers, starring Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer, and again in 1948 as Casbah, a musical starring Tony Martin, Märta Torén, Yvonne de Carlo, and Peter Lorre. The title character's French accent and womanizing, as portrayed by Charles Boyer in the 1938 remake, inspired the name and comic premise of the Looney Tunes cartoon character, Pepé Le Pew, introduced in 1945.[8]


  1. ^ Vincendeau, Ginette (1998). Pépé le Moko. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN 0-85170-674-6. OCLC 39916698.
  2. ^ "Pépé le Moko (1937)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  3. ^ "Pépé le Moko (re-release)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  4. ^ Greene, Graham (22 April 1937). "Stage and Screen: The Cinema". The Spectator. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  5. ^ a b Travers, James (2002). "Review of the film Pépé le Moko (1937)". Retrieved 2023-04-06.
  6. ^ Pépé le Moko (1937) - IMDb, retrieved 2023-04-06
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1941-03-04). "'Pepe Le Moko,' or the Original French Version of 'Algiers,' at the World -- New Film at Rialto". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-04-06.
  8. ^ LoBianco, Lorraine. "Algiers". Retrieved March 16, 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 12 April 2023, at 22:34
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