QUAI DES BRUMES (PORT OF SHADOWS) (1938) B/W 91m dir: Marcel Carné

w/Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, Michel Simon, Pierre Brasseur, Robert Le Vigan, Jenny Burnay, Marcel Peres, Rene Genin, Edouard Delmont, Raymond Aimos

From The Movie Guide: "This marvelous distillation of the prevailing mood in prewar France was the first feature to win critical acclaim for the directing-writing team of Marcel Carne and Jacques Prevert (who had collaborated on JENNY and BIZARRE, BIZARRE and who would later create the beloved CHILDREN OF PARADISE). Gabin plays a deserter who comes to the port of Le Havre looking for passage to a distant country. In a local dive he becomes attracted to Morgan, ward of the owner of a shop that is a front for illicit dealing. When Gabin comes to Simon's shop to buy a gift for Morgan, the evil Simon promises Gabin a passport and money if he will kill one of Simon's enemies. ...

"A classic of French poetic realism, PORT OF SHADOWS conveys a deeply fatalistic belief that humankind is at the mercy of malevolent fate, a message that is communicated both through the simple story line and through the superb fog-shrouded sets (the work of Alexander Trauner) and forbidding locations. Ironically, PORT OF SHADOWS was originally to have been a German production. Carne was introduced to the Mac Orlan novel on which the picture is loosely based by Raoul Ploquin, then head of French productions at UFA in Berlin. Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels turned thumbs down on the project, however; he considered this story of a deserter to be decadent. The rights were sold to French producer Gregor Rabinovitch, who envisioned a lighter, happier film, and so quarreled constantly with Carne. Carne also had political problems with his own country, primarily with the French minister of war, who would not permit the word 'deserter' to be used and insisted that Gabin's soldier's uniform be treated respectfully. As a result, writer Prevert was forced to deviate from the novel in almost every respect. Notably, in the book, Morgan's heroine is no tempest-tossed innocent; she is a prostitute who murders her pimp and ends up wealthy. Banned from being shown during the Nazi occupation of France."

Be forewarned: the following material contains specific story information you may not want to know before viewing the film:

From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "In a busy port, a deserter from the Colonial Army, Jean (Gabin), meets a young orphan girl, Nelly (Morgan), and her villainous guardian, Zabel (Simon). The girl and the soldier fall in love. The soldier mixes with the underworld and Lucien (Brasseur), the leader of a local band of crooks, tries to force his attentions on Nelly. Jean kills Zabel when he attacks Nelly and tries to escape by ship, but Lucien kills him and the ship leaves the harbor.

"The original novel is used very freely as a basis for Prévert's script and is set in Le Havre in 1938 rather than Montmartre in 1912. As in Pépé le Moko ... , a man is trapped in a town where he meets his true love but is killed before he can escape on a boat with her. Unity of space, time, and action give the film a classical finish and suggest the influence of Kammerspiel. Fate, of course, is present --- in the shape of the painter (Le Vigan) and the tramp (Aimos) --- and this and the evil of the other characters prevent the lovers from reaching the ship, the symbol of an unknown and impossible 'elsewhere.'

"The center of the action, an underworld bistro, suggests less Les Lapin Agile of 1912 than Les Deux Magots and other Parisian cafés frequented by artists in the mid-Thirties. Roger Leenhardt wrote in 1936: 'The Prévertian spirit can be best defined by Les Deux Magots, the headquarters of heretical communists, film makers who refuse to yield to commercial pressures, and dissident surrealists. This charming café is one of the places where the mind is set free.'

"Carné's direction is masterful, not only in his handling of the actors, but in the visual suggestiveness he obtains from [director of photography Eugène] Schuftan's images and from [art director Alexandre] Trauner's perfect settings. Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan (working together for the first time) convey a real warmth of love that is rare in Carné's work.

"The film expresses so clearly (though unconsciously) the pessimistic mood of France before the 1940 debacle that Vichy spokesmen claimed, 'If we have lost the war it is because of Quai des brumes." Carné replied that one can't blame a storm on the barometer and that one of the aims of a film maker should be to be the barometer of his times. It was because this film was 'a sign of the times' that it was admired around the world. Its theme has been so often imitated that it has become trite."