Pepe Le Moko (1937)

Pepe Le Moko (1937)

“Arresting Pepe in a place like the Casbah isn’t child’s play.”

When legendary thief Pepe Le Moko (Jean Gabin) — hiding in the corridors of the Algerian Casbah — meets and falls in love with a glamorous Parisienne (Mireille Balin), a trailing detective (Lucas Gridoux) finds it much easier to set a trap for him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • French Films
  • Jean Gabin Films
  • Julien Duvivier Films
  • Romance
  • Thieves and Criminals

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that while it’s “not as exotic as Algiers, the American remake starring Charles Boyer… and Hedy Lamarr,” this “great cinema romance” by Julien Duvivier is “a much better film.” He writes that “Jean Gabin is so naturally charismatic, suave, and charming that we tend to overlook that he’s not a nice guy.”

Indeed, “he treats his loyal native girlfriend Ines (Line Noro) like disposable trash”:

… and “he not only fails to protect his youngest gang member (Gilbert Gil)”:

… “but also sends his most trusting friend (Gabriel Gabrio) on a fool’s errand that gets him arrested.” However, “we don’t find him immoral, just as we find nothing objectionable about Gaby (Mireille Balin), the beautiful Parisian woman with whom he has an affair”:

… adding, “We find that their love for each other transcends past trangressions and we root for their happiness.” Peary points out that Duvivier’s direction “is the best of his career,” with “his camera… very mobile:

… and some of the finest moments occur[ring] when he moves away from his characters’ faces and focuses on Pepe’s shoes, Gaby’s jewelry, or other props.” He notes that in his “favorite scene the director has Tania (Frehel), a chubby, poor, middle-aged woman, tearfully and beautifully sing along with the moving French torch song.”

What film fanatics will most appreciate about this film, however, is its enormously atmospheric sets and “poetic realism”: one really feels immersed in the stylized universe of the Casbah, and can understand the tensions Pepe faces between staying safely “protected” versus venturing back out into the wider world.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jean Gabin as Pepe
  • Highly atmospheric cinematography and sets

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical relevance as a fine example of French poetic realism.


  • Foreign Gem

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Pepe Le Moko (1937)

  1. I would agree that it’s a once-must for its “French poetic realism” – but also as an effective crime drama, for Duvivier’s direction and Gabin’s performance.

    It’s certainly better than ‘Algiers’!

    It may not have a whole lot to present that’s new in this type of film (though it has distinctive quirks) but Duvivier does a fine job in making the film representative of its type.

    Gabin is particularly impressive in this film. I sat up and took real notice of what he was doing. I can’t say I’ve always reacted that way towards him – even though he is apparently among the most beloved of hard-working French actors (he has almost 100 IMDb-listed credits). But here he gives a rather commanding – at times, genuinely menacing – performance.

    (Also of note is Gridoux as the shady detective; I’m not familiar with this actor’s work but he more or less equals Gabin’s performance.)

    The cinematography and sets are indeed “highly atmospheric”.

    My enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by the fact that I find Gabin’s affair with Balin a bit less than authentic in its passion or that one aspect of the conclusion seems contrived. For the most part, the film contains an energy that’s remarkable for a 1937 film – and the last 10 minutes are memorable.

  2. Agreed re: Gabin — his performance is a highlight (and yes, Gridoux is quite slimy). Love how those last ten minutes are handled (especially camera placement choices).

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