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DVD Review
Pepe Le Moko
by Jürgen Fauth

Guide Rating -  

In the labyrinthine allies of the Casbah of Algiers, a bandit is hiding from the French authorities: no matter how many men they send into the Arabian underworld, the suave criminal and womanizer Pepe Le Moko remains untouchable. What will it take to arrest him? The sly detective has a plan, and it involves a beautiful Parisian lady....

Julien Duvivier's flawlessly entertaining 1937 film single-handedly introduced a now classic character: the raffish, conflicted, tragic anti-hero. Without Pepe Le Moko, played by Jean Gabin, there would not have been a Humphrey Bogart, a Steve McQueen, a Jean-Paul Belmondo, or a Bruce Willis. There is also more than just a little "Casablanca" in the "Pepe Le Moko's" North-African setting, the longing for escape, and even the way the main character is introduced. The DVD's generous bonus material traces the film's influence from the American remakes "Algiers" and "Casbah" all the way to the animated skunk Pepe Le Pew.

Jean Gabin's performance is utterly winning. When he's in love, he sings from the rooftops, and when he's drunk and angry, women throw themselves at his feet top stop him from acting foolish. But just like the Casbah itself, "Pepe Le Moko" is crowded with fascinating and colorful characters: the furiously loving gypsy woman, the side-kick with the annoying ball-and-stick toy, the weasily cop, and the Paris playgirl who is slumming it in the exotic twilight zone. Dense with plot and intrigue, "Pepe" grabs and doesn't let go until the final image.

While the restoration isn't quite up to the outstanding quality we've gotten used to from other Criterion discs, "Pepe Le Moko" is nonetheless an essential addition to the Criterion series and any serious film collector's DVD library.

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