Le Quai des Brumes (France 1938)

Director: Marcel Carné

Starring: Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Michel Simon

Cinematography: Eugene Schufftan

Music: Maurice Jaubert

Novel: Pierre Dumarchais

Script: Jacques Prévert 

Fact: The French government of the time believed that Carné's/Gabin's/Prevert's films engendered such a mood of hopelessness in the country that they helped the Germans to waltz into the country in 1940.

In one line: Deserter tries to save his lover from criminals


Jean (Gabin) a deserter from the French army finds himself in Le Havre. He is befriended by a home mess man and is taken to an isolated dockside inn where he meets various down-at-heel characters including the beautiful Nellly (Morgan). Nelly is trying to escape the clutches of her 'protector' Zabel, and a trio of gangsters.

Jean saves Nelly from gangster boss Lucien and spends the night with her. Jean is given the chance to escape to Venezuela via an altruistic suicide victim (who leaves him his clothes and papers) and a kindly sea captain who likes the cut of his jib.

Jean is about to take the figurative road to freedom, but the siren call of Nelly proves too much and he returns for one last time....


By virtue of an ancient French law, I have to mention the phrase 'Poetic Realism' when discussing this film. Carné's films capture the existential nature of a doomed existence and make the journey to an inevitable, tragic death seem almost appealing for ninety minutes or so. Just like Everton, I suppose.  Le Quai des Brumes is a fantastic film - beautiful to look at (especially on a big screen TV*), expertly and cleverly written, and acted with a genuine sense of fatalism by Gabin and Morgan.

The foggy docklands of Le Havre have their own shadowy beauty and Carné seems to anticipate film noir some six years before its American incarnation.

Everyone looks like someone familiar as if you are watching an ale-fuelled dream - the homeless drifter looks like Paul Whitehouse; Panama looks like Lance Henriksen; Morgan often looks like Lisa Stansfield circa 1988 and Gabin (unfortunately) looks like Danny Kaye**. 

Fatalism hasn't looked so appealing to me since the early 70s BBC2 version of The Roads to Freedom (with the excellent, and much missed Michael Bryant), and after watching this film I drank seven pints of cheap red wine, started smoking Gauloise  - unfiltered, and down to the last millimeter - and made a thimbleful or almost bitumen-like coffee last over four hours as I chatted complete and utter shit about situationism and the merits of Jerry Lewis and Charlie Chaplin films. 

And that's the true power of cinema.


*I wanted to be dead middle class and have a tiny telly, but then I realised that tiny tellies are shit. I mean really shit. Like wooden toys for (middle class children). Anyway, I only bought it to enhance the visceral and almost tangible, magical qualities of film.

And Quincy. And ITV3's repeats of Man About the House. And  original Bullseye on 'Challenge'. 

**We disagreed over many things, my father and I, but one thing we agreed on: Danny Kaye was about as funny as arthritis. (Which I'm now learning to my cost.) 

Gabin: It wouldn't kill you to give these windows a wipe every now and then. 

Morgan: F**k off, big nose.