Port of Shadows (1938): Marcel Carne’s Masterpiece, Starring Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan

Laemmle Theatres and Rialto Pictures present Marcel Carné’s 1938 masterpiece, “Port of Shadows,” starring the charismatic Jean Gabin and the beautiful Michele Morgan, in a new DCP restoration featuring an all-new translation and subtitles.

Gabin plays Jean, a deserter from the Colonial Army, who arrives in Le Havre searching for a place to keep a low profile. He certainly doesn’t expect to get involved in the dispute between local “tough” guy Lucien (Pierre Brasseur) and distinctively-bearded shop owner Zabel (Michel Simon).

Nor does Jean expect to fall in love with Nelly (Michèle Morgan), a mysterious and alluring teenager. In need of a new life and haunted by his past, Jean wants to disappear. But can he? Does he really want to?

Praised as one of Marcel Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert’s greatest achievements and a highlight of French poetic realism, “Port of Shadows” is a noirish exploration of the ambiguous zone between past and future, life and death, and the impossibility of escaping the past, al quintessential themes of film noir as a distinct genre.

Jacques Prévert’s script about the lives of outcasts is by turns tough, poetic, lyrical, navigating smoothly between these divergent tones, and so does Carne’s spectacular direction, which at the time was innovative and even revolutionary.

“Port of Shadows” (a great, accurate title), which was made just before WWII and a year before Jean Renoir’s classic “Rules of the Game,” represents one of the finest films not just in French but also in world cinema.

The scholar Dudley Andrew has poignantly observed: “With its opening scene of bedraggled Jean Gabin struggling down a foggy road, the very temperament of French cinema changed.”

But it’s not only the opening sequence—the entire film is imbued with dark, mysterious, and seductive images that linger in memory long after the viewing experience is over.

The collaboration of Marcel Carne and Jacques Pervert will produce another world cinema masterpiece, “Children of Paradise,” in 1945.

Black and white
Running time: 91 Minutes.