January 13, 2020  (Web Review)

Port of Shadows

Kino Lorber, 91 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Jean Gabin literally steps out of the darkness in the opening scene of Marcel Carné’s 1938 classic of French cinema. Gabin is Jean, an AWOL soldier who takes refuge in a bar on the outskirts of a small port town engulfed in mist—a place haunted by lost souls—and falls in love with sad runaway Nelly (Michèle Morgan). Jean becomes entwined in the troubles of her life, which include the haughty, self-important guardian (Michel Simon) who lusts after Nelly and attempts to blackmail Jean, and a cocky, hot-headed gangster (Pierre Brasseur) who is humiliated in public after trying to scare Jean off. Gabin is perfect, with his rough, chiseled good looks that harden with angry determination or soften with a smile, and Simon, so often a comic figure, plays his contemptible character with gusto. This doomed tale of love in a corrupt world is a distinctly French ancestor of American film noir, with a softer edge and a tragic sadness to the tone, and director Carné and writer Jacques Prévert (who went on to collaborate on the 1945 French masterpiece Children of Paradise) infuse the movie with a sense of dignity and quiet poetry. At night the port town is like a place in the clouds, cut off from the rest of the world, one where all the sordid yearnings and desperate plans of the ambitious players take on a mythic resonance. A masterpiece of French poetic realism, this is presented in a 2K restoration, with extras including an introduction by French film historian Ginette Vincendeau, and a “making-of” featurette. Highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)