Jean Gabin in Le jour se lève (1939)


(director: Marcel Carne; screenwriter: Jacques Prevert/story by Jacques Viot; cinematographers: Agostini/Bac/Viguier; editor: Rene Le Henaff; music: Maurice Jaubert; cast: Jean Gabin (Francois), Jacqueline Laurent (Francoise), Arletty (Clara), Jules Berry (M. Valentin), Rene Genin (Concierge), Mady Berry (Concierge’s wife), Marcel Peres (Paulo), Jacques Baumer (Inspector), Rene Bergeron (Cafe proprietor), Georges Douking (Blind Man); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Brachet; New Yorker Films; 1939-France-in French-with English subtitles)

“What brings this film into greatness is the absolutely pitch-perfect lucid performance by Gabin.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marcel Carné (“Port of Shadows”/”The Children of Paradise”/”Hotel du Nord”/”Les Visiteurs du soir “) directs this excellent example of “poetic realism,” a doomed romantic melodrama from a taut script by Jacques Prevert that was based on the story by Jacques Viot. It was remade in Hollywood as The Long Night in 1947 and starred Henry Fonda.

By the opening scene we can surmise that honest, decent and straight-forward factory worker, Francois (Jean Gabin), a sandblaster, will soon be a dead man. In a fit of anger he has fatally shot the oily Lothario vaudeville dog trainer Valentin (Jules Berry), who visited his one-room attic apartment at night and filled his head with venomous thoughts. Francois barricades himself in his room, refusing to allow the police to enter or try and explain why he killed Valentin. They spray the apartment with gun fire, but according to French law can’t enter by force until daybreak. While waiting for the morning to come and the expected police attack, Francois recalls in a number of flashbacks what led to this film noir-like situation.

We soon learn that he recently met a young innocent pretty florist shopgirl, Francoise (Jacqueline Laurent), an orphan like himself, and the soul mates fell in love in their brief three-week courtship. One night she makes him go home early and goes to the music hall to watch Valentin perform. His disgruntled assistant for the last three years, the aging Clara (Arletty), walks out on the act and befriends the laconic Francois who secretly followed his girl and is sitting at the bar in disgust. Francois takes up with the experienced older woman, Clara, and while seeing her regularly still sees Francoise, whom he can’t figure out why she’s under the spell of such a sinister cad. Though Francoise agrees to marry Francois and stop seeing the world traveler and notorious liar, Valentin can’t give up his conquest and uses his guile against the laborer who has no guile and by hounding him that night gets him into a jealous rage to commit a crime of passion.

What brings this film into greatness is the absolutely pitch-perfect lucid performance by Gabin, the marvelously affecting one by Arletty, the compelling edgy one by Berry as the rival and the convincing one of the inarticulate unsophisticated lost soul Laurent plays who is unsure of her own feelings until it’s too late.