Midcentury Productions presents GABIN 118, in tribute to French film legend Jean Gabin, with screenings of seven films starring Gabin, at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco, on Sunday & Monday, May 15-16, 2022.
Jean Gabin has been an anchor and a touchstone in world cinema for almost a century, but only a handful of his films are really known—even to ardent cinephiles. Don Malcolm’s Midcentury Productions has been working hard at changing that, beginning in 2014 with its first foray into the “lost continent” of French film noir, THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT, a yearly series still ongoing at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.
The two-day, seven-film series, entitled GABIN 118 (Gabin was born on May 17, 1904) will open with a triple bill matinee on Sunday May 15, and will follow with evening double features that night, and again on Monday May 16. It’s a wide-ranging look at Gabin’s singular film presence, with films from the 30s to the 60s, including his only film with Marlene Dietrich, with whom he was romantically involved during World War II but whose romance came to a bittersweet end shortly after they worked together.
Sunday, May 15
- ZOU ZOU (1934) with Josephine Baker 12:30
“Gabin had to lobby hard to play opposite Josephine Baker in ZOU ZOU (1934), our opening film on Sunday afternoon,” Malcolm notes. “The result is a scintillating collision of personalities set in the free-for-all world of the Parisian music hall (from which, as you might remember, Gabin himself emerged).’’
Baker is often electrifying in ZOU ZOU, and you’d think she might blow Gabin off the screen with her exotic, sexualized presence. “But Gabin just stands there and holds his own,” Malcolm smiles, “and the story eventually pivots to his troubles. This is the first time, I think, where it’s clear that Gabin can command the screen without necessarily being the primary focus of the story. It’s a window into what made him so incredibly successful in so many different types of pictures.”
- GUEULE D’AMOUR aka LADYKILLER (1937) with Mireille Balin 2:15
This is the orphan child of the Poetic Realist moment, with Jean Grémillon providing a significant variation from the better-known PEPE LE MOKO. “It’s a reteaming of the two stars of PEPE,” Malcolm explains, “but that turns the tables on both their characters. Gremillon knows that Gabin can take care of himself on screen, so he builds up the mystery and allure around Mireille Balin, who became—at least for a little while—the biggest movie star in France.”
The screening of LADY KILLER is a wonderful (and rare) opportunity to “check another box” with respect to the classic films from that mysterious, alluring, shape-shifting phenomenon known as Poetic Realism. “Gremillon is the least known of the directors associated with that movement,” Malcolm notes. “And we’re pleased to have two of his best films in this series.”
- MOONTIDE (1942) with Ida Lupino & Claude Rains 4:00
The afternoon concludes with an intriguing curio from Gabin’s brief stay in Hollywood during WWII. MOONTIDE shows what happens when an international star is put through the Tinsel Town wringer. “Hollywood had found a way to assimilate Charles Boyer,” Malcolm notes, “because Boyer wore a tuxedo as well as anyone. But while you could dress up Gabin, he was no fashion plate—he was a man of the people. So, in MOONTIDE they take that idea a bit too far, and the results are a bit weird. But somehow it all works: Gabin’s chemistry with Ida Lupino and Claude Rains and the film’s brilliantly atmospheric photography keep you glued to the screen.”
“These two films—STORMY WATERS and PEOPLE OF NO IMPORTANCE—are deeply engaged with the complex essence of Gabin’s acting style and his search for complex characters who can be portrayed with his unique brand of deceptive naturalism,” Don notes.
In both films, Gabin is a married man engaging in an affair with a younger woman, but from there all the circumstances (and all the character colorations) are different. “A sea captain and a trucker—men who choose solitude for their profession but who somehow wind up embroiled in complicated situations despite themselves—Gabin excels at roles combining strength and vulnerability, and despite the relative obscurity of these two films, these are two of his greatest performances,” Don enthuses.
- REMORQUES aka STORMY WATERS (1941) with Michèle Morgan 6:45
- DES GENS SANS IMPORTANCE aka PEOPLE OF NO IMPORTANCE (1956) with Françoise Arnoul 8:30
Monday, May 16
- MARTIN ROUMAGNAC aka THE ROOM UPSTAIRS (1946) with Marlene Dietrich 7:00
This film would set the tone for many of the Gabin films that followed until his full commercial renaissance in 1954 after TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI. In this shadowy in-between period, he made films about men leading double lives, men who are lost; men who are blind, men who are unwitting murder victims—some of Gabin’s best performances are found in those years and still await rediscovery.
- LE CAVE SE REBIFFE aka COUNTERFEITERS OF PARIS (1961) with Martine Carol, Bernard Blier, Ginette Leclerc, Françoise Rosay 9:15
This movie has a stellar cast in support of Gabin (Bernard Blier, Martine Carol, Franck Villard, Ginette Leclerc, and the imperious Françoise Rosay) and boasts a very satisfying twist ending. “I think of it as a wonderful palate-cleanser with which to conclude a feast of filmwatching,” Don smiles. “And I think the French would approve!”
Tickets and passes are on sale on April 18 at roxie.com
Festival pass all 7 films: $33
Single ticket price: $14-15
5/15 matinee (3 films): $15;
5/15 evening (2 films): $14;
5/16 evening (2 films): $14
Dates: May 15 & 16, 2022
Address: Roxie Theater 3117 16th Street, San Francisco
Buy tickets: click here