best film:  The Grand Illusion though I’m really close to saying Ophuls’ Le Plaisir. I’ve only seen Le Plaisir once (I was blown away) so I hope to revisit and confirm soon. Still, for the time being The Grand Illusion is a marvelous film. It features a fantastic narrative, three strong performances (nobody stronger than Gabin) and Renoir’s gliding camera to frame it all.

best performance: The Grand Illusion but highly debatable. It’s tough because in Grand Illusion and Le Plasir– Gabin’s two best films- he shares the screen with so many others. Le Plaisir is an anthology film and he’s only in one story and of course in Grand Illusion there’s long sequences with Dalio and Von Stroheim. In some of the other films (nearly all of them are superb) Gabin is in every scene.  I think the key is here that I really need to see The Human Beast again. He’s miraculous in it but it’s been 10-12 years since I first caught it and I haven’t seen it since. Gabin in Grand Illusion is the epitome of working-class rugged masculinity. It’s an architype rarely if ever done so well before and copied countless times since. He’s a born hero and it was never more self-evident than it was in Grand Illusion.

stylistic innovations/traits:  It’s very tough to make it to slot #31 here on the list with less than 10 archiveable films (9). He also isn’t in a top 100 film (even some critics I’ve talked with seem to assume he’s in The Rules of the Game and he’s not). Gabin is a born leader—it’s impossible to picture him as a wing man or subordinate in part of a larger crew. He’s masculine, strong and has an incredibly screen presence. He’s blue-collar and very street. He’s in two masterpieces, and there’s really no “also-ran” entry in his archiveable filmography. The closest thing to a throwaway may be 1955’s French Cancan with Renoir which is still extremely worthy of praise. Performances 1-6 on his list are nearly interchangeable and he made four films with the great Jean Renoir- one of the great auteurs.

directors worked with:   Renoir (4), Carne (2), and then Ophuls once

Top 5 Performances:

  1. The Grand Illusion
  2. The Human Beast
  3. Port of Shadows
  4. Pepe le Moko
  5. Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Archiveable films

1936- The Lower Depths
1937- The Grand Illusion
1937- Pepe le Moko
1938- The Human Beast
1938- Port of Shadows
1939- Le Jour Se Leve
1952- Le Plaisir
1954- Touchez Pas au Grisbi
1955- French Cancan