"Pepe Le Moko" is an early film noir, coming several decades before the French themselves invented the term to explain atmospheric American crime films. And it is one of the best, a film ranking right up there with the work of Melville, Becker, and other top post war directors.
This is being billed in the US now as a sort of lost film. Actually, it wasn't lost. Hollywood simply bought the rights and kept it off American movie screens so it could release its own remake of it in 1938, retitled "Algiers." That wasn't a half bad film, made enjoyable for the most part because it was a very off-beat story, had great atmosphere and featured the breathtakingly beautiful Hedy Lamarr in the role of Gaby.
At first, when looking at this French original, you wonder why it seems so familiar. Then you realize that the Hollywood version is almost a shot for shot remake, copying almost everything. Everything, that is, but the performance of Jean Gabin.
Hollywood's version, which stared Charles Boyer, always seemed a little contrived, primarily because Boyer was just not very convincing as the tough Paris gangster who pulls a bank heist and flees to Algiers, where he takes up permanent residence in the Arab quarter, the Casbah. Boyer just didn't seem like the gangster type.
Gabin, who had played rough characters before and would go on to play many others, is perfect as the smart, charismatic, but sometimes brutal Pepe.
It is ironic that the French, so in love with gangster films that they copied American cops and robbers films of the 30s, actually made one of their own in that era that wound up being copied by the Americans.
This one is well worth seeing.