Wednesday, December 24, 2008

57 Minutes into Pepe Le Moko

Premiere Magazine, before it went belly-up, used to run a monthly column called "Gaffe Squad," in which the writers would point out mistakes in various movies -- an errant boom microphone dipping into the top of the frame, a caveman wearing a Timex, characters looking off into the wrong direction, etc.

Brian D. Scott, a Texas Jean Gabin fan, emailed to tell me that he just found a mistake in Gabin's most classic movie, Pepe Le Moko: Brian noticed (correctly) that 57 minutes into the movie, Pepe, who's wearing a dark shirt and a light tie with dots on it, sits down and his jacket opens up to reveal "J.G." ("Jean Gabin") on his left breast pocket!

I checked the scene out for myself, and Brian is right! Even classic movies have the occasional gaffe.

Merry Christmas from

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

World's Coolest Science Fiction Movie! Jean Gabin in "Le Tunnel" (1933)

Everybody has a favorite science fiction movie -- whether it's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, or even Angry Red Planet.
But one of the best-ever science fiction movies, in this author's view, was made in 1933 -- and in America, it is completely unknown!

In 1930, the German author wrote a book called Der Tunnel, and it became an instant best-seller in that country; it's the powerful (and fictional) story of a quietly powerful engineer who spearheads the first underground transatlantic tunnel, spanning between Europe and the U.S.; we see both the European and American teams building together, with the emphasis on the American team. The idea is that a super train will be built between the two continents, thus bringing the entire world together, in the spirit of brotherhood.

In 1933, the German production company UFA produced two simultaneous versions of the film -- one in the German language featuring German actors and director, and a second version in France, which featured French actors and director. Both versions are reportedly the same, shot-for-shot and cut-for-cut, and it's important to note that, before subtitles became common, countries used to make entire versions of their films in different languages, for export to different countries. For me, it is the French version which is of more interest, because it starred the great international movie star, Jean Gabin, in the only science fiction movie of his entire forty-six year, ninety-five film career.

Four years after Le Tunnel, Jean Gabin, of course, would become internationally famous for a handful of movies in which he starred in the mid-to-late 1930s, including Pepe Le Moko, La Grande illusion, La Bete humaine, and Le Jour se leve -- films in which he played movie history's consummate 'tragic drifter,' a man who was tough on the outside and marshmallow-soft on the inside. But in the Tunnel, his 12th movie in only four years (he had begun starring in movies in 1930), thirty-year-old Gabin's quietly powerful personality is already fully-formed, and he's on the top of his game.

In La Tunnel, Jean Gabin is great as MacAllan, the engineer who spearheads the building from the American side. (Yes, the American team is played by French actors, speaking French, which is a bit disconcerting, at first.) Along the way, MacAllan's workers are beset by all manner of problems, including a bad guy trying to sabotage the project, deceitful workers, and tunnel sickness. But he overcomes them all and leads his team to victory.

Besides being one of the great science fiction movies of the 1930s -- it definitely rivals the other 1930s sci-fi movie that's been universally recognized as the stalwart in that genre, director William Cameron Menzies 1937 vision of Victor Hugo's Things to Come in both its ever-present humanity and in its ground-breaking special effects, which are just as awe-inspiring as any CGI effects today (particularly the bullet trains) -- Le Tunnel is probably the only Jean Gabin movie which could be re-made today by a major Hollywood studio, because it's exactly the kind of big, plot-driven picture that Jerry Bruckheimer does very well.

The bad news, is that the film is not available on DVD in the United States. The good news, is that it IS available on DVD in France -- although the film is presented in its original French language only, and there are no English subtitles or English dubbing.

So if you work for Criterion or Rialto, and you want to introduce Americans to a great, rousing sci-fi classic -- look into Le Tunnel!.

PS: While you're waiting on the French-language/Jean Gabin version of The Tunnel to be released on US DVD, the good news, is that right now, you can take a look at a subsequent version of the film which was made two years later, in English, as a U.S./British co-production, and which IS available on DVD in North America: It's 1935's The Tunnel, directed by _______; based on the same source material as the French version (the novel), it's "almost" as good as the Gabin version and, while it doesn't feature Gabin, it does have the American cowboy star Richard Dix as MacAllan (with Walter Huston ably aiding and abetting in the role of the sympathetic/humanistic President of the United States).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Marlene Dietrich: Her "Lost" Film is Not Lost!

Between 1930 (Blue Angel) and 1978 (Just a Gigolo), Marlene Dietrich starred in thirty-five sound films, and all of them are known in the United States -- all of them, that is, except for one; in fact, all of Marlene Dietrich's sound features are known in the US except for one of her best films:

In 1946, Marlene Dietrich co-starred with her real-life lover Jean Gabin, the great French movie icon (and star of Pepe Le Moko and La Grande illusion) in director George Lacombe's hypnotic Martin Roumaganc, a kind of proto-Streetcar Named Desire -- released in fact, only a year before Williams' Streetcar premiered on Broadway -- in which a small time prostitute played by Dietrich (as in Streetcar, her character's name is Blanche) falls in manipulative love with an inarticulate, rough-hewn, "pre-Stanley Kowalski" contractor named Martin (Jean Gabin), torturing him emotionally until he commits a savage act.

The long and short of it, is that Martin Roumagnac is amazing, and the fact that it is completely unknown in the United States today, is entirely related to the fact that when it was very briefly released in the US in 1948, as The Room Upstairs (one movie theater in NYC, a one week run) the film's North American distribution company, the now-defunct Lopert Pictures, excised 31 minutes from the 115-minute film, apparently rendering its own 80-minute cut completely senseless: According to published reports, in the truncated US/Lopert cut, all references to the fact that Marlene Dietrich's character is a prostitute were removed, and since the whole film is about the fact that Dietrich's character is a prostitute, one can only imagine how choppy this version may have been.)

After this quick one-theater/one-week release in 1948, Martin Roumaganc was was never heard from in the US again -- in fact, for more than fifty years, the complete version of the film was hard-to-come by even in France, for a very simple reason: Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich were ensconsed in a torrid, real-life affair throughout the early-to-mid 1940s, and when they broke up (Gabin wanted Dietrich to marry him, but she was already married -- a lifelong marriage of convenience to the production designer Rudolph Sieber) Gabin was apparently so distraught, he bought up, and destroyed, as many of the uncut prints of Martin Roumagnac as were available!

In 2006, however, Canal + released the completely uncut Martin Roumagnac in a digitally restored edition on DVD; I saw it when I was researching my new Jean Gabin book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR, and it's truly an astounding film -- a haunting 1940s classic, with cinematography by Roger Hubert (he shot Carne's Les Enfants du paradis) which recalls the great look that DP Henri Alekan gave to Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. While you can purchase the uncut Martin Roumagnac DVD on line, from Amazon France ( or from, it's a Region 2 DVD, which means that it is only playable on European DVD machines (unless you own an international DVD player, which isn't too hard to find) and it is in French only -- which is to say that the DVD has neither English subtitles nor English dubbing.

Part of the reason I wrote my new book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN is because I wanted to introduce American readers to Jean Gabin's movies, many of which, like Roumagnac, have never received proper US releases, in theaters or on DVD. Anyway, hopefully, some forward-thinking US company (Rialto or Criterion?) will one day, and sooner rather than later, release Martin Roumagnac on an English-subtitled DVD, so that American audiences can enjoy this great "missing" 1940s film classic. Never before had Marlene Dietrich been so alluring; never before had Gabin been so cool...

To find out more about Martin Roumagnac, more about the Dietrich/Gabin affair, and more about how Martin Roumagnac may have been squelched in the United States because it may have "directly inspired" Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, which premiered on stage in New York a year after Martin Roumaganc had its (very) limited theatrical release in New York, go to and read WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO.

Great Holiday Gift Book for Classic Movie Lovers: World's Coolest Movie Star

If you're scratching your head, wondering what to buy the classic movie lover in your life for the Holidays, here's the (two-volume book) for you. And if you've ever heard the expression, "Come with me to the Casbah" -- it's time to meet the man who spoke those legendary words.

Russia. Poland. Romania. Czech Republic. Mexico. Japan. Iran.
All over the world -- everywhere except in the U.S. -- the legendary Jean Gabin continues to be considered one of the greatest movie stars of all time, and in the U.S., he is, of course, considered to be quite the cult figure (in 2002, twin Gabin festivals were presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Walter Reade Theatres in New York). Jean Gabin is/was also one of the all-time-favorite movie stars of Johnny Depp, David Mamet, Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, Sergio Leone, and Jack Kerouac. For the vast majority of the moviegoing public, and just like a lot of the greats, he's managed to have fallen off of the radar a bit.

That's about to change, however, because in 2008, Allenwood Press presents the very first English-language (and two-volume) book about Jean Gabin, ever. (There's not even an old, out-of-print book about Gabin in English, if you can believe that!) It's WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN by CHARLES ZIGMAN.

VOLUME ONE, which has been subtitled "Tragic Drifter," takes us through Gabin's first forty-six films, including the internationally reknowned "Grand Illusion" and "Pepe Le Moko," a period spanning the years 1930 to 1953, during which time the actor played movie history's most famous tragic drifter. During the 1930s and 1940s, Gabin's popularity in the U.S. nearly even eclipsed that of Bogart, James Cagney, and Bette Davis. (Ever heard anybody say, "Come with me to the Casbah. We will make ze beautiful muzeek togezaire?" Well, that line was famously attributed to the character Jean Gabin portrayed in the 1937 gangster classic "Pepe Le Moko," even though he never actually uttered those words -- in fact, Gabin's 'Pepe' character even inspired Warner Bros. to create its legendary cartoon skunk, Pepe Le Pew, whose looks and voice were modeled on the actor.)

VOLUME TWO, which has been subtitled "Comeback/Patriarch" covers Films 47 through 95, which Gabin made between 1954 and 1976. During this period of his career, instead of playing the tragic drifter, the actor played a series of mega-cool gentleman-criminals, and world-weary (yet life-loving) patriarchs. Jean Gabin would even turn out some hilarious comedies during this period -- films which are criminally unknown in the U.S.

The tone of the book is "fun" (as opposed to "academic" and "pretentious") and its goal is to introduce as many people as possible to the films of Gabin; to that end, it's loaded with rare photographs, many of which have never appeared even in previously published French-language books about Gabin.

This is a book for Jean Gabin 'newbies' and 'completists' both: For the uninitiated, there are biography and 'intro' chapters which place Gabin and his famous big-screen persona into perspective. For the completists, author Charles Zigman has 'unpacked' every single one of Jean Gabin's ninety-five theatrical feature films, even the more than fifty pictures which have never been subtitled into English before, so that readers can feel, by poring through the chapters, that they are actually experiencing the films firsthand. Excerpts from newspapers written 'back in the day,' both in the U.S. and in Europe, demonstrate how prominent movie critics received Gabin's pictures the day they were first released, in the 1930s through the 1970s. In short this two-volume book is for everybody.

Besides being the first book about Jean Gabin to appear in the English language, WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR is also a first, because it is the very first 'filmography book' related to Gabin in any language: Even in France, where there have been many published biographies of Gabin, there has never been a book which concentrates in great detail on each of the actor's ninety-five films.

The legendary actress Michele Morgan, who appeared with Gabin in five feature films, has written the foreword to Volume One, and Brigitte Bardot contributed an original foreword to Volume Two.

The books retail at $39.95 each (total, $79.90 for both books) but you can buy them both together, at, for $63.92, a savings of about $16.00 (scroll down to the bottom of the Amazon listing to see the "buy together" option).

For Christmas 2008, it's time for Americans to learn what the rest of the world has always known. Jean Gabin is THE WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR.

To learn more about Gabin and to buy, go to:


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An Email from France's Minister of Culture

Every once in awhile, I receive a nice note or email from somebody who has read WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR, my book about Jean Gabin (

Today, I was delighted to receive this unexpected email from the office of France's Minister of Culture, the Honorable Christine Albanel.

Monsieur Charles ZIGMAN

Nos réf. : CC/19396/MAC


Vous avez bien voulu adresser à Christine Albanel, ministre de la Culture et de la Communication, vos deux livres consacrés à Jean Gabin.

La ministre a pris connaissance avec beaucoup de plaisir de ces deux ouvrages et m’a chargé de vous remercier pour votre contribution de grande qualité à la mémoire d’une étoile du cinéma français.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.

Le Chef de cabinet




Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture and Communication, has received your two books devoted to Jean Gabin.

The Minister noted these two books with great pleasure, and has asked me to thank you for your contribution of high-quality memory of a star of French cinema.

Please accept the assurances of my best.

The Chief of Staff,
PS: Some Gabin "Dribs and Drabs" for a December Morning:

-- reader Brian D. Scott emailed and told me that he remembers Telly Savalas playing Pepe Le Moko on the old CBS "Carol Burnett Show;"
-- Lawrence Peck tells me that there is (or was, a few years ago) a karaoke bar in Seoul, Korea called "The Jean Gabin Club," and he's trying to find his old matchbook with the silhouette of Gabin on it... I'll post it here, if it ever turns up.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving From


Here's a picture of Jean Gabin, taken at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955.

And here's a link to a website called "Screengrab:" It's an article about Movie History's 25 Greatest Leading Men of All Time, and Gabin is listed at #12!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eastbound and Down: Jean Gabin Played a Trucker in Two Great Films

During the second half of his illustrious film career, which I've documented in the second volume of my book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND OF JEAN GABIN, an 'older' Jean Gabin, in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s played any number of ultra cool/suave gentleman-gangsters, cops, mentors, and white-haired patriarchs.

He also played, in two movies which were made in quick succession, in 1955 and 1956, truckers. And if you think about it, who better to play a trucker than Jean Gabin - truckers, like Gabin (in real-life and in his movies) are professional and contemplative (one would hope) drifters who spend long stretches of life driving along life's existential, and real, highways.

Gas-Oil (1955) and Des gens sans importance [People of No Importance] (1956), are two masterful movies in which Gabin played surly, world-weary truckdrivers, and his performances in each film are top drawer. Weirdly, while both of these movies are considered to be important classics of 1950s cinema in France, neither of them was ever released in the United States. (Gas-Oil's production company, Intermondia, considered releasing Gas-Oil in the United States, even reportedly striking an English subtitled print, which it re-titled Hi-Jack Highway, but a US release never happened.)

In director Gilles Grangier's taut Gas-Oil, Gabin appears opposite another French screen legend, Jeanne Moreau. He's trucker Jean Chape (the rough translation in English is "Jean the Man!") and he's on the lam from a bunch of hardcore thugs who think he's stolen their cache of money -- which, decidely, he has not. Gas-Oil is the only film in which Gabin and Moreau ever co-starred, although the legendary actress did have a small, supporting role in the previous year's Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), the film noir which brought Gabin into what was essentially his "second" career in France -- that period during which he played the 'older' guy, instead of the matinee idol which he had played when he was younger.

In director Henri Verneuil's Des gens sans importance, married fifty-something Gabin is trapped in a loveless marriage, but finds solace -- not to mention succor -- in the arms of twentysomething Francoise Arnoul (who also starred with Gabin in the previious year's French Can-Can), and their May-December romance, glorious at first, takes an unfortunate turn for the tragic.

While neither Gas-Oil nor Des gens sans importance has ever been available in America, they ARE both available on DVD in France -- however these two PAL (European)-format DVDs are in French-only -- in other words, there are no English-subtitles; if you're fluent in French, you can find them on French ( or on

If anybody from the Criterion Collection happens to be reading this, these two truckeriffic Gabin efforts from the mid '50s would really benefit from being packaged together in a 2-film boxed set... with English subtitles, of course!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On May 22 and 23, 2004, All The Mail in France Featured a Special Jean Gabin Postmark.

The great French movie icon Jean Gabin was born on May 17, 1904, and on May 22 and 23, 2004, on the occasion of what would have been his one hundredth birthday, all of the posted mail in France bore this special Jean Gabin Postmark -- for two days only.

Here is an envelope bearing the special Jean Gabin postmark. It was sent to me by Corinne Marchal of the Jean Gabin Museum in Meriel, France -- and Meriel was, of course, Gabin's birthplace. (Of course, this envelope is actually Jean Gabin museum stationery!)

You can click on the picture of the envelope to enlarge it.

Los Angeles-Area Restaurant Offered a Jean Gabin Menu in 2002.

In 2002, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) held a twelve-film Jean Gabin retrospective. At that time, there was a French restaurant across the street from the Museum called the Brasserie des Artistes.

In conjunction with the festival, the Brasserie featured a special, "limited time" Gabin Menu featuring Gabin's favorite foods, wherein you could bring your ticket stub from the LACMA festival over to the restaurant, enjoy the meals that Jean Gabin loved best, and get $2 off your dinner check -- just by presenting a special handbill/flyer that was given out at the Museum.

I wanted to post the Brasserie's menu on this blogsite about a month ago, when I wrote the entry about Gabin's favorite foods, but I didn't have a copy, and I was frustrated over the fact that I hadn't kept the copy I used to have. But my friend Lawrence Peck, whom I've known since first grade (!), did manage to keep a copy. He sent it to me this week, and here it is! (You can click on the menu to enlarge it.) If the menu selections sound familiar to you they should, because about a month ago, I posted a blog about 'Gabin's Favorite Foods' (I asked the Gabin Museum's Corinne Marchal to list them for me) and this is essentially the same list.

PS -- Don't try to go to the Brasserie des Artistes to enjoy your Gabin Meal, though; the restaurant shut its doors a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Handwritten Letter From Jean Gabin (Rare 1918 Artifact)

Here's a rare artifact which was just brought to my attention by Corinne Marchal, who sent it to me (she's the Webmaster of the Jean Gabin Museum in Meriel, France): It's a letter written by Jean Gabin -- in the original French, in his own hand -- in 1918, when he was fourteen years old. My friend Laurence Bardet-Danton translated the letter from French into English, exclusively for this blog posting, and you can click on the letter to enlarge it.

Some background about the letter:

As you know from reading my new book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, Jean Gabin absolutely adored his sister Madeleine who was older than him by seven years, and he was threatened, at first, when Madeleine begain dating a boxer by the name of Jean Poesy.

What Gabin didn't count on, is that he'd really grow to admire Poesy -- Poesy, in effect, became "the father that Jean Gabin never had," since Gabin's real father, Ferdinand, was often away from home, performing in musical theater. In fact, Poesy would eventually set up a boxing studio in Meriel, where he would teach "the sweet science" to Jean and other teens.

Following, is the English translation of the letter. Gabin has written it to his sister Madeleine and to Poesy who were vacationing together in Paris, at the time. In the letter, we see that Madeleine will be returning home to Meriel for a visit, but that she will not be bringing Poesy along on this trip -- and young Gabin is sad, because he was really looking forward to seeing him, and even having Poesy join a local soccer team. (The stream-of-consciousness-style teen-aged grammar is Gabin's own):

"Dear Madeleine and Dear Poesy:

We have received your letter yesterday evening and I thank you... in Meriel we had a big storm and it was difficult to walk. To go up the path, I had to bend my head and battle with the wind. To talk about something else, I want to tell you that I am very angry that Poesy is not coming. He absolutely must come. We would be very happy to see him. He can spare 8 days to set up the room [here, Gabin is referencing the boxing studio which Poesy would soon be organizing in Meriel].

There will be no people in the trade right away ...You should come because I am in the Second soccer [team], and you should come for a month, because it's not expensive. It's 20 cents a month. You could be on the First team; the Meriel guys would carry you high in triumph because you are a lightweight champion of FRANCE; you would, at least, beat a guy from the "Racing Club" [another local French soccer team]... To finish my letter: Madeleine, Please come and tell me when you will be arriving, so I can pick you up at the Meriel station. Father has been in a bad mood lately, and he will be in a good mood when he sees you!

Your Jean who will always love you."
(Meriel, 1918)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Larry McMurtry: Jean Gabin Fan!

Larry McMurty: Author/Jean Gabin Fan

As I mention in my book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, Gabin, besides being a great actor, was also a farmer. Watch how McMurtry leads into a review of a book about Jesse James with a mention of Gabin!
(Reprinted from The New Republic, 10/14/02)!

Larry McMurtry, The New Republic,
Rebel, Rebel
by Larry McMurtry

Peasant revolts are usually bloodier than they are funny, but a funny one occurred in Normandy in 1972, when seven hundred peasants woke up the French actor Jean Gabin to complain that he was hogging too much land—some six hundred acres at the time. In vain did Jean Gabin—once more or less the face of France—argue that he had earned his acreage; after a vigorous debate he agreed to lend half of it. It was lucky for Gabin that he got too big for his britches in Normandy rather than in Missouri, and in 1972 rather than 1872, the heyday of Jesse James. In Missouri there would have been no peasant council, just a bushwhacker with a pistol, possibly Jesse James himself.

I mention Jean Gabin's difficulty because T.J. Stiles, after carrying the reader scrupulously through Jesse James's violent, violent life, bumps in his concluding pages into Eric Hobsbawm's much-disputed theory of social banditry, a notion first elaborated in a book called Social Bandits and Primitive Rebels (1959). The concept resurfaces a decade later in a simpler Hobsbawm book called merely Bandits, in which Jesse James comes in for rather sketchy mention. In Hobsbawm's view, social bandits emerge from rural, pre-capitalist peasant societies, and they champion peasant needs in conflicts with the lord or the state. They can be understood only in the context of peasant society, and as proto-revolutionaries.

This theory may work well when applied to the haiduk of Bulgaria or other European rebel groups, but its application to American bandits caused several historians to raise their voices in protest. Hobsbawm evidently knows a good deal more about Bulgaria than he does about Missouri, then and now a hotbed of capitalist energies, where there were no peasants to champion, even had Jesse James been so inclined. There were certainly slaves who needed help—six at least in the James household; but Jesse was very far from wishing to champion slaves. In fact, he spent much of his short life trying to kill people who wanted to help the slaves. Even in the late 1870s, when the end was in sight and the violence that he had dispensed was less and less susceptible to any military interpretation, Jesse rushed with his brother Frank and the Younger boys into the catastrophe of the Northfield, Minnesota raid largely because he wanted to rob a bank in which the Union hero and strong civil rights proponent Adelbert Ames had his money.

As this patient biography makes clear, violence came to Jesse James more or less with his mother's milk. He was born in Clay County, Missouri, in an atmosphere of sectional conflict. His father died in the California gold rush; one stepfather was hanged in the backyard, although not fatally; his thrice-married mother Zerelda was no pacifist. From the late 1840s to the mid-1870s, Missouri was one of the most violent places in America, neighbor fighting neighbor, often over the issue of slavery. And Lee's surrender to Grant had no effect on this regional violence.

When Stiles, in his subtitle, calls Jesse James the "last rebel of the Civil War," he correctly defines the theme that ruled Jesse's life. From the age of fifteen on, he saw himself as a Confederate; he always looked South. In western Missouri, where he raided and fought, the Civil War was no mere four-year affair. Even as late as ten years after the surrender Jesse felt enraged because so few people were willing to go on fighting. His war was a partisan war, his life a partisan life, a matter of small skirmishes, twenty men here against another twenty men there. He never saw the devastation of Richmond or Atlanta, never felt the force of Grant or Sherman. The pro-slavers and the abolitionists had been fighting in Missouri since the 1840s, and the Emancipation Proclamation did not end it. The sociologist Lonnie Athens speaks of a process of "violentization" in which people see so much killing that finally only the ability to kill seems worthy of respect. My own Missouri-born grandparents lived not far from where James lived, in his time. After the conclusion of the Civil War they waited a few years, hoping that the killing would die down, but it didn't, and so they packed up and moved to Texas.

The face of the dust wrapper of Stiles's book—Jesse James at sixteen, during his first summer under arms—is the face of a true believer. What Jesse believed in was the Confederate cause, and he allowed no hint of moderation to temper his commitment, his anger, his thirst for revenge. In 1864, he rode with Bloody Bill Anderson and Archie Clement, men as vicious as any who ever fought on American soil. Bloody Bill seems to have been a small-scale American version of the terrible Baron Ungern-Sternberg, who ravished Mongolia and the Soviet Far East after World War I. Jesse James was with Anderson when the Centralia Massacre took place. Twenty-four unarmed Union soldiers were taken off a train, shot, and mutilated, with others treated just as badly in the town itself. Both Anderson and Clement frequently scalped their victims. In his eagerness to avenge Bloody Bill's death, once he had been ambushed, Jesse rushed into Gallatin, Missouri and promptly killed the wrong man, a pillar of the community named John W. Sheets. It was not the last time that he would kill inaccurately, and in haste.

From the mid-1860s on through the 1870s, Jesse had the help of a propagandist, a former Confederate major named John Newman Edwards, who switched to journalism and did all he could to promote Jesse as a kind of rebel knight errant. I own a dime novel, not written by Edwards, called Jesse James Knight Errant or the Rescue of the Queen of Prairies, in which Jesse performs many casual heroics in a place called the Vale of Pecos. Edwards's propagandizing consisted in the main of attempts to make Jesse's robbing and killing the legitimate responses of a patriot to Southern grievances. His efforts were greatly helped by a blundering Pinkerton raid in 1874; Jesse's mother lost an arm, but eight-year-old Archie, her pet child, lost his life. After 1875, however, it became increasingly difficult, even for a skilled propagandist such as Edwards, to put a convincing political spin on Jesse's raiding. Missourians, having endured some thirty years of Afghan-like violence, were tiring of it. Jesse's claims rang ever more hollow. His loyal younger brother Frank would rather have spent his time farming, and even Jesse's patient wife Zee hankered for a little peace.

In 1880 Thomas Crittenden, a Unionist Democrat, was elected governor of Missouri, and much of his inaugural address was a declaration of war on the outlaws. He persuaded the railroading interests that banditry was costing them money. Almost immediately Jesse played into the governor's hands by robbing a train and killing the conductor—one of his few killings that was probably accidental. The railroads immediately ponied up: Crittenden was soon able to offer a $10,000 reward for both Jesse James and Frank James, dead or alive. The Ford boys, Robert and Charley, saw their chance. They ingratiated themselves with Jesse, waiting patiently if nervously for a moment when he might be unarmed. It came on a hot day in April 1882, when Jesse threw off his coat, vest, and gun belt and stepped up on a chair to dust a picture. Bob Ford immediately killed him with a shot to the head.

Bandit biography has always been a taxing genre, in which every assertion is sure to draw many challenges. How much did Henry Fielding get right when he wrote his book about the highwayman Jonathan Wild? Newspapers always devote lavish coverage to the exploits of bandits, but how much bandit journalism is really accurate? When gun battles happen, legend encrusts the corpses before they are even cold. Who can say with absolute precision what was the sequence of events in the shootout between the Earps and the Clantons at the O.K. Corral? Inevitably there will be pretenders, claimants, even denials that the outlaws are really dead. More than a century after Bob Ford shot Jesse James off that chair, DNA testing confirmed his death— but there were some who still believed that he had died some years earlier, in Denton County, Texas. Butch Cassidy might have ended his days in Spokane, Washington, rather than in Bolivia; the Sundance Kid may have made it back to Idaho. Some citizens of Hico, Texas believe that Billy the Kid fooled Pat Garrett and enjoyed a long dotage in their community. Meanwhile Billy's headstone, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, has been stolen at least twice.

Gun battles and robberies are often disorderly affairs: it is not easy for even a careful historian to determine who shot whom. Stiles is rightly cautious on this score. James wrote a famous letter to the Kansas City Times on a matter close to his heart: uncooperative bank employees. "A man who's a d....d enough fool to refuse to open a safe or a vault when covered with a pistol ought to die," he reasons; and he goes on to expand on those sentiments. Does this allow us to conclude that it was Jesse who killed the honest but uncooperative banker Joseph Heywood in Northfield, Minnesota? I feel sure that it was Jesse, but "almost certainly" is as far as Stiles will go—and either conclusion will probably cause this magazine to receive impassioned letters defending the opposite view.

In the hierarchy of American outlaws—if one judges solely on the extent of their bibliographies—Billy the Kid is still far ahead of Jesse James. Billy died without knowing who killed him and slid right into myth. Jesse's immense popularity in his native place—a place with a good deal more social and political density than Billy's New Mexico—owed much of its potency to the intense regional resentment of Yankee power. But Jesse James was no Robin Hood; nor was he even nice. Yet he certainly was defiant, and in the Missouri of his day, defiance rocked.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Variety Accidentally Announces that Jean Gabin is Starring in a New Film!

French/Senegalese Rapper, MC Jean Gabin took his name from French movie star Jean Gabin.

On Friday October 24th, Variety erroneously reported the release of a brand new movie starring "the French thesp Jean Gabin!"

Apparently, nobody told the journalist, Elsa Kelassy, that Jean Gabin died thirty-two years ago, in 1976.

What Kelassy should have written, is that the new film, director Pierre Lafargue's "Black" stars the French rapper McJeanGab1 (pronounced MC Jean Gabin), who took his professional name from the (deceased) French movie thesp, Jean Gabin.

Even though it would be completely awesome if Jean Gabin could come back to life and make one more movie -- he'd be 104 this year -- that probably won't happen!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jean Gabin and Salvador Dali

For the entire time I was writing my new two-volume book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, I was trying to find a photograph of Jean Gabin and Salvador Dali together.

After all, Dali directed the incredible "drunk sequence" which happens about 15 minutes into Gabin's amazing 1942 noir, Moontide.
Of course, a picture like that never showed up... until today!

Here are Jean Gabin and Salvador Dali together, in Paris, in 1972, thirty years after the making of Moontide.

The World's Coolest Movie Star and The World's Coolest Surrealist -- together in one room. Submitted for your approval.

(PS, years ago, I saw a great still of Jean Gabin and John Garfield laughing it up as they wash dishes together in the kitchen of the Hollywood Canteen, circa 1942. If anybody happens to have it, let me know at, and I will post it on this blog-site. Relatedly, if you happen to have any personal Jean Gabin anecdotes -- maybe you met him or your grandmother saw him crossing a street somewhere -- please tell me about it, and I'll post it on this site, as well...)

Meet Little "Grisbi" -- The First Dog Named After a Jean Gabin Movie!

Hey, everybody:

Who's this scrappy little fella?

Meet Grisbi -- he's a five-month-old pug!

An audience member who attended this past weekend's Jean Gabin Film Festival at the American Cinematheque, here in Los Angeles, was so impressed by the actor's great 1954 gangster movie Touchez pas au grisbi, that she went home and immediately named her newly-acquired five-month-old pug "Grisbi!" (The word 'grisbi' is French slang, meaning 'loot,' and the film's title, Touchez pas au grisbi, translates, in English, as Hands Off the Loot.)

Now, "Grisbi" is not only a great movie... it's a great dog!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Successful Jean Gabin Festival at the American Cinematheque!

alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5244549066233187250" />
Thank you for everybody who attended this past weekend's two-night Jean Gabin Film Festival at the American Cinematheque! It was great!

The crowd (almost sold-out the first night; almost three-quarters-full the second night) loved all four of the movies -- SICILIAN CLAN, MOONTIDE, LE PORT DU DESIR (HOUSE BY THE WATERFRONT), and TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, and a lot of people came up to me at the end of both evenings and asked me when the next Gabin Festival would be -- anyway, I hope to announce another one in the very near future.

I met a lot of people who told me some great Gabin Anecdotes that I didn't know about, and one lady (she looked to be about 90), who was bundled up in a fur coat and giant sunglasses, told me that she "met Gabin at Fox, in '42." One man told me that Gabin's 1970 action flick "La Horse" was released in the US (I didn't know it was) as "The Farm," but I haven't been able to check up on that tidbit yet... In fact, when Susan King interviewed me a couple of days before the festival for the Los Angeles Times, she told me that when she was a little girl, her parents took her to see a Doris Day movie called "The Glass Bottom Boat," and the co-feature it was released with -- back in the old days of 'double features' -- was "Melodie en sous-sol" ("Any Number Can Win"), and that she remembers entering the theater during the finale of that great Gabin/Delon picture.

All that, plus Helen Mirren was in the audience for Evening #2 (everybody saw her except for me, since 'this author' is completely oblivious to everything on earth), and I sold a lot of copies of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN.

Anyway -- that's all for now! Thanks to everybody who made WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR WEEKEND at the American Cinematheque a great success.

PS: I just read today that John Woo is developing a re-make of THE SICILIAN CLAN for 20th Century Fox -- the studio which made the original film.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Another Gabin Gem Makes Its Way to U.S. DVD!

Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan on the set of director Jean Gremillon's "Remorques" (1939/1941).

Last month I announced the arrival of two Gabin movies on DVD -- Gabin's 1942 film "Moontide," out via Fox Video, and director Max Ophuls' anthology/tryptych from 1952, "Le Plaisir," on Criterion.

Well, a third hard-to-find Gabin classic has just been released quietly via a smaller label: It's director Jean Gremillion's outstanding Remorques, the literal title of which is "Tugboats" and the US title of which is Stormy Waters. Directed by the vastly underrated Poetic Realist Jean Gremillon, Remorques was filmed in 1939, and released in France in 1941. (The reason for the delayed release is that, about 90% into the film's production, Gabin was conscripted into the French Navy and had to take a year off from completing his scenes.)

The harrowing, fantastic, and relatively unknown (in America) Remorques is the last of the dark/heart-rending Poetic Realist films pictures in which Gabin starred in the late '30s, the moody 'tragic drifter' period during which he also made Quai des brumes, La Bete humaine, and Le Jour se leve, which are similar to Remorques in tone -- and this one is equally as good. It re-teams Gabin with Michele Morgan for the third time, after 1938's Le Recif corail and 1939's Le Quai des brumes, and the ending is so haunting, it's one of those rare films where, when it's over, you won't be able to get up for a few minutes. It's that great.

In Remorques, Gabin plays a disillusioned (when is he not?) tugboat captain, who's thrown over his physically ill wife in favor of a fetching stranger, played by Michele Morgan (who wouldn't do that)?

The title was originally released on VHS in the '80s by the now defunct Video Yesteryear, and a new retailer has purchased the rights to the entire Video Yesteryear catalog, and is selling the Video Yesteryear films, including Remorques, mostly through eBay:

The Video Yesteryear copy of Remorques is dubbed into English, it's shorter than the uncut French version (which is, in fact, better) and it hasn't been restored like many of Gabin's other films have -- but until the day that Remorques gets the Criterion treatment, if you're a Gabin completist, you'll definitely want to make this version of the picture a part of your collection.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jean Gabin's Favorite Foods!

It's 5:30pm and, per Gabby Hayes in some western I saw once, I'm a mite peckish... and so, being the author of a (giant/two-volume) book about Jean Gabin, I started to wonder: What were Jean Gabin's favorite foods?

I asked Corinne Marchal, webmaster of the Gabin Musee (Gabin Museum) in Meriel, France. Ms. Marchal visited Los Angeles in July, and she told me that Jean Gabin's favorite foods were:

-- beans prepared with mutton (apparently, this was his favorite dish);
-- pot-au-feu, which, for lowbrow people like me who aren't chefs, is a French boiled beef-and-vegetable plate, similar to America's favorite hearty gustable "stew," although unlike stew, the beef and vegetables (carrots, celery, turnips, leeks)are usually placed separately on the plate. When Gabin lived with Marlene Dietrich, in France and in the U.S., they apparently used to have a lot of fun preparing pot-au-feu together;
-- fish (he liked it a lot);
-- roquefort cheese, spread with butter and served with Worcester sauce (!);
-- gruyère cheese dipped in mustard (!!);
-- also, Jean Gabin liked to add red wine into his soup, which people of his generation sometimes did. In French, the act of adding wine into one's soup, to increase the flavor, is called "do chabrot."

But 'man' (aka, Gabin) doesn't live on bread (and mutton, and roquefort cheese, and wine-soup) alone. One has to be able to wash it all down with something, and the World's Coolest Movie Star was a big-time connoisseur of whiskey, annisette (a sweet liqueur), and a very dry/acidic white wine called 'gros plant;' not only did he love to consume this wine, which comes from Nantes, in western France's Loire River Valley, but he liked the name of it, because 'gros plant' reminded him of the cinematic term 'gros plan' which means 'close-up.'


Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Well, here it is, everybody:

On Saturday September 6th and Sunday September 7th, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater, at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, is celebrating the great French movie star/icon Jean Gabin with a two-evening tribute, featuring four great movies, and a book-signing with Charles Zigman (me!), the author of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO ( One of the films, the outstanding noir "Le Port du desir," a kind of 'waterfront Casablanca,' hasn't even been screened in the U.S., anywhere, since its initial release in 1959 -- almost fifty years ago.

Here's a link to the schedule for this event:

If you know anybody who loves Jean Gabin, or anybody who loves having a great night out at the movies, please let them know about the event.

The phone number for the American Cinematheque is (323)461-2020.

If you can't click on the above link for the program schedule, I've pasted it here:

September 6 & 7 at the American Cinematheque (Egyptian Theatre)
Program Notes by Chris D. (Director of Programming)

What can one say about French superstar Jean Gabin? If he’s not the “world’s coolest movie star” as proclaimed by the title of Charles Zigman’s entertaining and endlessly illuminating new biography of the actor (in two mammoth volumes!), he has to be up there in at least the Top 5. Gabin’s appeal, like that of Bogart, his American counterpart, relies on a quiet, unpretentious toughness, an unassailable integrity, a cynical -but not nasty - sense of humor and a classy, non-judgmental wisdom about people and the ways of the world. He projects his persona effortlessly, but forcefully, from the screen, the world-weariness and resigned, wisecracking fatalism of a wide-ranging array of characters, from tragic drifter to insightful patriarch. Join us for these Gabin gems, including the hard-to-see THE SICILIAN CLAN (in a new 35mm print!), the long-unavailable MOONTIDE, the ultra-rare HOUSE ON THE WATERFRONT and the French crime classic GRISBI. Author Charles Zigman will be signing and selling his new biography, "World’s Coolest Movie Star: The Complete 95 Films (and Legend) of Jean Gabin" each night preceding the screenings.

Series compiled by Chris D., with the assistance of Charles Zigman.
Special Thanks: Caitlin Robertson/20TH CENTURY FOX; Eric Di Bernardo/RIALTO PICTURES.

Saturday, September 6 - 7:30 PM
Jean Gabin Double Feature:
THE SICILIAN CLAN (LE CLAN DES SICILIENS), 1969, 20th Century Fox, 118 min. Expatriate Sicilian mobster Jean Gabin and his family shelter homicidal, lone wolf jewel thief Alain Delon after his daring escape from a prison van. Delon proposes a multi-million dollar jewel heist to Gabin that is fraught with danger, but the semi-retired patriarch signs on when he decides it will allow him to retire home to Sicily all the faster. But no one counts on dogged police inspector Lino Ventura (CLASSE TOUS RISQUES, SECOND BREATH) on Delon’s trail. Ventura is extra-surly from trying to kick cigarettes and channels all his frustrations into nabbing Delon and his accomplices. Director Henri Verneuil collaborated with Gabin and Delon on another earlier heist picture ANY NUMBER CAN WIN (MELODIE EN SOUS-SOL) in 1963. Ennio Morricone provides another memorable score. Dubbed-in-English version. NOT ON DVD

MOONTIDE¸ 1942, 20th Century Fox, 94 min. In the mythical California port of San Pablo (standing-in for San Pedro), hard-drinking longshoreman Bobo (Jean Gabin) becomes convinced by blackmailing comrade Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) that he has killed a man in an alcoholic black-out. Despairing Bobo simultaneously falls-in-love when he saves suicidal waitress Anna (Ida Lupino) from trying to drown herself. Gabin and Lupino are electric together, generating transcendental romantic chemistry, and Claude Rains as a barroom philosopher prefigures his chivalrous Frenchman in CASABLANCA.This was one of two films that Gabin made in America. Director Archie Mayo took over when original director Fritz Lang quit a few days into production. Charles G. Clarke’s luminous black-and-white cinematography was Oscar-nominated. Original English language version. Booksigning preceding the screening at 6:30 PM with Charles Zigman, author of The World's Coolest Movie Star: The
Complete 95 Films (and Legend) of Jean Gabin Vol. 1 & 2.

Sunday, September 7 - 7:30 PM
Jean Gabin Double Feature:
HOUSE ON THE WATERFRONT (PORT DU DÉSIR), 1955, 94 min. Dir. Edmund T. Gréville (PRINCESS TAM-TAM). Jean Gabin is a disillusioned tugboat captain with a wayward daughter. He becomes embroiled in a plot to cover up a murder when tough young diver Henri Vidal is bribed by a gangster (Jean-Roger Caussimon) to retrieve a dead woman’s body from his sunken ship that is about to be salvaged. Co-starring Andrée Debar, Edith Georges. In French with English subtitles. NOT ON DVD

GRISBI (TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI), 1954, Rialto Pictutres, 88 min. Dir. Jacques Becker (CASQUE D’OR, LE TROU) Aging gangster Jean Gabin is sitting on a fortune in gold from a perfect heist - but sleazeball Lino Ventura decides he wants in on the action, with the help of a double-crossing chorus girl, Jeanne Moreau. This exquisite noir was passed over by the Cannes Film Festival because "it gave the wrong idea of French cinema" - it went on to become a huge hit and inspired a wave of crack crime films like BOB LE FLAMBEUR and RIFIFI. Booksigning preceding the screening at 6:30 PM with Charles Zigman, author of The World's Coolest Movie Star: The Complete 95 Films (and Legend) of Jean Gabin Vol. 1 & 2

Also: If you're not already a member of the American Cinematheque, please consider it. Not only is a membership tax deductible, but you get to see great movies where they're supposed to be -- on the big screen.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eastbound and Down: Jean Gabin Played a Trucker in Two Movies!

When you think about the great French movie star Jean Gabin, you think about the tragic drifter characters he used to play when he was La Bete humaine, or the smooth, white-haired patriarchs and gentleman-gangsters he often played when young, in movies like Quai des brumes, Le jour se leve, and La bete humaine, and he was older (in movies like Touchez pas au grisbi).

But did you know that Jean Gabin played a steely TRUCKER in two movies that were made in 1955 and 1956? If you're American, you don't, because neither of these two great movies were ever released in the United States, but if you're French, you know both of the films very well.

In 1956's Gas-Oil, Gabin plays trucker Jean Chape. When he accidentally runs over a man who's already dead, it turns out that the corpse was actually worth millions, and that a team of surly gangsters think, erroneously, that Chape has stolen the money off of the body. So they're after him. It's a really great movie, and it's the second and final time in which Gabin would appear opposite Jeanne Moreau, who appeared with him, the year before, in director Jacques Becker's Touches pas au grisbi. (In Grisbi, Moreau has a supporting role, but she's the female lead in Gas-Oil.)

In 1956's Des gens sans importance, Gabin is another fifty year old trucker; this time, we get a very smart movie about ageism, in which trucker Gabin falls in love with a woman thirty years his junior -- much to the detriment of his long (and unhappy) marriage. Henri Verneuil directed this great movie, which features a sublime harmonica score by Jean Weiner.

Maybe one of these days The Criterion Collection (or somebody!) will subtitle these two seminal Gabin works into English and releae them on DVD as a Trucker Gabin double feature. Until the day that happens, I'll continue to report to you, when I can, on other great Jean Gabin movies which were never subtitled into English, nor released in the United States.

Read about all of Jean Gabin's 95 movies in my book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO, which may be ordered from

Saturday, August 2, 2008


alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5230372321962277458" />
Jean Gabin exhibits sartorial splendor, in "Touchez pas au grisbi" (1954)

If you happen to live in New York City, and you love French crime movies -- and Jean Gabin movies -- then the place for you to be this summer is Film Forum, @ 209 W. Houston St., NYC.

Between August and September, Film Forum is presenting thirty-eight French crime movies, three of which star Jean Gabin!

The Jean Gabin titles which Film Forum will be screening are TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (August 17 and 18), THE SICILIAN CLAN (August 28), and the enduring classic PEPE LE MOKO (September 3 and 4). SICILIAN CLAN, in particular, is being presented in a brand new, color/Cinemascope 35mm print!

As part of the same series, Film Forum will also be screening some great "non-Gabin" crime films, such as "Le Doulos," "Coup de torchon," "Bob le flambeur," "Police Python .357," "Les Tontons flingueurs," "Classe tous risques," "La Piscine," "Plein Soleil," and the list goes on an on! Some of the great stars who appear in the films are: Yves Montand, Alain Delon, Philippe Noiret, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Servais, and Jean Gabin's real-life good friend, Lino Ventura.

Here is the complete schedule for this event:

If you're a Los Angeles-area Jean Gabin fan, and you want to see The World's Coolest Movie Star on the big screen in four (4) movies, you don't have to feel neglected: Pay attention to this blogsite, because I've got some exciting news for you, coming up over the next couple of weeks. The only hint I'll give at this point, is: Don't make any plans for the evenings of Saturday September 6th and Sunday September 7th...

It's been awhile since I put in a plug for my new, two-volume book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, so don't forget to order your copy now! Head over to for details.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Jean Gabin Award

Each year in France, between 1981 and 2006, the award for Best Actor of the Year at the Cesars -- aka, The French Oscars -- was called The Jean Gabin Award (Prix Jean Gabin).

Sometimes the award was given for a particular film performance, other times just for an actor who seemed promising.

Here is the complete list of winners of the Prix Jean Gabin.

(In 2007, the award was re-christened as the Prix Patrick Dewaere, after the popular star of France's popular 1977 film, "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs.")

1981 : Thierry Lhermitte
1982 : Gérard Lanvin
1983 : Gérard Darmon
1984 : François Cluzet
1985 : Christophe Malavoy
1986 : Tchéky Karyo
1987 : Jean-Hugues Anglade
1988 : Thierry Frémont
1989 : Vincent Lindon
1990 : Lambert Wilson
1991 : Fabrice Luchini
1992 : Vincent Pérez
1993 : Olivier Martinez
1994 : Manuel Blanc
1995 : Mathieu Kassovitz
1996 : Guillaume Depardieu
1997 : Yvan Attal
1998 : Vincent Elbaz
1999 : Samuel Le Bihan
2000 : Guillaume Canet
2001 : José Garcia
2002 : Benoît Poelvoorde
2003 : Johnny Hallyday pour L'homme du train de Patrice Leconte
2004 : Loránt Deutsch
2005 : Clovis Cornillac
2006 : Jérémie Renier

Jean Gabin Bobble Head Doll!

How do they frighten away tailgaters in Paris?

My guess is, they stick this Jean Gabin Bobble Head Doll by the back window!

All I know about French traffic is what my high school French teacher taught us to say -- "Quelle emboutillage!" ("What a bottleneck!")

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jean Gabin T-Shirts! Jean Gabin Book Bags!

Check this out:

If you're a Jean Gabin Fan, you're going to want to buy my two-volume book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, as well as all the Gabin DVDs you can get your hands on (a Gabin Video Store has just been added to the website --

But if you're a Super Gabin Fan, you're definitely going to want Gabin t-shirts... and you might even want to invest in a Gabin book bag!

You can buy Gabin shirts and Gabin bookbags from Comboutique in France, and they'll ship anywhere in the world.

Here's the link:

Turn your inward Gabinness into outward Gabinness, and buy Jean Gabin t-shirts and book bags today!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

World's Coolest Movie Star: The Complete 95 Films (and Legend) of Jean Gabin, Volume One and Volume Two, Now Available From a Bookseller Near You.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another Terrific Jean Gabin Movie Comes to DVD, via the Criterion Collection: Max Ophuls' "Le Plaisir" (1952) Available 9/16!

A few days ago, I reported that Jean Gabin's 1942 movie "Moontide" -- one of only two American films in which he starred during his entire career -- will finally be released on DVD, in the US, on September 2nd.

The news just got better, though, because it was announced today that a second Jean Gabin movie will be making it to U.S. DVD this fall! On the sixteenth of September, the Criterion Collection will be releasing one of Gabin's great 1952 classics, "Le Plaisir" on DVD, in a newly restored version. ("Moontide" has never existed on home video before in any country, in any format; "Le Plaisir" has only been available in the US as an old, murky/washed-out-looking VHS tape.)

"Le Plaisir" is a 'different' kind of movie for Gabin. During this stage in his career, when he was bit older, the actor was typically playing smooth gentleman-gangsters in movies like 1954's "Touchez pas au grisbi." But in "Le Plaisir," he's a simple country farmer.

It's an anthology film featuring three stories, and Gabin appears only in the third and longest story, although all three stories, which are based on the stories of Guy de Maupassant, are good. While Gabin is usually very stoic in his movies, in "Le Plaisir," he's atypically cheerful throughout, and frequently, he's even smiley -- and he does a great job.

"Le Plaisir" represents the only time that Gabin ever thesped under the auspicies of the French, German-born filmmaker Max Ophuls. Ophuls, like Fellini, makes films which celebrate 'the whimsical pageantry of every day life,' kind of like Fellini's movies do; I guess the difference between Ophuls and Fellini, for me, is that Ophuls films are more naturalistic while Fellini's are visually very stylized.

Some other noteworthy Max Ophuls movies besides "Le Plaisir," are 1950's "La Ronde," 1953's "The Earrings of Madame D'," and 1955's "Lola Montez," and each of these titles is worth checking out. In fact, conviently for admirers of classic French cinema, Criterion will be releasing DVDs of "La Ronde" and "Earrings" on 9/16 as well.

So this fall we've got two new Jean Gabin movies being released on DVD in the US, both of them for the very first time: Fox's restoration of "Moontide" hits video stores on September 2nd, and the Criterion Collection's presentation of "Le Plaisir" takes its bow on September 16th. And of course, my two-volume book, WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO was released two days ago, on Sunday July 20th. I hope this is the year that Jean Gabin will really conquer America!

Hail Britannia! Lots of Great Places to Buy WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN in the United Kingdom!

Here's a photo of Gabin bumming a light off of the great British actor/director Sir Richard Attenborough (he's on the left), circa 1960.

And speaking of Britain, if you're in the UK and you've been trying to buy a copy of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUME ONE AND VOLUME TWO, you might be having a bit of trouble making your purchase from British -- aka,

From time to time (or as the French say, "en ce temps-la") Amazon UK lists the title as being "temporarily out of stock." This is great, because it means that people are ordering it. In fact, the special 'magic trick' when it comes to ordering from Amazon is: If you order a copy of the book from, even though the book is listed as being 'out-of-stock,' Amazon automatically lists it as being "in stock" again!

Anyway -- besides Amazon, there are 9 additional on-line stores in the UK that are selling WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR, and here's the list -- and this list, like everything else in the world, is subject to change:

If you run into any problems ordering the book from (France) and (Germany), you might want to try the above UK options out, because all European copies of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR are printed in Great Britain, anyway.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Get Smart" and "Pepe Le Moko:" The Jean Gabin/Don Adams Connection!

I've always been more of a movie fan than a t.v. fan, and I can count all of the t.v. series' I've ever watched before on three fingers: Recently, I saw every single episode of "The Soprano's," many of which (at least for the first 5 of 7 seasons) were as great as any of Scorsese's big-screen mob movies... When I was a kid in the early '70s, a big event in my house is when all of my relatives would come over for Sunday night dinner, and we'd all follow the meal, at 8:00pm, with the week's episode of "All in the Family;" the best episodes of "All in the Family" have more in common with great theater than they do with t.v. They still "hold up," and they're still great.

The third show I've always venerated is the great 1965 to 1970 spy spoof, "Get Smart," which was co-created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and which, of course, starred the incredible Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Control's smart-but-bumbling Agent 86. (I'm not talking about the horrible/unfunny new "Get Smart" movie, from which I fled in terror, after forty-five painful minutes.)

I haven't seen "Get Smart" in decades, so last week, I decided to TiVo a bunch of episodes, since a local L.A. t.v. station is running re-runs of the show four times a day.

Tonight, I feasted my eyes on "Get Smart: Season 2, Episode 21" which was titled "The Man From YENTA," a play on the title of that 'other' '60s spy show --"The Man From UNCLE."

In this episode, the prince of a mythical Arabic country is being terrorized by KAOS' top assassin -- the Algerian contract killer known as "Le Moko." Le Moko is played by an actor called Paul Comi.

That's right: Here's an episode of "Get Smart," originally airing on 2/21/67, which pays direct hommage to Jean Gabin's legendary 1937 thriller, "Pepe Le Moko."

Aside from the fact that I loved seeing the name of Jean Gabin's most famous movie character being co-opted by a (good) t.v. show, it also happened to be an even-funnier-than-usual episode (written by Arne Sultan).

I never thought there would be a Don Adams/Jean Gabin connection, but now there is. (Of course, now that I think of it, Jean Gabin and Don Adams were both decorated World War II heroes: Jean Gabin fought bravely in the Free French Navy, and Don Adams valiantly battled the Japanese at the Battle of Guadalcanal!)

I guess I'm really clutching at straws now, so as Maxwell Smart himself might have said: "Sorry about that, Gabin!"


This posting is pretty brief, but I couldn't resist:

Two of this author's favorite things in the world, in no particular order, are 1.) Jean Gabin and 2.) cookies.

Imagine my surprise when I checked out French eBay today and found that one can actually buy a Jean Gabin cookie jar! Lift off his beret and grab a handful of double-stuff Oreos!

"On n'a jamais assez des cookies!" ("One never has enough cookies!")



Today's UCLA Daily Bruin features a profile of the book by reporter Josh Wasbin. Here's the link:

Jean Gabin and UCLA: World's Coolest Movie Star. World's Coolest University!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


July 20, 2008

Today's the day:

by Charles Zigman.

You should be able to find it not only on, but Barnes and Noble. You can also ask your local bookseller and he or she will be glad to order you a copy.

The website for the book is...

... and that website not only links to this blog, but there's an "international customers" section that links up to 15 additional countries where you can buy this book -- France, Canada, UK<>
Jean Gabin: The Movie Star So Cool, It Takes Two Books to Tell His Story!


Thursday, July 17, 2008


Josephine Baker, the legendary American performer who starred opposite Jean Gabin in a great French film, 1934's "Zou-zou," was honored in her home country yesterday with her very own postage stamp!


New US postage stamps honor early black cinema
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID – 1 day ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — Josephine Baker looks straight at you with bright eyes and shining smile, fearless and demanding attention.
The time is 1935, and the St. Louis native who transfixed France and much of Europe with song and dance stares out from a poster advertising the film "Princess Tam-Tam." Baker starred as a simple African woman presented to Paris society as royalty.

Baker's movie is one of five recalled on a set of U.S. postage stamps being released Wednesday to honor vintage black cinema. Ceremonies marking the sale of the stamps will be held at the Newark Museum in New Jersey, which is holding a black film festival.
"So many things happened in her life that she had never expected," her son Jean-Claude Baker said Tuesday.

"I guess that if she was with us today she would be very honored. At her death she was a French citizen, but she never forgot she was born in America," he said in a telephone interview. "She would be delighted and very moved."
"Despite all the difficulty of colored people in her time, she triumphed over all the adversity that she and her people had to endure," he added.
Another poster, for a 1921 release, provides a taste of the racial divide that sent the young Baker to Europe to pursue her career.

"The Sport of the Gods," the poster proclaims, is based on a book by Paul Laurence Dunbar, "America's greatest race poet," and it adds that the film has "an all-star cast of colored artists."
Other posters in the set of 42-cent stamps are:
_ "Black and Tan," a 19-minute film released in 1929 featuring Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.
_ "Caldonia," another short at 18 minutes, which was released in 1945. It showcased singer, saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan.
_ "Hallelujah," a 1929 movie released by MGM. It was one of the first films from a major studio to feature an all-black cast. Producer-director King Vidor was nominated for an Academy Award for his attempt to portray rural African-American life, especially religious experience.
In addition to Jean-Claude Baker and his brother, Jarry, the ceremony was scheduled to include Louis Jordan's widow, Martha Jordan; Paul Ellington, grandson of Duke Ellington; Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker; and Gloria Hopkins Buck, chairwoman of the film festival.

Josephine Baker may be best remembered in the United States for her singing and dancing in Europe, but she also earned military honors as an undercover agent for the French resistance in World War II. Later, she was active in civil rights work and appeared with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Bastille Day from!

Yesterday, July 14th, was Bastille Day -- the French 4th of July.

From Wikipedia:

Bastille Day is the French national holiday, celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is called Fête Nationale ("National Celebration") in official parlance, or more commonly quatorze juillet ("14 July"). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern French nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.

The World's Coolest French Holiday! The World's Coolest French Movie Star! What a "Revolutionary" Combination!
(The pic, above, is Jean Gabin as arch bread-thief Jean Valjean in director Jean-Paul Le Chanois' three-hour Technicolor epic, Les Miserables [1958]. You can find it on


When people think about Film Noir, a great group of American movies from the '40s and '50s usually comes to mind -- and so do stars like Richard Widmark; Aldo Ray; Charles McGraw; Dennis O' Keefe, etc.

But the King of French Film Noir was clearly Jean Gabin.

Gabin's pre-World War II French output, in which he plays a tragic drifter, doomed in spite of his actions, is part of a genre called Poetic Realism, which was American Film Noir's immediate predecessor; in fact, Gabin's gangster, Pepe Le Moko, is considered by film historian's to be cinema's very first Film Noir anti-hero. (Other 1930s movies in which tragic drifter Gabin is doomed include Quai des brume, La Bete humaine, and Le Jour se leve.)

But Gabin starred in a lot of great French Film Noir in the 1950s as well, films which were made concomitantly with American Film Noir.

In America, we're familiar with Touchez pas au grisbi, in which smooth gentleman-gangster is screwed over. But he's also in a lot of Film Noir:

Razzis sur la chnouf:

Leur dernier nuit:

Voici le temps des assasins:

Jean Gabin is not only the World's Coolest Movie Star -- he's also the French King of Film Noir.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Jean Gabin made ninety-five movies during a career which spanned forty-six years -- between 1930 and 1976.

93 of his movies were filmed in Europe (France, mostly; a few in Italy), and in these movies, Gabin always spoke his dialogue in his native French.

But during World War II, when the Nazis invaded France, many French film professionals moved to the U.S. in order to continue their film careers -- including Jean Gabin.

Gabin starred in two great movies in America, neither of which have ever been released on American home video. The second of the two films, Universal's Impostor, is an up-to-the minute look at the Free French Army battling in the Belgian Congo (with the San Fernando Valley's Toluca Lake doubling for the Congo)!

Gabin's first American film though, Moontide, is an incredible Film Noir that's credited to director Archie Mayo, but which was also partially directed by Fritz Lang -- and additionally, it features a hypnotic "drunk" sequence that was actually helmed by Salvador Dali.

This film, alone, is really the reason that I first decided to write my book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN. When I was a kid, family members gushed about how great this movie was -- and when I saw it for myself, I found out why. It's a great Lost American Classic, and one which, without any exaggeration, most definitely belongs in that great pantheon of Great American 1940's films which include Casablanca, Gilda, Grapes of Wrath, etc. Not a big hit in its own time, the vastly entertaining Moontide is a film which really begs to be rediscovered. And now it will:

On September 2, 2008, Moontide comes to DVD, here in the U.S., for the very first time. It's being offered in a beautifully restored version via Fox Video, and it's a must have for any Gabin Fan, or for any Film Noir lover.

The DVD features commentary by the sharp-eyed Film Noir historian Eddie Muller, and apparently, it also contains a newly-discovered original featurette about the film, which was produced in conjunction with with the film's initial 1942 release.

Jean Gabin's co-star in the film is Ida Lupino, and Fox Video will also be issuing a second Lupino thriller, the seminal Noir Roadhouse, in which she co-stars with Richard Widmark, on September 2nd, as well.

You can pre-order Moontide now, from


Sunday, July 13, 2008


Here's Jean Gabin signing an autograph in Santa Monica, California, August 1942.

In other news:
WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN was written about this month on Turner Classic

Friday, July 11, 2008


Why did a young British man named Maurice Micklewhite (Michael Caine) decide to become an actor? In two words: Jean Gabin!

From Daily Variety, July 9, 2008 (Reporter: Tobias Grey):

It was seeing the French actor Jean Gabin up on the big screen in "Le Jour se leve" that convinced a young Maurice Micklewhite, Jr. that he might possibly have a future in film acting. "(Gabin) featured everything that I thought could hold me back: fair hair, a big nose and a small mouth," wrote Michael Caine in his autobiography, "What's It All About?" " He was the biggest star in France, so everything was now possible."

Today, Friday, July 11, 2008, Caine placed his hands and feet in cement at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, in Hollywood. Congratulations to Great Actor and Super Gabin Fan -- Michael Caine!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jean Gabin: The Five Cycles of His Film Career

When I started watching Jean Gabin's movies, in preparation for writing my two-volume book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO, which will be released on July 20th, I was trying to figure out a good way to organize my information, and I decided that Gabin's movie career actually broke itself down -- and very neatly, I might add -- into five distinct periods, or cycles:

Volume One of my book concerns itself with the first Four of these Five Cycles:

During CYCLE ONE (1930-1933), a young Jean Gabin stars in his first 15 films. Here, he hasn't yet become cinedom's most famous somber/brooding tragic drifter, in fact, many of these (great) films are comedies and musicals, and none of them are known in the English-speaking world at all. Gabin, who was 26 to 29 years of age during this period, had just emerged from Paris's vaudeville stages, where he sang and danced -- and singing and dancing is what he does (and very well, I might add) during some of these movies. These films are all made in France.

CYCLE TWO (1934- 1941) is a cycle of 16 films in which Gabin played his famously-somber, brooding (yet life-loving!) tragic drifter character, and most of the films for which he is known today in the English-speaking world were made during this period. Grand Illusion, Pepe Le Moko, La Bete humaine, Le Jour se leve, Quai des brumes, and La Bas-fonds were all made during this period, and all of these exist in wonderful subtitled editions, mostly available from the Criterion Collection. These films are made in France.

There are only two films in CYCLE THREE (1942-1944): When Hitler invaded France, many of France's best filmmakers and actors moved to the United States where they continued their film careers in American movies, made for the major Hollywood studios. Gabin made two films during this period -- the only American movies he ever made, and the only movies which he ever made in the English language -- and even though these are American movies, they are almost completely unknown today in the United States: In Moontide (20th Century-Fox, 1942), Gabin is a French sailor who washes up in a Southern California port, where friends (Claude Raines) and lovers make his life fun, and a stark-raving psycho (Thomas Mitchell) tries to ruin that fun. Impostor (Universal Pictures, 1944) is an up-to-the-minute World War II tale in which Gabin joins the Free French Army and goes up against the Axis in the Belgian Congo (and the Belgian Congo scenes were shot in Toluca Lake, California)! In his two American films, Gabin continues to play the brooding tragic drifters whom he had played in his famous French films, from 'Cycle Two.'

Volume One of WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR ends with CYCLE FOUR (1946-1953): In 1943, after making his two American films, Jean Gabin returned to France. He spent two years fighting for his country in the Free French Navy (in fact, he was a much-decorated tank commander!), and when the war ended, he made 12 more great movies. This is kind of a transitional period for Jean Gabin: In some of the films, he plays his usual tragic drifter character, and in others, now that he is older, he plays, for the first time, a gentleman-gangster or a businessman. The French public kind of turned on Gabin during this period and didn't come out to see these films, feeling that Gabin had deserted them during the War -- they felt that he was having "fun" in America, while they were dealing with the scourge of Nazism. (Zero of the films made during this period are known in the English-speaking world, and all of them are either French, or else French-Italian co-productions.)


Next, comes Volume Two of my book: The entirety of Volume Two deals with Cycle Five, the final cycle of Jean Gabin's career. During this period (1954-1976), Jean Gabin makes 48 of his 95 films. While he's just as quiet and brooding (and cool) as ever during this period, here, his characters have ventured over to the other side of the social spectrum. Back in the 1930s, he played the ultimate working-class tragic drifter. Now, while he's still quiet, solemn, and brooding, he'll usually play a wealthy magnate, a patriarch, or a smooth criminal gentleman-gangster, who's a kind of proto-Michael Corleone. During this fifth and final Cycle of Jean Gabin's movie career, the French finally "forgave" him, once again making him their country's biggest star, and turning out for all of his movies. Outside of two movies -- 1954's Touchez pas au grisbi (directed by Jacques Becker) and 1955's Moulin-Rouge epic French Cancan (directed by Jean Renoir), none of the movies in which Gabin made during this period are known by the vast majority of English-speaking cineastes.

Hopefully, one of these days, the English-speaking world will know what the rest of the world has already known: Jean Gabin is THE WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR.