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.