Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2011 Begins with Ten (10) Jean Gabin Movies, on English-Subtitled DVDs for the First Time

Did you know that the legendary filmmaker G.W. Pabst directed Jean Gabin and Peter Lorre in a 1933 ensemble comedy, Du haut en bas, which was styled after the American film of the previous year, Grand Hotel? You probably didn't, because it has been "missing" for more than seventy years, even in France, the country of its production. But as of January 2011, a rediscovered Du haut en bas (pictured, top) and eight other Jean Gabin are now available on DVD, with English subtitles for the very first time.

Hope everybody is having a very good New Year. Thank you again for supporting my book WORLD’S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN. At some point in 2011 or 2012, I hope there will be a newly updated Third Edition. I have spent the last year-and-a-half engaging in a good deal of re-writing – writers are never happy, especially me – and I will probably also be adding additional information, and more photographs, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, as 2011 begins, there is fantastic news afoot for all English-speaking Jean Gabin fans – not one, not two, not three, but TEN (10) Jean Gabin movies have suddenly become available on DVD with English subtitles for the very first time. In WORLD’S COOLEST MOVIE STAR, I bemoaned the fact that many of Gabin’s movies have never been available with English subtitles, but thanks to some very recent digital technology which has emerged only over the last two years, and thanks to some rather enterprising classic movie fans, this is no longer the truth.

Understand: These are not legitimate releases from the major home-video distribution companies. These ‘bootleg’ DVDs are made by fans, and the quality of most of them – and here I an referring to both pictorial image as well as to the quality of the digital English subtitles – is almost uniformly very good. In a few cases, I would even say the quality is commensurate with DVDs being offered by the Criterion Collection.

Over the last two years, some very dedicated and polylinguistic fans of classic movies have been purchasing DVDs of foreign-language films which are not subtitled into English and, thanks to some new ‘bit-torrent’ software (don’t ask; I’m practically Amish when it comes to anything technical) are adding their own digital English subtitles. Can you imagine subtitling an entire movie, just for enjoyment? Many do.

All of these ‘fan-subtitled’ films are currently available for you to buy on-line, but you won’t find them at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com. Since these are privately made DVDs, which are exchanged privately from collector to collector, you will have to go to the two main auction sites, eBay and iOffer – and iOffer, which is a kind of ‘extreme eBay’ for super hard to find curios – is your best bet. On iOffer especially, the individual sellers often change – one week one seller might offering a particular film and the following week, that seller might not be offering it but three other sellers might have it in stock. So I won’t list the names of the individual sellers in this post, but you will definitely find English-subtitled versions of these films if you head over to iOffer or eBay and type the names of the following films into your search. What is even more amazing, is that new foreign-language titles, from all over the globe, are being painstakingly subtitled into English, by fans, every month.

Two of the films in this list, 1936’s La Belle equipe, directed by Julien ‘Pepe Le Moko’ Duvivier and 1937’s Gueule d’amour, directed by the highly underrated Jean Gremillon, a filmmaker who deserves some serious study, are worth a special mention: In France, they are considered to be two of Gabin’s very best films from Gabin’s very important Poetic-Realist period of the mid-to-late 1930s – in France they are part of that same pantheon which includes Pepe Le Moko, La Grande illusion, La Bete humaine, Le Jour se leve, and Le Quai des brumes – yet this is the first time we are seeing them on home video with English subtitles.

Here are the ten newly-subtitled-into-English Jean Gabin movies which I have been able to purchase from private, on-line sellers over the last month:

1. Du haut en bas (From Top to Bottom, 1933): Did you know that Jean Gabin, early in his career, was directed by the legendary German Pandora's Box filmmaker G. W. Pabst? It’s true. This rare early comedy – I would characterize it as being a kind of Grand Hotel set in a socialist-utopian apartment complex in which rich and poor live together in peace – is so rare today, in the sense that there aren’t even any prints of the film France, that when I initially saw the film, back in 2004, I had to go all the way to Belgium to see the only remaining print, at the Royal Cinematheque of Brussels, and because the print did not have English subtitles, I needed to have a human translator sit with me and tell me what the characters were saying. Incredibly, just over this past year, somebody in Germany actually found an ancient 35mm print of Du Haut en bas in the original French, with German subtitles! Whoever discovered the print had the foresight to film-chain a DVD copy and he has been circulating it among classic movie lovers, and on-line movie fans have now, just over the last several months, created their own digital English subtitles for the film, which are very clear and easy to read. As far as visual quality, the print itself hasn’t been restored – the DVD is made from an original 1934 film print, so it has a fair amount of scratches and pops – but it is an uncut print, and what it lacks in visual perfection, it more than makes up for in rarity.

Jean Gabin is endearingly funny as the building’s favorite resident, Austria’s Number One soccer player Charles Boulla, and you might call Boulla ‘The David Beckham of 1934.’ You’ll also see another French acting legend in Du haut en bas – it’s Michel Simon, France’s very famous answer to Charles Laughton, playing one of his great slovenly eccentrics, and five years after Du haut en bas, in 1938, Gabin and Simon would, of course, star together in Marcel Carne’s haunting Poetic-Realist classic, Le Quai des brumes. And if the combination of G.W. Pabst, Jean Gabin, and Michel Simon isn’t enough to grab you, what if I sweeten the deal and tell you that the film also features Peter Lorre, in just a few scenes, as a silent, stumbling vagabond. Du haut en bas was made a few years after Lorre had starred in Fritz Lang’s M, but because the actor was apparently addicted to morphine, directors would only hire him for small roles, including his small-but-important role in this film. I received my English-subtitled copy of this film from an iOffer seller, and if you don’t see it listed on the website, place a free want ad on the site asking for it and, spy-movie like, “someone will be right with you.” You will really enjoy all seventy-nine minutes of Du haut en bas.

Here's the poster for 1933's Du haut en bas. Jean Gabin was about one year away from becoming France's number one mega-star, so even though he is first billed in the film itself, it's Gabin's co-star Michel Simon, "the French Charles Laughton," who appears on the poster. Of course, Simon will co-star with Gabin more famously in 1938's Le Quai des brumes, in which Simon will play the sadistic Zabel.

2. La Belle equipe (The Good Team/They Were Five, 1936): In WORLD’S COOLEST MOVIE STAR, I lamented the fact that it is beyond tragic that Julien Duvivier’s great 1936 ensemble comedy La Belle equipe has not been shown with English subtitles since its brief American theatrical release, as They Were Five, seventy-three years ago, back in 1938. Thanks to a digitally and polylinguistically-inclined Jean Gabin fan who has made his own digital English subtitles and married them to a French-language DVD copy of the film, it finally, as of January 2011, exists in an English-subtitled version and, as with Du haut en bas, I obtained my English-subtitled DVD of La Belle equipe from a seller on iOffer.com. La Belle equipe goes against the grain of Gabin’s other films, because it is a comedy. Not only are the subtitles accurate and easy to read, but this DVD is made from a restored print.

In the late 1930s, Gabin played a tragic figure in a number of his films, but in La Belle equipe, he is part of a warm ensemble comedy, in which five out-of-work factory employees win the lottery on a ticket they purchased together and use their earnings to restore, and open, a beautiful country guinguette (hotel/restaurant/holiday camp), with results which are both happy and tragic. I say both happy and tragic, because the film has always had, and this is quite uncharacteristic for Gabin’s mid-to-late 1930s films, a happy ending – but last year, in Germany, a sleuthing film fan actually found an original pre-release print featuring director Julien Duvivier’s original tragic ending, which was deemed too upsetting for general release, and which was shelved, and presumed to be lost for more than seven decades. The very good print on the English-subtitled DVD ends with the director’s newly-discovered, original tragic ending – it was screened at the Museum of Modern Art for the first time in 2010 – and, after the film is over, you will also get to see the happy ending by which the film has always been known. After you see the film and watch both of the endings, please email me – author@jeangabinbook.com – and tell me which ending you prefer; I think we can get some pretty healthy debate going over this one, because the ending I like better is not necessarily the correct choice!

The fan-subtitled DVD of La Belle equipe features the director's original ending, not seen since 1936!

3. Gueule d’amour (Lady Killer, 1937): When I wrote about this extraordinary film in the First and Second Editions of my book, in 2008 and 2009, I think I gave it rather short shrift. I mentioned that, when I first saw Gueule d’amour in 2002, I had enjoyed it, but I didn’t give it too much thought, nor did I go into the film too deeply. Now, in 2011, I have revisited the film for the first time in nine years, on a great quality fan-subtitled DVD, which I found through a seller on iOffer.com, and it is truly another of Gabin’s best films. In most of his movies from this time period of the mid-to-late 1930s, Gabin’s tragic drifter characters are always quiet and stoic, heading off peacefully to their unpleasant fates without complaint, but in this picture – without giving anything away – director Jean Gremillon really pulls an incredible, non-stoic, full-of-feeling performance out of the typically laconic actor. I guarantee that even the steeliest viewers will shed a tear during the last several minutes of this film, and if you are familiar with Edvard Munch’s painting “The Screamer” – that’s Gabin at the end of this film.

In Geule d’amour, Gabin is freewheeling Lucien Bourrach, member of the SPAHI, the elaborately costumed French cavalry, and he is known, by the characters in the film, as ‘Lady Killer.’ Lady Killer is a man who has no problem getting any woman he wants, but he is unable to get the one woman he has ever actually loved, the beautiful society woman Madeleine, as played by Mireille Balin – she will of course deign to have a brief, torrid affair with him, but she’s not interested in a long-term coupling with him because of what she perceives to be his lowly social class. Madeleine taunts Lady Killer into committing the hauntingly savage act which will up the film. Previously in the same year of 1937, Balin, one of France’s most popular pre-War actresses, had appeared opposite Gabin in Pepe Le Moko, and in Le Moko, of course, it was Gabin’s smooth criminal character who held the cards in the on-screen Balin-Gabin relationship.

4. Des gens sans importance (People of No Importance, 1956): Last year, on this blog site, I mentioned that a fan-subtitled version of the 1955 thriller Gas-Oil, which co-starred Gabin with Jeanne Moreau, in which Gabin played a laconic truck-driver, had been released in a very good quality bootleg DVD, with fan-made English subtitles. Gas-Oil was so popular in France when it was first released that, one year later, Gabin played a laconic truck-driver one more time, in director Henri Verneuil’s atmospheric Des gens sans importance, or The People of No Importance, and this film is now available – you can find your very good, English-subtitled copy from sellers on iOffer.com – as well. In this film, Gabin’s trucker character, Viard, carries on a relationship with a young barmaid who is played by Francoise Arnoul – Gabin and Arnoul had previously, five years earlier, appeared in Jean Renoir’s French Cancan – and the results are bittersweet. In Des gens sans importance, Gabin fears that is trucking company is phasing him out and, to that extent, this is one of the best films on the subjects of ageism and aging that you will ever see. Very highly recommended.

5. Voici le temps des assassins (Time of the Assassins, 1957): If you mixed a Jim Thompson novella with a Russ Meyer movie, you would get the incredible, fast-paced noir, Voici le temps des assassins, in which Gabin is a middle-age chef who gets grifted by a team of hophead mother-daughter prostitutes! It’s fast-paced, thought provoking, dark, and another of my very favorite Jean Gabin movies. It even boasts a couple of rather ‘kinky’ touches which seem like they might be more at home in a Russ Meyer movie than in a Jean Gabin movie, and the film is especially memorable for its “Did that really just happen?”-ending, an ending which, without any exaggeration, you will not get out of your head for the rest of your life.

6. Le Desordre et la nuit (Disorder in the Night/Night Affair, 1958): Another very cool Gabin noir from the ‘50s features Our Anti-Hero as Inspector Vallois, a middle-aged police inspector who falls in love with a twentysomething hophead prostitute, played by Nadja Tiller. This wonderful movie is also important because it features, in a supporting role, Hazel Scott, the dynamic African-American singer who, like Josephine Baker twenty or thirty years before, also caught many of her best breaks in Europe, rather than in her home country of the U.S. It is available as a DVD, with fan-made English subtitles, through sellers on iOffer.com.

7. Le Cave se rebiffe (The Counterfeiters of Paris,1961): In 1964, MGM released director Gilles Grangier’s outstanding widescreen thriller, in North America, as The Counterfeiters of Paris. While MGM apparently continues to have an English-subtitled print of the film in its vault, the studio is not permitted to screen it in North America, because shortly after the film’s initial American release forty-six years ago, the rights reverted back to the film’s French production company, Cite Films. However, here comes some good news: Thanks to some fans who have made their own digital, English-language subtitles, you can now, as of the beginning of 2011, obtain a really great widescreen print from various iOffer sellers. In Le Cave se rebiffe, Gabin portrays the world’s greatest counterfeiter, Le Dabe, which translates into English as, “The Dude:” Yes, thirty-seven years before Jeff Bridges played a character called “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski, Gabin had played a character with that very monicker! Le Cave se rebiffe has a lot of humor, too, thanks to dialogue by the prolific French screenwriting genius Michel Audiard, and as far as tone in concerned, I would compare it to two great French thrillers from 1964 which do not feature Gabin, director Georges Lautner’s double-header of Les Tontons flingueurs and Les Barbouzes, two Lino Ventura-starring films which you can also find on iOffer as a fan-subtitled DVDs. The plot, in brief, is that Gabin is France’s most successful counterfeiter of all time. He’s retired to Venezuela, and is pulled out of retirement to supervise ‘one more job’ in Paris. This film is a successful mélange of action and humor, and it’s got all the double and triple-crosses you can handle, and then some.

8. Le Soleil des voyous (The Sun Shines Over the No-Goods/Action Man,1966): Le Soleil des voyous is a fun, candy-colored – it was filmed in the old IB Technicolor process – heist movie, and it is the only movie to co-star Jean Gabin with American television’s Elliott Ness, the one and only Robert Stack. In this fun film, Parisian bar-owner Gabin and American mercenary Stack team-up to rob a U.S. Army payroll truck. In 2009, Image Home Video released a legitimate DVD version of Le Soleil de voyous on the North American market, which I wrote about it in an earlier posting on this blogsite, and while the good news is that the Image Entertainment print is uncut and letterboxed, the bad news is that it is dubbed into English, so you’re not hearing Gabin’s real voice – one of the basic pleasures of watching a Gabin movie is hearing his legendary voice – or Stack’s real voice, and what is particularly annoying about seeing a dubbed version of this film, is that it is the only film in which Robert Stack, who grew up on French military bases, speaks all of the film’s dialogue in perfect French! Well, thanks to a fan who has made his own English subtitles, I have just been able to obtain, from an iOffer seller, a great quality DVD of Le Soleil des voyous in its original French language, with excellent digital English subtitles. In the case of Le Soleil des voyous, skip Image Home Entertainment’s dubbed version, and head for the original French-language version with English subtitles. Robert Stack’s French is impeccable, and because the film was clearly made to capitalize on the James Bond craze, Stack does some amazing Kung-Fu in the film, as well.

One day I prayed to God, and I asked Him, "Dear God, could you please put Jean Gabin and Robert Stack in a movie together?" He did, and it was good. So mote it be.

9. Le Pacha (The Showdown, 1968): In this very decent Technicolor policier, Jean Gabin’s crusty old police inspector, Joss, avenges his partner’s death in the way in which Charles Bronson would also gain revenge in American cinema ten years later. The film is occasionally available in an English-dubbed version on VHS – I found mine on eBay about eight years ago, and I obtained it from a seller in Greece – but now, as of 2011, an original French-language print, with excellent, fan-made English subtitles, is available from an iOffer seller. A high-spot of the film is that Inspector Joss happens upon a pretty unusual murder lead: One of the murder suspects is the drummer in Serge Gainsbourg’s band, so Serge makes an appearance, performing the hip tune “Requieum pour un con,” which the film made successful in France. Georges Lautner, born in 1926, is the director of this film, and while I would not rank Le Pacha as one of his best films, he did direct a number of excellent thrillers, many of them seasoned with droll humor, in a career which has spanned forty years. He hasn’t directed a film in ten years – his last project was a few episodes of a French t.v. series, in 2001 – but here’s hoping that, if he is able, he will give us one more classic.

10. Le Tueur (The Killer, 1972): In my Jean Gabin book, I mentioned that most of Jean Gabin’s movies are great, but there are just a few which aren’t so hotsy-totsy. Director Denys de La Patelliere's Le Tueur is one of these forgettable efforts, and it is a pretty sub-standard procedural in which Gabin plays an almost-ready-for-retirement police inspector who is searching for a psychotic killer, as played by the Italian '70s action hero with the most masculine name I've ever heard, Fabio Testi. (I wish my last name could be ‘Testi!’) It’s one of the few movies in which Gabin looks not just stoic and laconic, but actually exhausted, as though he would rather be home at his farm in Normandy than making this movie. Still, for Gabin completists, you might want to check this French-German co-production out, due to its rarity in North America. (Horrible, flat cinematography in this film: In one sequence, set in police headquarters, it appears that the filmmakers couldn’t afford ‘fill’ light, and the actors cast inept looking shadows on the walls behind them, as you might find in somebody’s uncle’s bad home movies from the ‘70s.)

Also, don’t forget the fan-subtitled DVDs which were released last year, 1955’s fantastic noirs Razzia sur la chnouf (if you like Touch of Evil, you'll love Razzia sur la chnouf) and Gas-Oil.

Additionally: There are six Jean Gabin films which used to be available from eBay sellers as VHS tapes with English subtitles,but they are now out of print, and iOffer sellers are now offering some good quality English-subtitled DVDs. The titles are: 1934’s Marie Chapdelaine, which stars Gabin as a Canadian fur-trapper; 1959’s Un Singe en hiver, which is the only film to co-star Gabin with Jean-Paul Belmondo; 1961’s Le President, featuring Gabin as the French Prime-Minister; 1962’s Le Gentleman d’Epsom, starring The World’s Coolest Movie Star as a racetrack grifter; and 1968’s Le Tatoue, a madcap comedy starring Gabin with rubber-faced comedian Louis de Funes, who is sometimes called the French Jerry Lewis.

Remember, all of the titles I have just mentioned are available from sellers on either eBay.com or iOffer.com, but iOffer is actually a better place to check for them than eBay. iOffer works the same way as eBay, in the sense that one must sign up in order to use it, but it is free. A special trick, is that if you don’t see a particular film title listed on iOffer, just place a free want ad, asking for it, and you will be surprised how quickly somebody who has the title in stock will get back to you. Some of the people on iOffer who are offering these fan-subtitled Gabin DVDs are traders instead of sellers, and they will not accept money for the films they are offering, but they will ask you to trade hard-to-find films from your own DVD collection for them. That’s not a problem, though, because if you’re a serious collector of classic movies on DVD, your present collection is sure to contain a few rarities.

HOUSEKEEPING NOTES: Many of these fan-subtitled DVDs will be in the European 'PAL' format, which means that they won't play on most North American 'NTSC' format DVD players, however for between $80.00 and $200.00, you can purchase an international, 'codeless' or 'region free' DVD player which will play both NTSC and PAL format DVDs. You won't find these machines in a brick-and-mortar store, but if you Google "codeless DVD player" or "region free" DVD player, you will find some good ones available from on-line sellers, and the $80.00 machines work just as well as the more expensive units. I personally own two codeless DVD players, and I bought them both here:
http://www.planetomni.com/Prod_MSDVD.shtml. And don't be scared if you don't see the English subtitles immediately when you slide your disc into the tray: Just click on the 'subtitle' key on your codeless DVD player's remote control, turn on the English subtitles and, like magic, they will appear... And here is some good news for those who don't want to spring for a new DVD player: Both NTSC and PAL DVDs will play on your computer's DVD drive, no matter what country your computer is from.

Also, for U.S. Gabin fans who subscribe to Dish Network or DirectTV, there is an optional French-language, English-subtitled cable station which you can add for a one-time extra fee of about $100.00, and thereafter, you pay about $10 a month for it, but it is supremely worth it: It’s TV Monde 5, and this French-language/English-subtitled channel frequently broadcasts rare French movies with English subtitles, in addition to French news and entertainment programming. Last year, in 2010, I noticed that TV5 presented three Jean Gabin movies which are not shown with English subtitles too much: 1971’s Le Chat, the only film to co-star Gabin with Simone Signoret, as well as 1958’s Maigret Tend un piege and Le President.

Ten new Jean Gabin movies on DVD, with English subtitles for the very first time? Yes! They are made by fans and for fans, and so while you won’t find any fancy packaging – although some of the sellers have been known to make their own cover-art – you will be seeing wonderful movies which have not been seen in the U.S. in decades, or ever. In addtition to subtitling Jean Gabin movies, these classic movie superfans are subtitling decades worth of other French (and German, and Italian, and Spanish, and any other language you can think of) movies into English for the first time, and they are providing a truly revolutionary service, because they are opening up a whole new world of classic films to people who would otherwise, due to the language barrier, have no way to see them. Some of the legitimate home video companies will never subtitle these 'deep inventory' films, which they consider to be a very small niche, into English, because they might feel there is not enough profit to be made from doing so, but the language barrier is now crumbling, and home video is quickly becoming democratized, due to the brand new and exciting world of fan-subtitled DVD.

Happy 2011 from www.jeangabinbook.com.

UPDATE, 2/5/11: Because a few readers have asked me, if you click on the title of this article, it will take you directly to the www.ioffer.com store for the gentleman who is offering many of the abovementioned films on DVD, with fan-made English subtitles. The quality is uniformly excellent.

He loves her and she loves somebody else. Such is life. Jean Gabin and Mireille Balin in the terrific Gueule d'amour (1937). This YouTube clip doesn't have any English subtitles, but the DVD does. The film is directed by the criminally underrated Jean Gremillion.


Jon S. said...

Mr. Zigman,

you mention getting these from private on-line sellers, I can't find many of these in online search. Any chance you can provide info on the sellers, particularly for the three prewar films?


Jon S.

Charles Zigman said...

Hello, Jon:

Email me and I will tell you where to get these films: author@jeangabinbook.com.

I don't want to publish the seller's information, because he might want to keep it private.


Chuck Zigman