Classic Movie Review: Le Jour Se Lève (1939)

Title: Le Jour Se Lève
Release Date: 9 June 1939
Director: Marcel Carné
Production Company: AFE

On the top floor of a walk-up apartment building in a working class French neighborhood we hear an argument behind a door, then a shot.  The door opens and a wounded man staggers out and then falls down the stairs.  Those stairs play a central role in the film as they do in the apartment building and feature in some of Le Jour Se Lève’s most impressive camera work.

Alone in his room, François (Jean Gabin) reflects on how he came to kill a man.  The scenes alternate between the police attempting to break into the apartment while concerned neighbors look on, and flashbacks to François’ memories.  It begins when he meets a young florist’s assistant Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) and they bond over their similar names and both being orphans. François falls in love with Françoise, but she is involved with Valentin (Jules Berry), an older man who trains and performs with dogs.  François in turn forms a casual relationship with Valentin’s former assistant Clara (Arletty), but he doesn’t love her the way she loves him.

Things take a dark turn in this love quadrangle, as you might imagine, but it’s interesting how it plays out.  This movie is described as poetic realism, a French film movement which kind of anticipates the later Italian neorealism, but more stylised.  It’s a well-produced film with some good performances, especially by Gabin.  I was kind of bummed out by the end, but I guess there weren’t many options for where this might go.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Moonfleet (1955)

Title: Moonfleet
Release Date: June 24, 1955
Director: Fritz Lang
Production Company: MGM

I decided to watch the movies listed by the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma as the greatest of all time to supplement the AFI and Sight & Sound lists with movies that aren’t in English.  So I’m continually surprised at the appearance of Hollywood movies in the French list that seem to have been forgotten in the United States.  Moonfleet (like Letter From an Unknown Woman, which I also watched recently) does have notable European director. In this case it’s a late-career work of Fritz Lang, famed for making Metropolis and M.

Moonfleet is a full-on gothic adventure tale set on the coast of England in the 1750s and is reminiscent of Jamaica Inn and Treasure Island.  The Fritz Lang touches include dramatic use of light and shadow, impressive set design, and underlying mood of menace.  The titular village of Moonfleet is home to gangs of smugglers under the direction of a “gentleman,” Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger).  9-year-old orphan John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) arrives in Moonfleet on the instruction of his recently deceased mother who was an old lover of Fox.

Fox is not too keen on having a child in his manor, but John shows surprising devotion to him as a “friend.”  Eventually they get caught up in seeking the  lost treasure of John’s ancestor “Redbeard.”  Plots are made, some buckle is swashed, betrayals are made, and characters grow.  It is a fun adventure with a lot of “mood.”  But I don’t think our French friends have discovered a lost Hollywood masterpiece.

Rating: ***