When I first envisioned this movie blog, I thought that I would write about movies I have seen before, some of them many times. I wanted to write about movies I love; I wanted to create a group of essays with a positive tone. No better way to do that than talk about movies I know are awesome. But sometimes a movie you haven’t seen has such a good pedigree you know you’re going to love it sight unseen. Remorques is one of those. It’s a story of a sea captain and the toughness of his job and the two women who are really into him.
Jean Gabin, the French Spencer Tracy, plays Captain Laurent. Jean Gabin is one of my favorite actors. He’s tough, his face barely ever registers emotion, he gets awesome girls, he punches the bad guys, a lot of times he dies at the end of his movies. He is so badass. I wrote one of my shittiest college papers of all time about Jean Gabin. It was around ten pages or so, and pretty much the only argument it put on the table was “Jean Gabin was a fucking badass.” Remorques was released in 1941 but was filmed mostly in 1939, which was prime time for Jean Gabin; he was at the height of his popularity and looking back today, it seems like every movie he made during a four year stretch is a bona-fide classic. Remorques (the movie’s English title is Stormy Waters) was one I hadn’t seen, but watching a Jean Gabin movie made in the late thirties is pretty much like watching Roger Federer play tennis in the mid 2000s; you know it’s going to be incredible because it can’t not be incredible.
Two women play opposite Gabin in the movie: his wife, played by a little blonde waif called Madeleine Renaud, and the dreamy girl he gets involved with, played by blue eyed super nova Michele Morgan. The wife is sweet enough, but she is sickly, whines a lot, and isn’t Michele Morgan, so who cares? Remorques marks the third pairing of Morgan and Gabin in three years, and it seems to work. Maybe it’s because they both have really blue eyes. Probably. Jean Gabin is so tough and cool, when you first see him in a movie, you wonder what kind of girl he’d be with. Michele Morgan arrives, so beautiful she seems unreal, and there is no doubt: that is the kind of girl for Jean Gabin.
Michele Morgan and Jean Gabin in Remorques
Remorques has two main narrative threads, the romantic life of Captain Laurent and his profession, which is rescuing boats from storms and such out in the sea. The romantic stuff is done in the normal movie way: arguments, tears, walks on the beach, embraces, long kisses, etc. The scenes at sea are done in normal movie way as well, albeit one that isn’t popular in movies anymore. The boats are small scale models, being thrown around in a studio sea. It sounds stupid, but let me tell you, the scenes of the boats are awesome. The storms are scary and intense, and the simple special effects really work. It is a bit of movie magic.
Remorques is part of one of my all time favorite movie genres, French Poetic Realism. The movies are great and really atmospheric. They’re kind of noirish, concern characters who are either part of the working class or the criminal class, and have moody sets and lighting. It’s almost always cold, or nighttime, or raining, or foggy, or all four combined. Another reason I love the genre is because it feels like it’s more my own than some of the more popular or well known movements. I know this is hipsterish bullshit, but people not knowing about it makes me love it more. Any young punk on the street can like the French New Wave, or the gritty 70s Hollywood thing, or the Neorealist Italians. But I feel like a real die hard when I get out there and follow Jean Gabin around in the rain.