French poetic realism was defined cinematically by the films Marcel Carné made from Jacques Prévert’s scripts in the 1930s. In this classic example, Jean Gabin (who else?) plays a decent working stiff who is provoked into murder and then spends a long night trapped in his one-room apartment. While the police organize their assault, he reviews the events that left him no way out. There was the innocent girl he wanted to marry (Jacqueline Laurant); the villain who was either her daddy or her sugar-daddy (Jules Berry); the mistress he kept at arms length . . . when he wasn‘t in her bed (Arletty). Like so much of Carné’s work, the film too often lays out themes that should be playing under the surface (an American equivalent might be THE PETRIFIED FOREST/’36), but the fatalistic mood is very powerful. In spite of this being a signature role for Gabin, it’s Arletty who steals acting honors as the wised-up mistress, and it’s the great set designer Alexander Trauner who achieves a balance between realism & studio artifice that lets the philosophical dialogue & themes flourish.
NOTE: THE LONG NIGHT/’47 is Anatole Litvak’s Hollywood remake. Henry Fonda, Barbara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price & Ann Dvorak are reasonably effective, but the fatalism has been rejiggered into hope. As if the story was being filtered thru the lens of Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE/’46.