30s RARITIES: Jean Gabin, Annabella, Charles Vanel, Jules Berry, Edwige Feuillere, Georges Rigaud; directed by Duvivier, Bernhardt, Ophuls
Escape from Yesterday / La bandera
12:30 PM: Fleeing France for the Spanish Legion after killing a man in a fight, a young man becomes embroiled in love and intrigue while an investigator relentlessly searches for him.
Escape from Yesterday is where the “Jean Gabin” character is first formed, and where “poetic realism” begins to distinguish itself from the detritus of “colonialist films” that had sprung up to proselytize for France’s variant of imperialism. While it has its ungainly moments, the film is fascinating for how it collides colonialist mentalities with exotic romance (think von Sternberg’s Morocco) and adds the “man on the run” motif that would fuel so many of Gabin’s legend-making triumphs.
Note also the chemistry between Gabin and an unusually smoldering Annabella. Director Julien Duvivier would shortly consolidate these motifs into the first true classic of “poetic realism” (Pépé le moko). (1935, dir. Julien Duvivier, 88m)
Crossroads / Carrefour
2:15 PM: A wealthy industrialist (Charles Vanel) has his life turned upside down when he is accused of being an impostor and a murderer.
Crossroads is a sharp-edged melodrama that leaps into the void of film noir thanks to the sure hands of director Curtis Bernhardt. We will not spoil the subsequent plot twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but will say only that it involves the master meddler of French noir, the singular Jules Berry. Those who’ve seen Berry in action in films like Le jour se leve and Marie-Martine will know that the mere mention of his name is more than sufficient recommendation! (1938, dir. Curtis Bernhardt, 84m)
There’s No Tomorrow / Sans lendemain
4:00 PM: A bourgeois woman (Edwige Feuillère) fallen into sordid circumstances meets her former lover (Georges Rigaud) and risks everything to conceal her plight from him.
There’s No Tomorrow might be the ultimate showcase for the criminally underappreciated Edwige Feuillère, whose grande dame tendencies have obscured her vast range and kept many of her superb performances stranded in the shadows. Like Bernhardt, Ophuls takes melodrama over the line into noir with subtle but striking combinations of plot points and visual flourishes—but his swooping use of the camera places him (and this film) in a category all its own. (1939, dir. Max Ophuls, 82m)