- Gabin, Jean
- (1904-1976)Actor. Born Jean Gabin Alexis Moncorgé into a family of entertainers, Jean Gabin first tried to avoid becoming one himself. Both of his parents were performers in the café-concerts, and Jean, in his early life, tried other careers, including construction, before coming back to the theater to join his parents. He got his start at the Folies-Bergères in 1922 and remained in live entertainment until 1930, when he debuted in René Pujol's Chacun sa chance. Film work came steadily after that, but it was not until Gabin's role in Julien Duvivier's Maria Chapdelaine in 1933 that he really became a force on the screen.From 1933 until the war, Gabin was probably the biggest male star on the screen in France. He was, in many ways, the face of the Le Réalisme poétique or poetic realism, playing real-world tragic characters and conveying as much through facial expression as through dialogue. He worked with Duvivier in La Bandera (1935), Golgotha (1935), La Belle équipe (1936), and Pépé le Moko (1937), with Jean Renoir in Les Bas-fonds (1936), La Grande illusion (1937), and La Bête humaine (1938), with Marc Allégret in Zouzou (1934), and with Marcel Carné in Le Quai des brumes (1938) and Le Jour se lève (1939).The types of characters Gabin played in these films, particularly the Carné films, typify his work from the 1930s and 1940s. He was very often an everyman type of character, strong, silent, often brooding, more often than not caught in circumstances well beyond his control. His best-known roles from the period are probably that of Jean, the silent former soldier in Carné's Le Quai des brumes (1938), François, the factory worker caught in a tragic love relationship that leads to murder in Le Jour se lève (1939), Pépé, the gangster trapped in the medina of Algiers in Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937), and Lieutenant Maréchal, the prisoner of war in Renoir's classic, La Grande illusion (1937). Gabin's other noteworthy roles from this period include Jean Grémillion's Guele d'amour (1937) and Remorques (1941). Other films in which he appeared include Hans Behrendt and Yvan Noé's Gloria (1931), Jean Godard's Pour un soir (1931), Jacques Tourneur's Tout ça ne vaut pas l'amour (1931), Harry Lachman's La Belle marinière (1932), Anatole Litvak's Cœur de lilas (1932), John Daumery and Howard Hawks's La Foule hurle (1932), Serge de Poligny's L'Étoile de Valencia (1933), and Maurice Gleize's Le Récif de corail (1939).Gabin left France at the time of the German Occupation during World War II to fight with the Free French. He also tried his hand at acting in Hollywood, but his two English-language films, Moontide (1942) and The Imposter (1944), were unremarkable. Gabin returned to France after the war but had some difficulty restarting his career. He starred in Georges Lacombe's Martin Roumignac (1946), Raymond Lamy's Miroir (1947), and René Clement's Audelà des grilles (1949). Gabin's film career did not begin to pick up momentum until 1952, when he was again offered memorable roles in memorable films. His films that year included Max Ophuls's Le Plaisir and Henri Decoin's La Vérité sur Bébé Dongé. The following year, Gabin starred in Jacques Becker's classic noir film Touchez pas au grisbi (1953), and his second star turn was cemented.In its second phase, his career was characterized by three types of roles. He frequently played detectives (most notably Maigret) in polars or crime films. Examples include Gilles Grangier's Le Sang à la tête (1956), Le Rouge est mis (1957), and Maigret voit rouge (1963), Jean Delannoy's Maigret tend un piège (1958) and Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (1959). Alternatively, he played tough guys in crime films or occasionally parodied them in comedies. Examples include, of course, Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi (1953), Decoin's Razzia sur le Chnouf(1955), Duvivier's Voici le temps des assassins (1956), Grangier's Le Cave se rebiffe (1961), Denys de la Patellière's Du riff à Paname (1966), and Henri Verneuil's Le Clan des Siciliens (1969).The other type of role that dominated was that of the distinguished gentleman, in which Gabin would play a mature and grounded older man of means. Films that feature him in this capacity include Decoin's La Vérité sur Bébé Dongé (1952), Claude Autant-Lara's En cas de Malheur (1958), Delannoy's Le Baron de l'écluse (1960), Jean-Paul Le Chanois's Monsieur (1964), Pierre Granier-Deferre's La Horse (1970), and Verneuil's Le Président (1973). There were also occasional roles as the everyman, as in Le Chanois's Les Misérables, in which Gabin gave the screen one of its most memorable incarnations of Jean Valjean.The tone for the second career was, no doubt, set by the success of the 1952 Decoin and Becker films, which broke with Gabin's earlier association with the tragic everyman figure and greatly broadened his range. It is also no doubt the result of the fact that such roles better suited the older Gabin. Gabin also continued to act in theater throughout his career. His last film was L'Année sainte (1976), released the year of his death.It is difficult to summarize Gabin's career except to say that he was and is probably the most beloved actor to have graced the screen in France, that he had and has a very intimate connection to several generations of moviegoers, and that the face and the persona that each generation associates with him is different. One element that holds true for all generations, inside and outside of France, however, is that he is one of the most recognizable and one of the most legendary actors to have worked in cinema. It is also true that whether he is remembered for La Grande illusion (1937) or for Mélodie en sous-sol (1963), or for any of his other films, what made Gabin so memorable was his quiet, yet forceful way of capturing the human experience.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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Gabin, Jean — orig. Jean Alexis Moncorgé born May 17, 1904, Paris, France died Nov. 15, 1976, Paris French film actor. The son of a music hall comedian, he began as a performer at the Folies Bergère (1923). After making his film debut in 1931 he earned… … Universalium
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