When he’s killed, there will be 3,000 widows at his funeral

If not for an obscure French movie from 1937, the world would be a lot less exotic.

Julien Duviver’s Pepe Le Moko is a tale of a love that can not be, set amongst the backdrop of a strange foreign land.  That can be said about some of the greatest films of all time, including Casablanca and The Third Man.  But Pepe Le Moko came first, and was the inspiration for all who came after it.

Compare, for instance, Pepe Le Moko with its 1938 American remake, Algiers.  Charles Boyer became an icon for doing everything Jean Gabin did, only in English.  But it is not Gabin who is misquoted for all eternity, “Come with me to ze cas-bah.”  The U. S. production code also forced a change to the ending, so Pepe’s fate is still the same, but inflicted by someone other than himself.

When looking at Casablanca, you can see where it borrows liberally from Pepe Le Moko.  Humphrey Bogart may win Ingrid Bergman over with his charm, but Jean Gabin has been there and done that.  As Pepe, he has no time for what’s going on in the world, because the world comes to him.  Bogey has the consolation of contributing to the greater good, by allowing Bergman to leave with her husband and continue to work to defeat the Nazis.  Meanwhile, Pepe loses his lover, his infatuation, his freedom and his life.  Maybe it isn’t hard to see why more people like Casablanca.

But perhaps the most lasting legacy of Pepe Le Moko is in the Looney Tunes character Pepe Le Pew.  In fact, in the 1954 cartoon The Cats Bah, the world’s most romantic skunk is neighbors with Pepe Le Moko.  However, Mel Blanc’s interpretation of the character is purely that of Charles Boyer, because who would make a French skunk actually fluent in French?

By Tom Keiser

Pepe le Moko screens this Wednesday
August 10th, 5:00PM
Philadelphia City Institute Library / 1905 Locust Street / Philadelphia, PA
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