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LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

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kingrat
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LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby kingrat » August 22nd, 2011, 7:39 pm

I thought it might be interesting to compare LE JOUR SE LEVE (1939, Marcel Carne) with its American remake, THE LONG NIGHT (1947, Anatole Litvak), two fine films.

1. The print TCM showed of LE JOUR SE LEVE looked like the sort of print you might see at a college film society--not bad, but not what the filmmakers intended. RKO tried to destroy all copies of the French film when it remade the film, but fortunately did not succeed. Maybe this is the best copy available. THE LONG NIGHT exists in a truly sumptuous print. Did Litvak and his cinematographer, Sol Polito, outshine their French confreres, or did the accident of history favor them?

2. Although I can understand a little of the French, and a little more when combined with the subtitles, I have no way of knowing how good the dialogue of the original is, although Jacques Prevert's writing is always admired by French speakers. The design of the story is excellent, and the remake doesn't omit any of the good structure. Further, the remake finds American equivalents for the French characters, and the English dialogue is first-rate. The remake has the benefit of better set design.

3. The French did not have to contend with American censors, and can thus let us know that Francois (Gabin) is sleeping with Clara (Arletty), whereas the remake can only imply that Joe (Henry Fonda) has been sleeping with Charlie (Ann Dvorak). American censorship wouldn't like the French ending, either, though I feel that each film has the ending proper to it.

4. The remake changes the balance between the two women. Francoise/Jo is the pivotal character, but because Arletty is a star--look at the camera movement which follows her across the hall from the stage door to the bar: this is a star entrance--we may feel more sympathetic to Clara. Ann Dvorak isn't a star in 1947, and although we do feel sympathetic toward her, and may wonder if Fonda is making the right decision, Barbara Bel Geddes has the larger role, expanded from the original, and we're more implicated in the Joe/Jo relationship. This is how the movie needs to be structured. Arletty and Ann Dvorak are both terrific. Jacqueline Laurent has the right quality as the innocent Francoise, but Barbara Bel Geddes gets the more richly drawn character.

5. Jean Gabin is perfect as the working class Francois. Henry Fonda, a quintessential middle-class actor, has to do some work to be convincing, but he does the work; it's one of my favorite Fonda performances. Whenever Fonda plays a poor or blue collar character, he represents the American aspiration to a secure middle-class life. The remake does a much better job of explaining the attraction of the innocent Jo to the magician Max. Though not well-educated, Jo is bright. Because she loves the world of books and concerts Max shows her, she can almost believe she loves him. If she marries Joe, she will be settling for the limited life she already knows. This deepens the story considerably. The original never quite shows the attraction of Francoise to Valentin except to say, in effect, that's he's a silver-tongued devil. This is believable, but THE LONG NIGHT gives us more. Really, the screenplay of the remake is almost beyond praise. I think Jules Berry may be a better actor than Vincent Price, but Price has the right qualities for this part.

6. Litvak does re-create some scenes from the original, such as the scenes with the teddy bear. However, sometimes even when he borrows, he makes the original better. I think he makes it clearer, for instance, that Joe takes the teddy bear because he is angry Jo won't marry him. The poetry of the scene where the star-crossed lovers meet is amazing, with the contrast of the glazier in his astronaut-like protective covering and the young girl with her arms full of flowers. Litvak makes this wonderful moment even better by shooting the initial sight so that they are separted by glass. I also love the brief documentary-like opening to THE LONG NIGHT, which is like a composer making us think the first movement of a symphony is in one key before introducing us to the true key. Polito and Litvak use the techniques of the fully developed noir style, and this is a plus for the remake.

Jean Gabin is so powerful in a great role that anyone might prefer LE JOUR SE LEVE for that reason alone, but THE LONG NIGHT is the version that haunts me.

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Ann Harding
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby Ann Harding » August 23rd, 2011, 4:54 am

Interesting comparison Kingrat. Le Jour se Lève has a gorgeous cinematography. I don't know what TCM showed. But my own French DVD is fine. I have never seen the remake, but I doubt American cinema could make it any better. Prévert's script is haunting and poetic. I guess the subs won't give you any idea of its quality. Also the film has this doomed quality you'll find only in later Films Noir of the 40s. Gabin is so perfect in the part, so are Arletty and the fabulous Jules Berry, that I cannot imagine anybody else in the parts.

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MichiganJ
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby MichiganJ » August 23rd, 2011, 6:45 am

kingrat wrote:The print TCM showed of LE JOUR SE LEVE looked like the sort of print you might see at a college film society--not bad, but not what the filmmakers intended.

I can't speak to the print aired on TCM, but the Criterion DVD release of the film looks very nice. The image is pictureboxed, which is designed to help eliminate overscan on "standard" TVs, and there is some nominal digital artifacts and wear, which is expected for a film this old, but overall, it looks good.

I've only had the opportunity to watch two of the Gabin films so far, and am very impressed with the picture. Both films, Gueule d'amour and Des gens sans importance (one of the saddest movies I've seen in a while) were closed captioned rather than strictly subtitled.
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Ann Harding
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby Ann Harding » August 23rd, 2011, 9:54 am

There is a current discussion on Criterion Forum about the print quality of the Gabins on TCM. Several are complaining about cropping and it looks as if TCM didn't use the best quality prints available. At least, these films are being shown, that's something! The 30s were Gabin's best period.

kingrat
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby kingrat » August 23rd, 2011, 11:32 am

Ann, thanks so much for your recommendations on the Gabin films. Otherwise, I'd have missed GUEULE D'AMOUR and REMORQUES, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Jean Gremillon is a good director.

Even if TCM didn't show the best version of LE JOUR SE LEVE, it's good that one exists. I look forward to seeing the Criterion version.

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Mr. Arkadin
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby Mr. Arkadin » August 23rd, 2011, 12:48 pm

I have the Criterion release and I can definitely state there is a huge difference between the DVD and what TCM showed the other day. I personally prefer the 39 version, but perhaps the most important aspect of this comparison is the fact that we can see the thread running from German Expressionism, to French Crime, to American Noir, which remade so many of these films (toning them down for the Code) and gave American audiences their first taste of a style that was already a decade old.

KR, I enjoyed reading your comparisons. You mention this is one of your favorite Fonda performances. Have you ever checked out Frtiz Lang's They only Live Once (1937)? Once again, noir before Film Noir, with incredible performances from the two leads.

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Ann Harding
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Re: LE JOUR SE LEVE/THE LONG NIGHT

Postby Ann Harding » August 24th, 2011, 8:11 am

kingrat wrote:Ann, thanks so much for your recommendations on the Gabin films. Otherwise, I'd have missed GUEULE D'AMOUR and REMORQUES, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Jean Gremillon is a good director.

Really glad, you enjoyed them, Kingrat! :) Jean Grémillon is considered one of the top directors of the 30s and 40s in France, along with Renoir, Duvivier and Carné. So this is not surprising that Gabin worked with all of them.


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