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Port of Shadows (The Criterion Collection)

4.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Down a foggy, desolate road to the port city of Le Havre travels Jean (Jean Gabin), an army deserter looking for another chance to make good on life. Fate, however, has a different plan for him, when acts of both revenge and kindness turn him into front-page news. Also starring the blue-eyed phenomenon Michèle Morgan in her first major role, and the menacing Michel Simon, Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes) starkly portrays an underworld of lonely souls wrestling with their own destinies. Based on the novel by Pierre Mac Orlan, the inimitable team of director Marcel Carné and writer Jacques Prévert deliver a quintessential example of poetic realism, one of the classics of the golden age of French cinema.

Special Features

  • New digital transfer with restored image and sound plus new subtitle translation
  • Poster gallery
  • 32-page booklet including a new essay by acclaimed cultural historian Luc Sante

Product Details

  • Actors: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Édouard Delmont
  • Directors: Marcel Carné
  • Writers: Jacques Prévert, Pierre Dumarchais
  • Producers: Gregor Rabinovitch
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, Special Edition, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: July 20, 2004
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00026L74U
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,415 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Port of Shadows (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Jean (Jean Gabin), a deserting soldier, emerges out the darkness as an approaching truck's lights cut through the night. The truck driver offers Jean a ride which he gladly accepts as he is weary from his long journey away from his dark past in the French military, a past that Jean wants to escape as it brings him pain and anxiousness, which haunts his restless mind. Weariness and dreadful memories brings Jean into a foggy world where he drifts between sleep and awareness while the truck is traveling in the direction of the French port city of Le Havre, which is equally foggy and full of threats.

Hopeful, Jean arrives to Le Havre where he intends to find a new beginning to his life, and where he can discard his past. A port city offers several opportunities for a person such as Jean to embark on new journeys as the port is full of ships leaving each day for new destinations. Through the help of some strangers that Jean meets at a worn down tavern he begins to find a light, which could help guide him back on track to a new life. However, the fog remains as Jean's destiny has different plans for him as his good nature seems to affect the people he meets.

Port of Shadows is a poetic visualization of a realistic story, which Carne gave a magic touch to by using visual signs to enhance the cinematic experience. These signs have a symbolic value for the audience as it offers cerebral participation in the film, which can be pondered for some time. The symbolism of the fog and use of a port city has a profound effect on the films cinematic value as it may causes some cognitive dissonance as both coexist and could be associated with opposite notions. An example of this symbolic antagonism for the fog and the port is the freedom of a port and the barrier of the fog.
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When I first saw this movie I thought it was one of the saddest and most beautiful films I'd ever seen, which I still think today. The fugitive, the melancholic painter, the abused girl, the ship, and the dog, oh yes, the dog will break your heart and duly so. This was the kind of movie Marcel Carné used to make, sad and beautiful, effortless, peerless, unforgettable. He later made Children of Paradise, which is far more ambitious than Port of Shadows in narrative and production terms and although Children of Paradise is usually considered his greatest film, I'd be hard pressed to tell which of the two is more ravishing. Children is a luxurious opera; Port is a mesmerizing chamber piece.
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Format: DVD
After watching Children of Paradise, the 1945 film written by Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carné, I felt that I had seen one of the most beautiful films ever made and was intrigued by what else Carné's filmography had to offer. I decided to follow up that film up with this film, also written by Prévert and based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan. Port of Shadows, released in 1938, is the first masterpiece by Carné and is one of the great hidden gems of cinema.

Jean (Jean Gabin) is a military deserter who stumbles into the fog-shrouded town of Le Havre, looking to get out of the country. The foggy landscape is an atmospheric foreshadowing of what will unfold for the characters. Jean, who finds himself accompanied by a small dog (one of the most loyal, loveable canine's I've seen on film), finds shelter in a shack at the edge of the water where he meets 17-year-old Nelly (Michèle Morgan). Nelly comes with her own personal baggage, including a missing boyfriend, a shady godfather named Zabel (Michel Simon), and a local hood named Lucien. Intending to depart the following day on a ship to Venezuela, Jean falls for Nelly despite the obstacles standing in their way.

Port of Shadows is so terrific on nearly every level it's unfathomable to me that someone could not like it. There are people who hold foreign films and/or black & white films in disdain, but even such biased viewers should find something here that appeals to them. Besides being just masterful on a cinematic level, it's actually very entertaining with scenes scattered throughout that range from tense to exciting to comedic to romantic.
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Format: DVD
An example of poetic realism, the French film movement (atmosphere would be more precise) between WWI and WWII, Port of Shadows is heavy on coincidence beginning, arguably, with the truck driver who transports Jean, the Jean Gabin character (and us) into the film. Jean hasn't eaten for two days and is given free food by an innkeeper; he meets a girl and the attraction is mutual; he needs new clothes and a passport so an artist commits suicide and leaves both to him, etc.

All of this would make for a predictable run-of-the-mill thing except for the fact that there is more than coincidence going on here and that the coincidences themselves are in many ways of little concern to the point of the film. Indeed, it seems that the filmmakers used coincidence as a way of dispensing with nettlesome plot necessities in order to focus more intently on what they wanted the film to convey. What it does convey, and quite nicely, is the sense of impending doom, a haunted past (Jean is a deserter who seems to harbor darker secrets in his past), the venality and corruptability of man, love gained and lost, and the futility of daily life when stacked against all of that. Hardly a sunny romp in the woods (somehow the fog seems to linger even in bright sunlight), but an entertaining film nonetheless.

Aside from the coincidences and the atmosphere, another interesting aspect is the way in which the Gabin character exits outside of society. A deserter (and one sense that he joined the army only a way to escape some former social unit), he has left behind that society in search of, not really another one, but perhaps a way to live outside any society at all, at least until he meets the girl.
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