Friday, September 5, 2008

Movies: Pépé le Moko and Quai des Orfèvres

If you are wondering whether you'd like to be a French jewel thief on the lamb, hiding out in the Algerian Casbah in 1937, Pépé le Moko can tell you that it's not a bad idea. Mysterious French women with startling bow lips and heavy-lidded eyes will brave the Casbah's dark and twisting corridors to bring you afternoon delight once you tire of your bangled gypsy woman, and every other woman in the sultry, shadowed corridors of the twisting, stone-hewn city will answer to your any whim. The cops will try to catch you, but so long as you stay inside the Casbah's protective walls, you're safe. But therein lies the rub; you'll never again be able see the streets of Paris, ride the Metro, eat frittes unguarded, and, if your heavy-lidded French lover is dragged back to a ship to Paris by her fat and wealthy husband, to follow her there will mean death.

If you are wondering whether you'd like to be an attractive chanteuse in 1947, your career held back by an awkward but loving husband, Quai des Orfèvres will instruct you against sneaking out behind hubby's back to have a dinner meeting at the home of a dirty old man who promises you a movie contract. He'll put the moves on you, and you'll have no choice but to defend yourself by breaking a champagne bottle over his head, fleeing to your grandmother's house. When your suspicious husband goes to the dirty old man's house, expecting to catch you in flagrante delicto, and instead finds the body of the old man, dead, the two of you will both be in a world of trouble, suspects of the police. Neither of you will tell the other that you were indeed at the old man's house, and the fear and frustration of lengthy questioning will tear you apart. Your husband will attempt suicide, but will luckily survive, only to find out that neither of you killed the man—it was done by an itinerant robber, who saw the door open after you had already fled the scene, and before your husband arrived. You will have learned your lesson.

It's much more fun to be Pépé le Moko than an attractive chanteuse, or maybe movies were just that much more spare and romantic in the 30s. Or maybe it's Algeria. Yeah, it must be Algeria.

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