France • 1h 48m
Directed by Georges Lacombe • Drama • With Marlene Dietrich, Jean Gabin • 1946 • 108 minutes
This tragic postwar romance is a tale of class anxiety and classic Romantic fatalism, run through with a typically French frankness about sex and gender. Jean Gabin is the titular character, an unpretentious and proudly working class building contractor, who falls in love with Marlene Dietrich’s ravishing shopgirl Blanche, quite unaware that she comes trailing a notorious sexual history and attracts the determined ardor of every man she meets. Among her current lovers (the American title was The Room Upstairs) is a local politician who plans on marrying Blanche once his terminally ill wife dies, but Gabin’s sensible lug doesn’t care, though it’s clear that the ever-opportunistic Blanche will choose wealth over love.
Until she doesn’t. Both Lacombe’s film and Dietrich’s performance have a sphinx-like attitude toward this femme fatale, and that still-gestating film noir stereotype is subtly deepened. Blanche is not judged or made to seem amoral. The men that buzz around her are not villainized, either – they’re just following their toxic hearts, in a culture where women like Blanche have so few options. Meanwhile, as the melodrama heats up, Gabin and Dietrich radiate pure matinee charisma, in the only movie these two icons ever made together.
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