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One of France's preeminent actors, Jean Gabin (born Jean-Alexis Moncorg in 1904) holds a roster of classics that rank with any of his 20th-century peers around the world. One of his most fruitful partnerships was with director Marcel Carn, with whom he collaborated on four films including Port of Shadows (1938), Le jour se leve (1939), and La Marie du port (1950). Their last film together , Air of Paris (L'air de Paris), was released in 1954 and is the only one of their four features made without the writing involvement of Jacques Prvert, the acclaimed writer of Children of Paradise (1945). On the other hand, the film reunited Gabin with his female star from Le jour se leve, model-turned-actress Arletty (the star of Children of Paradise), whose controversial career is worthy of a movie storyline by itself.
The plot of Air of Paris features Gabin as Victor Le Garrec, a former boxer looking for a way to vicariously relive his former glory by training a new champion in the ring. Opportunity knocks when he meets Andr (Roland Lesaffre), a scrappy railroad worker who shows considerable promise. However, Victor's loving wife, Blanche (Arletty), isn't entirely comfortable with the arrangement since she has dreams of retiring out in the countryside, and when Andr is distracted by a fling with a young vixen named Corinne (Marie Dams), Victor's dreams fall into greater peril.
Equal parts a travelogue love letter to Paris and a snapshot of the boxing world in France at the time (including single-named real life pugilists like Streicher and Legendre), Air of Paris has never enjoyed a reputation as one of the director's best films, but for cineastes it offers a chance to see three major figures of the cinema teamed up again. Virtually a national institution, Gabin (who was made an officer of his country's Legion of Honor six years later) drew raves as the lead in Jean Renoir's 1936 film of The Lower Depths and became an instant star in 1937 with the double successes of Pp le Moko for director Julien Duvivier and Renoir's Grand Illusion. His subsequent major roles include Renoir's La bte humaine (1938), a segment in Max Ophls' Le plaisir (1952), Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Renoir's French Cancan (1954), and Jean Delannoy's immensely popular version of Inspector Maigret (1958), a role he reprised in two sequels. In later years he found a new, younger audience by appearing opposite icy screen idol Alain Delon in a trio of memorable crime films: Any Number Can Win (1963), The Sicilian Clan (1969), and Two Men in Town (1973).
During World War II, Gabin also fought for the Allied Forces in North Africa and took part in the liberation of Paris, activities which earned him an eternal place in the hearts of his countrymen. On the other hand, Arletty (born Lonie Marie Julie Bathiat) had a much stormier time near the end of World War II when, on the eve of the release of her defining role in Children of Paradise (an epic filmed during the German occupation of France), she was arrested for collaboration due to an affair with a Nazi soldier. She served a brief prison sentence and was prohibited from working for three years, but upon her return to the screen, all seemed to have been forgiven as she remained a popular attraction in the 1950s.
One of France's most important directors, Marcel Carn rose to prominence with the eccentric 1937 comedy, Drle de drame, and while this marked the end of his professional relationship with Gabin (whom he had earlier fired in 1946 during the production of Les portes de la nuit), he had just begun a long association with third-billed Lesaffre, who had just appeared in bit roles in Carn's La Marie du port and Thrse Raquin (1953). In total they made twelve films together including Carn's final narrative feature, La merveilleuse visite in 1974.
Producers Cino Del Duca, Robert Dorfmann
Director: Marcel Carn
Screenplay: Jacques Sigurd (dialogue and screenplay); Marcel Carn (screenplay); Jacques Viot (novel, uncredited)
Cinematography: Roger Hubert
Art Direction: Paul Bertrand
Music: Maurice Thiriet
Film Editing: Henri Rust
Cast: Jean Gabin (Victor Le Garrec), Arletty (Blanche Le Garrec), Roland Lesaffre (Andr Mnard), Marie Dams (Corinne), Maria Pia Casilio (Maria Pozzi), Ave Ninchi (Mme. Pozzi), Simone Paris (Chantal), Marcelle Praince (Vieille dame), Mathilde Casadessus (Voyageuse), Maurice Sarfati (Jojo).
by Nathaniel Thompson