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Andre Laurent, the captain of a tugboat, married Yvonne ten years ago. She has a heart disease but does not want to tell him. She dreams he quits the job for they can live quietly. One night, during a sea rescue, he meets Catherine. She wants to leave her husband, the captain of the rescued ship. She is a beautiful and unusual woman...
Remorques aka Stormy Waters (1941) - Remorques (Stormy Waters)
And, of course, it's French, which means equal doses of existentialist despair and heedless romantic longing (think of them as genre films born from unprotected sex between Albert Camus and Gustav Flaubert). The films are, in any case, still potent, super cool, sweaty with passion and just as fatalistic as the best noirs. Moreover, they have a secret weapon: Jean Gabin, who from 1935 to the beginning of WWII made 13 films, many of which were classics of the poetic-realist sensibility, including all four listed above, and also Duvivier's La Bandera (1935), Renoir's The Lower Depths (1936), and Jean Gremillon's Remorques (1941). Gabin was recently honored with a two-volume biography by Charles Zigman unabashedly entitled World's Coolest Movie Star, a claim with which no one, as far as we've heard, has dared to argue. Film history is riddled with these mysterious creatures, actors who don't seem to try very hard and yet draw our gaze and attention like iron shavings to an atomic magnet - for us, Humphrey Bogart became, in the early '40s, Hollywood's coolest man alive, despite being short, thin, arguably unhandsome, and laconic to boot.
Gabin may indeed have been the coolest of the cool - he was almost Garbo-like in his ability to anchor our attention without moving a muscle. His exhausted, half-lidded gaze exudes an intelligent warmth, an alert strength, and all manner of brutal history, all without "acting"; the achievement of an individual's photographable presence rather than his mimicry may be the most sublime legacy of movie performance. You look into Gabin's eyes and read a lifetime of weathered hurt and rueful experience. Without a Gabin, there would have been no Bogart, no Robert Mitchum, no Randolph Scott, no Jean-Paul Belmondo (or Breathless  or Pierrot le Fou ), no Jean-Pierre Melville or Alain Delon, no Steve McQueen, no Chinatown (1974), no Bruce Willis, no movie-star heritage of weathered cool, vulnerable nihilism and achingly bruised masculinity.
Remorques is not a major staple of the poetic-realist canon, just a dark romance begun on the cusp of the war (and then suspended, finished by Gremillon two years later in 1941) that happened to employ a super-group of pre-war French artistes - in addition to Gremillon and Gabin, we have co-star Michele Morgan, co-writers Jacques Prevert and Andre Cayatte, ubiquitous co-cameramen Armand Thirard and Louis Nee (who worked on over 40 films together), master designer Alexandre Trauner, and so on. Translating to Stormy Waters, Gremillon's film opens at a wedding - where the groom and bride, and all of the guests, are either rescue-salvage towboat sailors or the very worried, very tired wives. Gabin is, naturally, the captain, and just as naturally the nuptials are interrupted by a sudden storm and a stranded vessel out at sea, compelling the men to scramble out into the darkness and do what they do routinely - risk their lives.
This extended action-at-sea sequence is performed entirely by outrageously obvious toy boats in a tank, but it's stunningly harrowing anyway, as the two ships attempt to secure a towline between them without everyone simply getting crushed by the waves. Just when you think the whole film is a protracted exercise in battling-nature stress, the drama manifests itself: the captain of the ship in question planned on scuttling his vessel, sacrificing the crew and reaping the insurance money, a maneuver evil enough to inspire Gabin's captain - whose handling of the incident falls under scrutiny - to quit the rescue business altogether, which would only please his pale, nagging, secretly sickly wife (Madeleine Renaud). It also repels the evil ship-scuttler's wife (Morgan) to leave him, take a (rather luxurious) room in Gabin's home port, and initiate a fated romance with Gabin's impregnable man of integrity.
As romance scenarios go, it's a pickle, forecasting Casablanca's (1942) love-em-or-leave-em conundrum - whether Gabin stays with his well-meaning but needy wife or leaves her for a whirlwind affair with ravishing nowhere-woman Morgan, he doesn't stand a chance at happiness. Gremillon and his gang of screenwriters (there were four all told, including original novelist Roger Vercel) must've had countless late-hour bull sessions trying to round the story out to a satisfying conclusion, but Remorques goes where it must go, with the inevitability of fate, toward an ending tragic and grieving and cleansed of betrayal. Gremillon makes the most of it - the climactic passage even dares to steer away from Gabin at his moment of desperation, and launch into a universalist montage of rescue workers and spookily praying voices. But Gabin, with his so-relaxed-he's-at-home-in-bed manner, his boxer's nose and weary duffel-hammocked eyes, is the movie's saddened, hankering center, and in the end we're gazing into his unemotive face, and feeling everything he doesn't need to show us.
Director: Jean Grémillon
Screenplay: Roger Vercel (novel and adaptation, uncredited), Jacques Prévert (scenario & dialogue), André Cayatte (adaptation), Charles Spaak (adaptation, uncredited)
Cinematography: L. Née, A. Thirard
Film Editing: Yvonne Martin
Cast: Jean Gabin (Le capitaine André Laurent), Madeleine Renaud de la Comédie Francaise (Yvonne Laurent), Michèle Morgan (Catherine), Blavette (Gabriel Tanguy), Jean Marchat (Marc, le capitaine du 'Mirva'), Nane Germon (Renée Tanguy), Jean Daste (Le radio), Bergeron (Georges), Poupon (Le docteur Maulette), Anne Laurens (Marie Poubennec).
by Michael Atkinson
Remorques aka Stormy Waters (1941) - Remorques (Stormy Waters)
The film was started in 1939 but was soon interrupted because of the war. The shooting only resumed in the summer of 1940. Gremillon only completed it in 1941 as the storm scenes had to be redone from scratch.