Nationality: French. Born: Jean-Alexis Moncorgé in Paris, 17 May 1904; some sources give surname as Monçorge and Morcorge; father a cafe entertainer who performed using the name Gabin. Military Service: Joined Free French, 1943; participated in Normandy invasion, 1944; received Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire; Family: Married 1) Gaby Basset, 1928 (divorced 1931); 2) Jeanne Susanne Mauchin, 1932 (divorced 1942); 3) Dominique Fournier, 1949, children: Florence, Valerie, and Mathias. Career: 1919—apprenticed to construction company, Chapelle; also worked as auto mechanic; 1920—through father's friendship with impresario Fréjol, engaged at Folies Bergère; 1924–25—military service in French navy; 1926—performed in theater, cabaret, and vaudeville; 1930—contract with Pathé-Nathan; majority of earliest films shot in Germany; 1934—began collaboration with director Julien Duvivier on Maria Chapdelaine; 1939–40—served in French navy; 1941—moved to U.S., began working for 20th Century-Fox; 1954—career revived with Touchez pas au grisbi; in series of films as Inspector Maigret beginning with Maigret tend un piège. Awards: Best Actor, Venice Festival, for La Nuit est mon royaume, 1951; Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Touchez pas au grisbi and The Air of Paris, 1954; Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Archimède le clochard, 1959; Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Le Chat, 1971. Died: Of heart attack at Neuilly, 15 November 1976.
Films as Actor:
Chacun sa chance (La Chute dans le bonheur) (Steinhoff and Pujol—French version of Steinhoff's Kopfüber ins Glück); Mephisto (Debain and Winter—serial); Paris-béguin (Genina); Gloria (Behrendt and Noé—French version of Behrendt's Gloria); Tout ça ne vaut pas l'amour (Jacques Tourneur); Coeur de Lilas (Litvak); Coeur joyeux (Schwartz and de Vaucorbeil)
La Belle Marinière (Lachman); Les Gaités de l'Escadron (Maurice Tourneur); La Foule hurle (Daumery and Hawks—French version of Hawks's The Crowd Roars)
L'Etoile de Valencia (de Poligny—French version of Zeisler's Stern von Valencia); Adieu les beaux jours (Meyer and Beucler—French version of Meyer's Die schönen Tagen von Aranjuez); Le Tunnel (Bernhardt—French version of Der Tunnel); Du haut en bas (Pabst); Au bout de monde (Ucicky)
Zouzou (Allégret); Maria Chapdelaine (Duvivier)
Golgotha (Duvivier) (as Pontius Pilate); La Bandéra (Duvivier); Variétés (Farkas)
La Belle Équipe (Duvivier) (as Jean); Les Bas-fonds (Renoir) (as Pepel); Pépé le Moko (Duvivier) (title role)
La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) (Renoir) (as Maréchal); Le Messager (Rouleau); Gueule d'amour (Grémillon)
Le Quai des brumes (Carné); La Bête humaine (Renoir) (as Lantier)
Le Récif de corail (Gleize); Le Jour se lève (Carné) (as François)
The Imposter (Strange Confession) (Duvivier)
Martin Roumagnac (The Room Upstairs) (Lacombe) (title role)
Au-delà des grilles (Le mura di Malapaga; The Walls of Malapaga) (Clément); La Marie du port (Carné)
E più facile che un cammello . . . (Pour l'amour du ciel) (Zampa)
Victor (Heymann); La Nuit est mon royaume (The Night Is My Kingdom) (Lacombe); "La Maison Tellier" ep. of Le Plaisir (Ophüls); La Vérité sur Bébé Donge (Decoin)
La Minute de vérité (Delannoy); Bufere (Fille dangereuse) (Brignone); Echos de plateau (Knapp and Barrère—short)
Leur Dernière Nuit (Lacombe); La Vierge du Rhin (Grangier); Touchez pas au grisbi (Becker) (as Max le menteur)
L'Air de Paris (Carné); Napoléon (Guitry); Le Port du désir (Gréville); French Cancan (Renoir); Razzia sur la chnouf (Decoin)
Chiens perdus sans collier (Delannoy); Gas-oil (Grangier); Des gens sans importance (Verneuil); Voici le temps des assassins (Murder à la Carte) (Duvivier); Le Sang à la tête (Grangier)
La Traversée de Paris (Four Bags Full) (Autant-Lara); Crime et châtiment (The Most Dangerous Sin) (Lampin); Le Cas du docteur Laurent (Le Chanois)
Le Rouge est mis (Grangier); Maigret tend un piège (Delannoy) (title role); Les Misérables (Le Chanois)
Le Désordre et la nuit (Grangier); En cas de malheur (Autant-Lara); Les Grandes Familles (de la Patellière); Archimède le clochard (Grangier) (+ story); Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (Delannoy) (title role)
Rue des prairies (de la Patellière); Le Baron de l'écluse (Delannoy); Les Vieux de la vieille (Grangier)
Le Président (Verneuil); Le Cave se rebiffe (Grangier)
Un Singe en hiver (Monkey in Winter) (Verneuil); Le Gentleman d'Epsom (Les Grands Seigneurs; Le Roi de tiercé) (Grangier); Mélodie en sous-sol (Verneuil)
Maigret voit rouge (Grangier) (title role)
Monsieur (Le Chanois); L'Âge ingrat (Grangier)
Le Tonnerre de Dieu (de la Patellière)
Du Rififi à Paname (The Upper Hand; Rififi in Paris) (de la Patellière); Le Jardinier d'Argenteuil (Le Chanois)
Le Soleil des voyous (Action Man) (Delannoy); Le Pacha (Lautner)
Le Tatoué (de la Patellière); Le Clan des Siciliens (Verneuil)
Sous le signe du taureau (Grangier)
La Horse (Granier-Deferre)
Le Chat (Granier-Deferre); De Drapeau noir flotte sur le marmite (Audiard)
Le Tueur (de la Patellière); L'Affaire Dominici (Bernard-Aubert)
Deux Hommes dans la ville (Giovanni)
L'Année sainte (Girault)
By GABIN: article—
"Jean Renoir de Nana à La Grande Illusion," interview by C. Gauteur in Image et Son (Paris), May 1975.
On GABIN: books—
Gauteur, Claude, and Andre Bernard, Gabin, ou, Les Avatars d'un mythe, Paris, 1976 + biblio.
Missiaen, Jean-Claude, and Jacques Siclier, Jean Gabin, Paris, 1977.
Betti, Jean-Michel, Salut, Gabin!, Paris, 1977.
Millhaud, Sylvie, Jean Gabin, Paris, 1981.
Barbier, Philippe, and Jacques Moreau, Jean Gabin: Album Photos, Paris, 1983.
Colin, Gerty, Jean Gabin, Paris, 1983.
Brunelin, André, Gabin, Paris, 1987.
On GABIN: articles—
Duvillars, Pierre, "Jean Gabin's Instinctual Man," in Films in Review (New York), March 1951.
Nolan, Jack E., "Jean Gabin," in Films in Review (New York), April 1963.
Cowie, Peter, "Jean Gabin," in Films and Filming (London), February 1964.
Bazin, André, "The Destiny of Jean Gabin," in What Is Cinema, Berkeley, 1971.
Gauteur, Claude, "Pages d'histoire: Gabin sur les planches," in Ecran (Paris), June 1974.
"Jean Gabin: sa vie, ses films," in Cinéma Français (Paris), no. 7, 1976.
Magny, Joel, "Gabin, miroir de la France," in Téléciné (Paris), May 1976.
Fieschi, J., "Gabin dans Le Jour se lève," in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1977.
Doneux, M., "Hommage à Jean Gabin. La Fin d'un monstre sacré," in APEC-Revue belge du cinéma (Brussels), January 1977.
Gévaudan, F., "Jean Gabin," in Cinéma (Paris), January 1977.
Minish, G., "Paris Letter: 'Gabin Le Magnifique,"' in Take One (Montreal), March 1977.
Sarris, Andrew, "Jean Gabin" in The Movie Book, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Interview with Florence Moncorgé Gabin in Ciné Revue (Paris), 9 August 1984.
Vincendeau, Ginette, "Community, Nostalgia and the Spectacle of Masculinity," in Screen (London), November/December 1985.
Nacache, J., "Jean Gabin," in Cinéma (Paris), 25 March 1987.
Vincendeau, Ginette, "The Beauty of the Beast," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1991.
Capacci, C., "L'homme de la rue, la femme du monde," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), November 1994.
* * *
Although rarely an actor of great inspiration or subtlety, Jean Gabin was never less than a dedicated, conscientious performer who brought to his roles a measured but compelling authority. Whether as the doomed romantic figure of his 1930s films or the embodiment of stoic calm and worldly wisdom in his later parts, Gabin possessed an extraordinarily powerful screen presence which successive directors, notably Carné, Duvivier, Grémillon, and Renoir, exploited.
After an invaluable if reluctant apprenticeship, Gabin established himself in films as the engaging, noble, and principled hero of humble origins (La Bandéra, La Belle Équipe, La Grande Illusion) and confirmed his popular image in a succession of darkly fatalistic roles that encapsulated the pessimistic mood prevalent in the France of the late 1930s. In Pépé le Moko Gabin played a hunted criminal trapped in the Casbah. Infatuated with a socially superior woman, he is tempted to leave his safe hiding place only to be gunned down as she sails for France. Quai des brumes reveals him as a cynical army deserter falling in love with a romantically idealistic young girl who is dominated by her vicious guardian. Impetuously he murders this tyrant before falling victim to violence himself. In La Bête humaine, based on Zola's novel, he assumed the role of the train driver with a flawed heredity who commits suicide after impulsively killing his mistress. In Le Jour se lève he again takes his own life after murdering the despicable seducer of an innocent flower seller. Central to these highly commercial and artistically successful roles was Gabin's cultivated image as the taciturn, uncompromising working-class male who, though well intentioned and possessing clear moral integrity, finds himself on the wrong side of society's laws. Strong and resilient, yet revealing hidden depths of gentleness and generosity, he remains faithful to his ideals despite the adversity of circumstance. With his simple, honest, direct approach, Gabin embodied values which appealed to contemporary audiences: he was a hero of their stature, unassuming, vulnerable, essentially pure and noble, and facing a dark and menacing world.
In the postwar mood of optimism, Gabin's image as the doomed proletarian hero was no longer fashionable. Although his performance as a blind tramp in La Nuit est mon royaume was well received, it was not until his role in Touchez pas au grisbi that he again captured the public imagination. Now cast as a retired gangster lured back to Paris for a final spectacular coup, he evolved a new image as the experienced, assured male firmly in control of his destiny and no longer vulnerable to female charms. In subsequent roles he combined a practical wisdom with the inherent humanity of his screen personality to uphold the notion that virtue and justice are rewarded. The former criminal, social outcast, and working-class hero of the 1930s became the respectable middle-class professional of the 1950s in the guise of doctor (La Minute de vérité), powerful industrialist (Le Sang à la tête), banker (Les Grandes Familles), lawyer (En cas de malheur), detective (Maigret tend un piège), and judge (Chiens perdus sans collier). These roles projected a new set of values and dispositions: pragmatism and intelligence rather than idealism and physical courage; mature reflection rather than impetuous commitment; serenity rather than a tortured soul.
In a period of renewed self-confidence and self-sufficiency Gabin once again reflected national attitudes. Comic roles were added to his repertoire as the anarchistic tramp in Archimède le clochard, the wily politician with a wicked sense of fun in Le Président, and the disruptive inmate of a retirement home in Les Vieux de la vieille (here co-starring with two long established film comedians, Bourvil and Funès). Co-starring became an important feature of Gabin's later screen career, either appearing with his contemporaries, or in association with the younger generation of rising stars such as Brigitte Bardot in En cas de malheur and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Un Singe en hiver. Such was Gabin's continuing popular appeal that his presence in a film was a virtual guarantee of commercial success and, apart from the temporary eclipse in the late 1940s, he is acknowledged as one of the enduring mainstays of the French film industry over a period of 30 years.
—R. F. Cousins