Great Movie Openings: Pépé le Moko

What I love most about the start of Julien Duvivier‘s 1939 film Pépé le Moko is it’s fearlessness in delivering information to the audience at breakneck speed. In the first 6 minutes (including the titles!) we are given a clear idea of who Pépé le Moko is, why he’s in Algiers, it’s explained how dangerous he is, We’re told what crimes he’s committed and why the police have not been able to apprehend him. The character Inspector Slimane is introduced, he will have a huge influence on le Moko’s fate and at the end of the scene, we learn the police are going after him.

We’re, 6 minutes in, left with no doubt as to what’s going on in this picture.

The nicest thing about this opening sequence however is the description of the Casbah, Pépé le Moko’s sanctuary and prison. The camera pans to a very basic looking map of the Casbah, we then dissolve to a wide shot of the place itself. There follows a documentary style sequence showing the labyrinth of streets and terraces that hide the fugitive, all voiced over by a detective who describes the area in terms that can only be described as poetic.

It’s very effective and draws you into the film immediately. Akira Kurosawa was also known for taking this direct approach in many of his films.


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