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Jean Gabin (French: [ʒɑ̃ gabɛ̃]; 17 May 1904 – 15 November 1976) was a French actor and sometime singer. Considered a key figure in French cinema, he starred in several classic films including Pépé le Moko (1937), La grande illusion (1937), Le Quai des brumes (1938), La bête humaine (1938), Le jour se lève (1939), and Le plaisir (1952). Gabin was made a member of the Légion d'honneur in recognition of the important role he played in French cinema.



Early life[edit]

Gabin was born Jean-Alexis Moncorgé in Paris, the son of Madeleine Petit and Ferdinand Moncorgé, a cafe owner and cabaret entertainer whose stage name was Gabin,[1][2] which is a first name in French. He grew up in the village of Mériel in the Seine-et-Oise (now Val-d'Oise) département, about 22 mi (35 km) north of Paris. He attended the Lycée Janson de Sailly. Gabin left school early, and worked as a laborer until the age of 19 when he entered show business with a bit part in a Folies Bergères production. He continued performing in a variety of minor roles before going into the military.


Early days[edit]

After completing his military service in the Fusiliers marins, he returned to the entertainment business, working under the stage name of Jean Gabin at whatever was offered in the Parisian music halls and operettas, imitating the singing style of Maurice Chevalier, which was the rage at the time. He was part of a troupe that toured South America, and upon returning to France found work at the Moulin Rouge. His performances started getting noticed, and better stage roles came along that led to parts in two silent films in 1928.

Two years later Gabin easily made the transition to talkies, in a 1930 Pathé Frères production titled Chacun sa chance [fr]. Playing secondary roles, he made more than a dozen films over the next four years, including films directed by Maurice and Jacques Tourneur. However, he only gained real recognition for his performance in Maria Chapdelaine [fr], a 1934 production directed by Julien Duvivier. He was then cast as a romantic hero in a 1936 war drama titled La Bandera; this second Duvivier-directed film established him as a major star. The following year he teamed up with Duvivier again, this time in the highly successful Pépé le Moko. Its popularity brought Gabin international recognition. That same year he starred in the Jean Renoir film La Grande Illusion, an anti-war film that ran at a New York City theatre for an unprecedented six months. This was followed by another one of Renoir's major works: La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast), a film noir tragedy based on the novel by Émile Zola and starring Gabin and Simone Simon, as well as Le Quai Des Brumes (Port of Shadows), one of director Marcel Carné's classics of poetic realism. He was divorced from his second wife in 1939.


In the late 1930s Gabin was flooded with offers from Hollywood; for a time he turned them all down, until the outbreak of World War II. After the German occupation of France in 1940, he joined Jean Renoir and Julien Duvivier in the United States. During his time in Hollywood, Gabin began a romance with actress Marlene Dietrich which lasted until 1948.[3] However, his films in America – Moontide (1942) and The Impostor (1944), the later reuniting him with Duvivier – were not successful.

Gabin was a difficult personality; he did serious damage to his Hollywood career while working for RKO Pictures. Scheduled to star in an RKO film, at the last minute he demanded Dietrich be given the co-starring role. The studio refused. After Gabin remained steadfast in his demand, he was fired, and the film project was shelved.

World War II action[edit]

Undaunted, he joined General Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces and earned the Médaille militaire and a Croix de guerre for his wartime valor fighting with the Allies in North Africa. Following D-Day, Gabin was part of the military contingent that entered a liberated Paris.

Career slump[edit]

He was hired by Marcel Carné in 1946 to star in the film, Les Portes de la Nuit, but his conduct got him fired again. He found a French producer and director willing to cast him and Marlene Dietrich together, but their film Martin Roumagnac was not a success and their personal relationship soon ended. Following another box office failure in 1947, Gabin returned to the stage, but the production was a financial disaster. Nevertheless, he was cast in the lead role of the 1949 René Clément film Au-Delà Des Grilles, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Despite this recognition, the film did not do well at the French box office, and the next five years brought little more than repeated failures.

Gabin in The Little Rebels (1955)


His career seemed headed for oblivion. However, in the 1954 film Touchez pas au grisbi (Don't Touch the Loot), directed by Jacques Becker, Gabin's performance earned him critical acclaim. The film was very profitable internationally. He then worked once again with Jean Renoir in French Cancan, with María Félix and Françoise Arnoul. Gabin played Georges Simenon's detective Jules Maigret for three films in 1958, 1959 and 1963. Over the next twenty years he made almost 50 more films, most of them very successful commercially and critically, including many for Gafer Films, his production partnership with fellow actor Fernandel. His co-stars included leading figures of post-war cinema such as Brigitte Bardot (En cas de malheur), Alain Delon (Le Clan des Siciliens, Mélodie en sous-sol and Deux hommes dans la ville), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Un singe en hiver) and Louis de Funès (Le Tatoué).


Gabin died of leukaemia at the American Hospital of Paris, in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. His body was cremated, and—with full military honours—his ashes were scattered at sea from a military ship.

The Musée Jean Gabin.
  • He is considered one of the greatest stars and an important figure in the French cinema, and was appointed Officier de la Légion d'honneur.
  • In 1981, French actor Louis de Funès initiated the Prix Jean Gabin, a film accolade presented to upcoming actors working in the French film industry. It was awarded annually between 1981 and 2006.
  • The Musée Jean Gabin—in the commune of Mériel, where he grew up—narrates his story and features his film memorabilia.
  • The Place Jean Gabin was inaugurated on 16 May 2008 by Daniel Vaillant, the then mayor of the 18th arrondissement of Paris, and Jean Gabin's children. It is located on the corner of rue Custine and rue Lambert, at the foot of Montmartre.
  • The Cinema Jean Gabin in Montgenèvre was named after him. Montgenèvre claims to be the oldest ski resort in France, and was a popular holiday destination for Jean Gabin and other French artists and intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre.


Year Title Role Director Notes
1930 L'Héritage de Lilette [fr] Michel Du Lac Short film. With Raymond Dandy. Alternative title Ohé les valises
On demande un dompteur [fr] Short film. With Raymond Dandy. Alternative title Les Lions
Chacun sa chance [fr] Marcel Grivot Hans Steinhoff,
René Pujol
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
1931 Méphisto Inspector Jacques Miral Henri Debain
Georges Vinter [fr]
Serial film with four episodes.
With René Navarre. Based on a novel by Arthur Bernède.
The Darling of Paris Bob Augusto Genina
Tout ça ne vaut pas l'amour [fr] Jean Cordier Jacques Tourneur
Gloria Robert Nourry Hans Behrendt,
Yvan Noé
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
1932 Coeur de lilas [fr] Martousse Anatole Litvak Based on a play by Tristan Bernard and Charles-Henry Hirsch.
Fun in the Barracks Fricot Maurice Tourneur With Fernandel and Raimu. Based on a play by Georges Courteline.
La foule hurle [fr] Joe Greer Jean Daumery,
(uncredited: Howard Hawks)
French-language version of an American film.
Happy Hearts Charles Hanns Schwarz,
Max de Vaucorbeil
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
The Beautiful Sailor The Captain Harry Lachman With Madeleine Renaud and Pierre Blanchar. Based on a play by Marcel Achard.
1933 Pour un soir [fr] Jean Jean Godard Shot 1931.
L'Étoile de Valencia [fr] Pedro Savedra Serge de Poligny With Brigitte Helm.
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
Adieu les beaux jours [fr] Pierre Lavernay Johannes Meyer,
André Beucler [fr]
With Brigitte Helm.
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
High and Low Charles Boulla G. W. Pabst With Michel Simon and Peter Lorre.
The Tunnel Allan Mac Allan Curtis Bernhardt With Madeleine Renaud and Gustaf Gründgens.
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
1934 Maria Chapdelaine [fr] François Paradis Julien Duvivier With Madeleine Renaud and Jean-Pierre Aumont. Adaptation of Louis Hémon's novel Maria Chapdelaine.
NBR Award 1935
Zouzou Jean Marc Allégret With Josephine Baker.
1935 Golgotha Pontius Pilate Julien Duvivier With Harry Baur and Edwige Feuillère.
La Bandera (Escape from Yesterday) Pierre Gilleth Julien Duvivier With Annabella. Adaptation of Pierre Mac Orlan's novel La Bandera.
Variétés [fr] Georges Nicolas Farkas With Annabella and Fernand Gravey.
French-language version of a French-German coproduction.
1936 They Were Five Jeannot Julien Duvivier With Charles Vanel and Viviane Romance.
The Lower Depths Pepel Wasska Jean Renoir With Louis Jouvet. Adaptation of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths.
Louis Delluc Prize 1937.
1937 Pépé le Moko Pépé le Moko Julien Duvivier Remade twice: Algiers (1938) and Casbah (1948).
La Grande Illusion Lieutenant Maréchal Jean Renoir With Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay and Marcel Dalio.
NBR Award 1938
The Messenger Nick Dange Raymond Rouleau With Jean-Pierre Aumont. Based on a play by Henri Bernstein.
Lady Killer Lucien Bourrache Jean Grémillon Adaptation of a novel by André Beucler [fr].
1938 Port of Shadows Jean Marcel Carné With Michèle Morgan, Michel Simon and Pierre Brasseur. Based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan.
Louis Delluc Prize 1939
La Bête humaine (The Human Beast) Jacques Lantier Jean Renoir With Simone Simon. Adaptation of Émile Zola's novel La Bête humaine.
1939 Coral Reefs Trott Lennart Maurice Gleize With Michèle Morgan. Adaptation of a novel by Jean Martet.
Le Jour Se Lève (Daybreak) François Marcel Carné With Arletty and Jules Berry.
Remade as The Long Night (1947) starring Henry Fonda.
1941 Stormy Waters Captain André Laurent Jean Grémillon With Michèle Morgan and Madeleine Renaud. Adaptation of a novel by Roger Vercel.
1942 Moontide Bobo Archie Mayo American film. With Ida Lupino and Claude Rains. Adaptation of a novel by Willard Robertson.
1944 The Impostor Clement / Maurice Lafarge Julien Duvivier American film.
1946 Martin Roumagnac (The Room Upstairs) Martin Roumagnac Georges Lacombe With Marlene Dietrich. Adaptation of a novel by Pierre-René Wolf.
1947 Miroir Pierre Lussac / Miroir Raymond Lamy [fr]
1949 The Walls of Malapaga Pierre Arrignon René Clément With Isa Miranda.
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
1950 La Marie du port Henri Chatelard Marcel Carné Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
His Last Twelve Hours Carlo Bacchi Luigi Zampa
1951 Victor Victor Claude Heymann Based on a play by Henri Bernstein.
The Night Is My Kingdom Raymond Pinsard Georges Lacombe Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 12th Venice International Film Festival.
1952 La Vérité sur Bébé Donge (The Truth About Bebe Donge) François Donge Henri Decoin With Danielle Darrieux. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
Le Plaisir (House of Pleasure) Joseph Rivet Max Ophüls With Danielle Darrieux, Madeleine Renaud and Pierre Brasseur. An anthology film based on three stories by Guy de Maupassant.
La Minute de vérité (The Moment of Truth) Dr. Pierre Richard Jean Delannoy With Michèle Morgan and Daniel Gélin.
1953 Bufere [it] Antonio Sanna Guido Brignone With Silvana Pampanini and Serge Reggiani.
Leur dernière nuit [fr] Pierre Fernand Ruffin Georges Lacombe With Madeleine Robinson.
La Vierge du Rhin [fr] Jacques Ledru / Martin Schmidt Gilles Grangier With Nadia Gray. Adaptation of a novel by Pierre Nord.
1954 Touchez pas au grisbi (Don't Touch the Loot) Max Jacques Becker With Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura. Adaptation of a novel by Albert Simonin.
Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 15th Venice International Film Festival.
Air of Paris Victor Le Garrec Marcel Carné With Arletty and Folco Lulli.
Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 15th Venice International Film Festival.
1955 Napoléon Marshal Jean Lannes Sacha Guitry Cameo appearance in an all-star film.
Razzia sur la chnouf (Raid on the Drug Ring) Henri Ferré Henri Decoin With Magali Noël, Marcel Dalio and Lino Ventura. Based on a novel by Auguste Le Breton.
House on the Waterfront Captain Lequévic Edmond T. Gréville With Henri Vidal.
French Cancan Henri Danglard Jean Renoir With María Félix and Françoise Arnoul.
Gas-oil [fr] Jean Chape Gilles Grangier With Jeanne Moreau. Based on a novel by Georges Bayle.
Chiens perdus sans collier [fr] Judge Julien Lamy Jean Delannoy Adaptation of a novel by Gilbert Cesbron.
1956 People of No Importance Jean Viard Henri Verneuil With Françoise Arnoul. Based on a novel by Serge Groussard.
Deadlier Than the Male André Chatelin Julien Duvivier Produced by Raymond Borderie (and others).
Le Sang à la tête [fr] François Cardinaud Gilles Grangier Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
La Traversée de Paris (The Trip Across Paris) Grandgil Claude Autant-Lara With Bourvil and Louis de Funès.
Crime and Punishment Commissaire Gallet Georges Lampin With Robert Hossein, Marina Vlady, Bernard Blier, Ulla Jacobsson and Lino Ventura. Adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel.
1957 Le Cas du docteur Laurent [fr] Dr. Laurent Jean-Paul Le Chanois
Speaking of Murder Louis Bertain Gilles Grangier With Annie Girardot and Lino Ventura. Adaptation of a novel by Auguste Le Breton.
1958 Maigret Sets a Trap Jules Maigret Jean Delannoy With Annie Girardot and Lino Ventura. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
Les Misérables Jean Valjean Jean-Paul Le Chanois With Bernard Blier, Bourvil and Serge Reggiani. Adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel.
Le désordre et la nuit (Night Affair) Inspector Georges Vallois Gilles Grangier With Danielle Darrieux and Nadja Tiller.
In Case of Adversity André Gobillot Claude Autant-Lara With Brigitte Bardot. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
The Possessors Noël Schoudler Denys de La Patellière With Pierre Brasseur and Bernard Blier. Adaptation of a novel by Maurice Druon.
1959 Archimède le clochard (The Magnificent Tramp) Archimède Gilles Grangier With Bernard Blier.
Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival[4]
Maigret et l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre Jules Maigret Jean Delannoy Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
Rue des prairies Henri Neveux Denys de La Patellière Adaptation of a novel by René Lefèvre.
1960 Le Baron de l'écluse (The Baron of the Locks) Baron Jérôme Napoléon Anthoine Jean Delannoy With Micheline Presle. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
The Old Guard Baptiste Talon Gilles Grangier With Pierre Fresnay. Adaptation of a novel by René Fallet.
1961 The President Émile Beaufort Henri Verneuil With Bernard Blier. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
Le cave se rebiffe (The Counterfeiters of Paris) Ferdinand Maréchal Gilles Grangier With Martine Carol, Bernard Blier and Françoise Rosay. Adaptation of a novel by Albert Simonin.
1962 A Monkey in Winter Albert Quentin Henri Verneuil With Jean-Paul Belmondo. Adaptation of Antoine Blondin's novel A Monkey in Winter.
Le Gentleman d'Epsom (The Gentleman from Epsom) Richard Briand-Charmery Gilles Grangier With Louis de Funès. Raymond Oliver as himself.
1963 Any Number Can Win Mister Charles Henri Verneuil With Alain Delon. Adaptation of a novel by Zekial Marko.
Maigret voit rouge [fr] Jules Maigret Gilles Grangier Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
1964 Monsieur René Duchêne / Georges Baudin Jean-Paul Le Chanois With Liselotte Pulver and Mireille Darc.
L'Âge ingrat Émile Malhouin Gilles Grangier With Fernandel.
1965 God's Thunder Léandre Brassac Denys de La Patellière With Lilli Palmer, Michèle Mercier and Robert Hossein. Adaptation of a novel by Bernard Clavel.
1966 The Upper Hand Paul Berger Denys de La Patellière With George Raft, Gert Fröbe, Mireille Darc and Nadja Tiller. Adaptation of a novel by Auguste Le Breton.
The Gardener of Argenteuil Joseph Martin alias 'Tulipe' Jean-Paul Le Chanois With Liselotte Pulver and Curd Jürgens.
1967 Action Man Denis Ferrand Jean Delannoy With Robert Stack, Margaret Lee and Walter Giller.
1968 Pasha Comissaire Louis Joss Georges Lautner
Le tatoué (The Million Dollar Tattoo) Count Enguerand Denys de La Patellière With Louis de Funès.
1969 Sous le signe du taureau [fr] Albert Raynal Gilles Grangier Adaptation of a novel by Roger Vrigny.
Le clan des siciliens (The Sicilian Clan) Vittorio Manalese Henri Verneuil With Alain Delon and Lino Ventura. Score by Ennio Morricone. Adaptation of a novel by Auguste Le Breton.
1970 La Horse Auguste Maroilleur Pierre Granier-Deferre
1971 Le Chat Julien Bouin Pierre Granier-Deferre With Simone Signoret. Adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon.
Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival[5]
Le drapeau noir flotte sur la marmite [fr] Victor Ploubaz Michel Audiard Adaptation of a novel by René Fallet.
1972 Le Tueur [fr] Commissaire Le Guen Denys de La Patellière With Bernard Blier, Fabio Testi and Uschi Glas.
1973 L'Affaire Dominici [fr] Gaston Dominici Claude Bernard-Aubert [fr] Based on the Dominici affair.
Two Men in Town Germain Cazeneuve José Giovanni With Alain Delon, Michel Bouquet and Mimsy Farmer.
1974 Verdict Judge Leguen André Cayatte With Sophia Loren. Produced by Carlo Ponti.
1976 L'Année sainte (Holy Year) Max Lambert Jean Girault His last film, with Jean-Claude Brialy and Danielle Darrieux.


Further reading[edit]

  • Jean-Michel Betti: Salut, Gabin! Ed. de Trévise, Paris 1977.
  • André Brunelin: Gabin Herbig, München/Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-7766-1499-4; Ullstein TB 36650, Frankfurt am Main/Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-548-35650-8.
  • Claude Gauteur: Jean Gabin. Nathan, Paris 1993, ISBN 3-453-86038-1.
  • Jean-Marc Loubier: Jean Gabin, Marlène Dietrich: un rêve brisê, Acropole, Paris 2002, ISBN 2-7357-0216-2.
  • Eine unvollendete Liebe. Marlene Dietrich und Jean Gabin. Documentary, Germany, 2012, 52:30 Min., Book and directed by Daniel Guthmann, Christian Buckhard, Production: DG Filmproduktion, WDR, arte, first shown: 9 February 2013, arte. contains interviews with Louis Bozon and Jean-Jacques Debout, and Gabin's children Florence and Mathias.

External links[edit]

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