Sog.: dal balletto Le Rendez-vous di Jacques Prévert. Scen.: Jacques Prévert. F.: Philippe Agostini. M.: Jean Feyte. Scgf.: Alexandre Trauner. Mus.: Joseph Kosma. Int.: Yves Montand (Diego), Nathalie Nattier (Malou), Pierre Brasseur (Georges), Serge Reggiani (Guy Sénéchal), Julien Carette (Monsieur Quinquina), Mady Berry (Madame Quinquina), Dany Robin (Étiennette), Saturnin Fabre (il signor Sénéchal), Jean Vilar (il clochard / il Destino), Raymond Bussières (Raymond Lécuyer). Prod.: Pathé Cinéma. DCP. Bn.
In 1945 Marcel Carné was at the height of his glory. Les Enfants du paradis was universally celebrated as a masterpiece. Pathé immediately thought of making another film with the Carné-Prévert duo. The story was based on Le Rendez-vous, a ballet that Prévert had just written based on music by Joseph Kosma.
Unfortunately, Le Portes de la nuit would have a difficult beginning. Prévert had written the film especially for the pairing of Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich. But both backed out. Carné chose two young and inexperienced actors, Nathalie Nattier and Yves Montand. The shooting began without changes having been made to the screenplay. The 25-year-old Montand has to impersonate an ex-Resistance fighter who had led an eventful life prior to the war.
Le Portes de la nuit benefitted from a very respectable crew, among which the name of Alexandre Trauner stands out; he reconstructed the Barbès-Rochechouart metro station and an entire district of Paris in Pathé’s Joinville studios. Carné wanted to be able to control light and movement on the sound studio to create an atmosphere halfway between dream and reality, which would have been impossible with exterior shooting.
In February 1945, Paris had only recently been liberated and the population was still worn out. Added to that there was the unspoken resentment towards collaborationists and profiteers. The theme of the film was still red hot and Prévert imagined ambiguous characters like Sénéchal, played with great verve by Saturnin Fabre, who having become rich during the occupation continues to exploit his neighbour’s poverty, and Guy, the collaborationist’s son played by Serge Reggiani.
From the very start we realise that the love story will end badly. To the accompaniment of Joseph Kosma’s magnificent and immortal melody Les Feuilles mortes, which was written expressly for the film, the characters head towards their destiny. Carné directs this poetic drama in the vein of Le Jour se lève with careful precision. Les Portes de la nuit has been forgotten by the histories of the cinema. But viewed again today, its artistic qualities are evident. Les Portes de la nuit remains a milestone in the unique collaboration between Marcel Carné, Jacques Prévert, Alexandre Trauner and Joseph Kosma which made French cinema shine with poetic realism.