LA BANDERA. Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC), France, 1935. Released in the US (1939) as Escape from Yesterday. Annabella, Jean Gabin, Robert Le Vigan, Raymond Aimos, Pierre Renoir, Gaston Modot, Margo Lion. Based on a novel by Pierre Dumarchais under the name of Pierre MacOrlan. Director: Julien Duvivier.


   There was a day last month that TCM showed Jean Gabin movies for 24 hours straight, and I taped about 16 hours’ worth. As I make my way through watching them, my comments will show up here. This is the first.

   I’ve not seen enough French films of this era for me to say anything clever or even intelligent about them in that regard. I’ll have to also refrain from saying anything about other films that Jean Gabin made, unfortunately, except to say that this one was early in his career, with both La grande illusion and Pépé le Moko not coming along until 1937, the two films that really cranked his career into high gear.


   He’s a man on the run in this one, having killed a man in France and finding himself broke in Spain in the very next scene. The Spanish Foreign Legion is his only option. He signs up, trying (as many men did) to forget his past and not to think (too much) about his future.

   He makes some friends, a couple of enemies, including one (he believes) is on his trail for the murder he committed. He also meets a Moroccan girl (Annabella), a dancer in what can only be called a dive, for where else is there for a legionnaire to go, away from the barracks and the day to day drudgery of a soldier’s life?


   The first half is slow going, with the quick transitions between scenes making it a bit of a challenge to follow the story, but once Gabin finds himself in one spot, somewhere in the African desert with all-but-invisible Arab enemies, the story settles down as well. To a tale of honor, of course, and manhood, and life in general as well as in particular.

   I will not tell you if the movie ends tragically or not, but either way, it is one of those films that could easily do so. But there are other reasons to watch this movie, other than the story. The film-making techniques, and what the director added to this film visually, for example, catch the eye and intrigue the mind more often as not, making this movie one I will probably watch again, perhaps even soon, for that very reason.

      YouTube clips:

(1) A man is killed.

(2) Gabin and Annabella meet for the first time.

(3) The finale.