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The Lower Depths (1936)

Les bas-fonds (original title)
Approved | | Crime, Drama, Romance | 10 September 1937 (USA)
A charismatic thief makes friends with a bankrupt baron who comes to live in the thief's slum. Meanwhile the thief seeks the love of a young woman, who is held emotionally captive by her slumlord family.



(play), (as E. Zamiatine) | 5 more credits »

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2 wins. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Suzy Prim ...
Vassilissa Kostyleva
L'acteur alcoolique
Camille Bert ...
Le comte
René Génin ...
Louka - le philosophe (as René Genin)
Paul Temps ...
Satine - le télégraphiste
Robert Ozanne ...
Jabot de Travers
Henri Saint-Isle ...
Klestch - le cordonnier (as Saint-Iles)
Alex Allin ...
André Gabriello ...
Toptoun - l'inspecteur des garnis
Léon Larive ...
Felix - le valet du baron
Nathalie Alexeeff ...
Anna - un pauvresse qui se meurt


The winner of the Louis Delluc Prize as the most outstanding French photo-play of 1936, as selected by the Young Independent Critics of France (an organization and not a description.) The film treats the imprisoning hold of poverty; the disheartening odds of people rising from such social despair, and the ease in which those in the upper spheres of Society may descend. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Dialogue titles in English See more »


Crime | Drama | Romance


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

10 September 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Lower Depths  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Finnish censorship visa # 021253. See more »


As Kostylev lies dead on the anvil, the shadow of the camera can be seen approaching on the ground. See more »


Vassilissa Kostyleva: One day, everything will be ours. We'll go away together. To live the good life where no one knows us.
Wasska Pepel: Stop it.
Vassilissa Kostyleva: You don't love me anymore. Why not?
See more »

Crazy Credits

The last scene zooms out and fades away to the end title: 'FIN'. See more »


Featured in Cinema Paradiso (1988) See more »


Title unknown
Lyrics by Charles Spaak
Sung by Irène Joachim
See more »

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User Reviews

Two Great Performances by Gabin and Jouvet
28 March 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A funny thing happened on the way to WWII. In the midst of the Great Depression, hard-nosed political leftists all around Europe found themselves in a panic over the rise and consolidation of power of Nazi Germany. While Hitler was quietly rounding up Socialists and Communists all across the Rhineland, the French artistic intelligentsia found themselves utterly agog with the Russian economic and social experiment. The news had not yet sunk in that Stalin's Russia was just as dysfunctional, but what artists like Jean Renoir and Maximilen Luce did know was exiled socialist writer Maim Gorky had been accepted by Stalin to much fanfare in 1932. Perhaps as a form of unification, Renoir directed Gorky's play "The Lower Depths" to the screen.

The Lower Depths stars Jean Gabin as Pepel a miscreant who lives in a flophouse, in a crime-infested neighborhood by the Maine River. He plans to rob the Baron (Jouvet), an almost defiantly casual nobleman with a penchant for high-stakes gambling. When Pepel enters the Baron's home, the Baron finds him and tells him because of his debts, he's in-fact just as poor as the would-be thief. After multiple run-ins with each other and the law, the two develop a friendship that grows, as a love triangle at the flophouse threatens to consume Pepel.

The love triangle involves Pepel, the landlord Kostylev (Sokoloff) his wife Vassilissa (Prim) and Natasha (Astor), Vassilissa's sister. Within the confines of the flophouse the pieces of class struggle are set with Natasha promised to a slovenly police inspector to further complicity of the tragic events to society at-large. The Baron stands outside of the proceedings, absorbing everything though too engrossed with the measly card games of the shacks denizens to pay too much mind. Unlike in Gorky's play, where the Baron seems uncomfortable wallowing in poverty, here the Baron seems liberated. He has no care for the material trappings of his former title. He just wants to distract himself with gambling.

Distraction seems to be a reoccurring theme in The Lower Depths. Many characters, instead of becoming disheartened by their situation, take heart with distractions such as cooking, gambling, idle entertainment, lofty unrealistic ambitions and religion. Vassilissa insists that "one day, everything will be ours." Meanwhile Pepel sits idly inattentive to her disillusions. At another point an elderly couple at the flophouse proclaim a Christian faith to Pepel disgust. "When we believe we make it real," says the man before resting on his hardwood bed.

Within that scene we get a glimpse into director Jean Renoir's inner thoughts. Unlike Gorky or other proponents of the French Popular Front, Renoir was not a moralist. As he's made plain in later films such as Le Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) he's an excellent observer of human behavior. The Lower Depths proves to be his most pessimistic film but as with all true models of poetic realism, there's still a tiny slimmer of hope.

The Lower Depths is Renoir's most accessible comedy/drama providing some interesting insights into human behavior and some excellent acting on the part of Jean Gabin and Louis Jouvet. While some of the humor is a little dated and Junie Astor's performances as Natasha is as vapid as one can see on screen and still not mind, the film is nonetheless a great example of French film during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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