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24 August 2012

Lino Ventura

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, Italian-born Lino Ventura (1919 – 1987) was one of the most beloved stars of the French cinema, often featuring in hard boiled gangster films. The homely, craggy-looking character actor played gangsters, police inspectors, and renegade military men in more than 75 films.

Lino Ventura
French postcard. Photo: Sam Lévin.

European Champion In Wrestling
Lino Ventura was born as Angiolino Giuseppe Pasquale Ventura in Parma, Italy in 1919. He was the son of Giovanni Ventura and Luisa Borrini. He arrived in France at the age of 7 years. ‘Lino’ dropped out of school at the age of eight and later took on a variety of jobs. Despite living most of his life in France, he never acquired French citizenship. Marrying in 1942 at age 23, he and wife Odette Lecomte had four children. Forcibly incorporated into the Italian army during World War II, he deserted to remain faithful to the principles of France. But, although his wife and children were French, he never wanted to give up Italian citizenship, out of respect for his parents. Lino drifted along a variety of jobs (mechanic's apprentice, etc.), unable to decide on what to do for a living. At one point Ventura pursued a prizefighting and professional wrestling career. He even became European champion in wrestling in Greco-Roman style in 1950, but was forced to leave the rings because of an injury. In 1953, one of his friends mentioned him to film director Jacques Becker who was looking for an Italian actor to play a bad guy opposite Jean Gabin in the gangster film Touchez pas au grisbi/Honour Among Thieves (1954, Jacques Becker). On the spot, Becker offered the inexperienced 34-year-old his first acting job as Angelo. Ventura has such a presence in the film that the whole film profession took notice. He started to build up an acting career in similar hard boiled gangster films. Gabin did more than just encourage his friend to pursue acting as a living. They appeared together in many of the star's following films, including Razzia sur la chnouf/Razzia (1955, Henri Decoin), Crime et châtiment/Crime and Punishment (1956, Georges Lampin) also with Marina Vlady, Le rouge est mis/Speaking of Murder (1957, Gilles Grangier) and Maigret tend un piège/Inspector Maigret (1958, Jean Delannoy) co-starring Annie Girardot. Apart from Gabin, he played an embittered, vengeful husband in Un témoin dans la ville/Witness in the City (1959, Edouard Molinaro) and was again impressive. He also played an inspector in the Nouvelle Vague classic Ascenseur pour l'échafaud/Elevator to the Gallows (1958, Louis Malle) starring Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, and reunited with Jacques Becker for the biopic Les amants de Montparnasse/Modigliani of Montparnasse (1958, Jacques Becker) about the last year of the famous Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, portrayed by Gérard Philippe. And then he played the leads in the crime drama Classe tous risqué/The Big Risk (1960, Claude Sautet) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and the war drama Un taxi pour Tobrouk/Taxi for Tobruk (1960, Denys de La Patellière) starring Hardy Krüger.

Lino Ventura
French postcard by La Roue Tourne, Paris.

Lino Ventura
Vintage autograph card.

Tough Nut
In the next decades, Lino Ventura played some of his most famous roles. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: “A tough, brutish, burly-framed presence, Lino came into his own as a tough-nut character star in the 1960’s playing both sides of the moral fence. Adept in both light comedy and dark-edged drama, he appeared in scores of films now considered classic French cinema. Lino bore a patented weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders countenance that audiences sympathized with, even when playing the arch-villain.” Ventura’s daughter Linda was handicapped, and in 1966 he created the charitable foundation Perce-Neige (Snowdrop) which supports disabled people. Among his most famous film roles of that period are both the criminals in Le deuxième soufflé/Second Breath (1966, Jean-Pierre Melville) and La bonne année/Happy New Year (1973, Claude Lelouch) with Françoise Fabian, as well as dogged, good-guy inspectors in Adieu, poulet/The French Detective (1975, Pierre Granier-Deferre) and Garde à vue/The Grilling (1981, Claude Miller) with Romy Schneider. He also played the corrupt police chief Tiger Brown in Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera (1962, Wolfgang Staudte) opposite Curd Jürgens, a WWII French Resistance fighter in L'armée des ombres/Army in the Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville), and mob boss Vito Genovese in The Valachi Papers (1972, Terence Young) opposite Charles Bronson. He also was a success in comedies like Les tontons flingueurs/Monsieur Gangster (1963, Georges Lautner) and Les Barbouzes/The Great Spy Chase (1964, Georges Lautner) with Bernard Blier. Although he was Italian, Ventura only made a handful of films in his native language, among them La ragazza in vetrina/Girl in the Window (1961, Luciano Emmer) with Magali Noël, the comedy Il giudizio universal/The Last Judgement (1961, Vittorio De Sica), Cadaveri eccellenti/Illustrious Corpses (1976, Francesco Rosi) and Cento Giorni a Palermo/Hundred Days in Palermo (1983, Giuseppe Ferrara). Italian audiences are long used to seeing him dubbed into Italian from the original French release. He spoke French without any accent (if not a Parisian one, in the beginning) and spoke Italian with a slight French accent. Toward the end of his career he played Jean Valjean in a French production of Les misérables (1982, Robert Hossein) for which he received a Cesar award nomination. Lino Ventura remained active until the year before his death from a heart attack in 1987 in Saint-Cloud, France at the age of 68. He was the father of Mylène (1946), Laurent (1950), Linda (1958) and Clelia Ventura (1961). Throughout his career, he had been one of the most popular actors of the French cinema. 17 years after his death, he was ranked 23rd of the 100 greatest French by the TV network France 2 in 2005.


Trailer Touchez pas au grisbi/Honour Among Thieves (1954). Source: jhhvideoteach (YouTube).


Trailer L'armée des ombres/Army in the Shadows (1969). Source: Danios12345 (YouTube).

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

amit said...

Thanks for such a simple yet SWEET idea! I’m enjoying playing with my punches right now…thanks for


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