Ravishing French actress Jacqueline Laurent (1918 – 2009) made only eleven films, but among them is Marcel Carné’s masterpiece Le jour se lève/Daybreak (1939). She was the love of poet and scriptwriter Jacques Prévert.
French postcard by O.P., Paris, no. 117. Photo: Teddy Piaz.
A Passionate Affair
Jacqueline Laurent was born as Jacqueline Suzanne Janin in Brienne-le-Chateau, France in 1918. Her father was a music teacher and amateur composer; her mother a school teacher. Her family gained a capital and they moved to Paris. There the 15-years-old met the actor Sylvain Itkine, who was ten years her senior. She fell in love and in 1935 they married. She made her debut under the pseudonym Jacqueline Sylvère in the adventure film Gaspard de Besse/Dawn Over France (1935, André Hugon) starring Raimu as a French Robin Hood in the Provence before the French revolution. Director André Hugon, who was a friend of her father, then gave her a big part in the drama Sarati, le terrible/Sarati the Terrible (1937, André Hugon) opposite Harry Baur. From then on she was credited as Jacqueline Laurent. In between these two films she had met the poet Jacques Prévert in the famous café Flore in Saint-Germain-de-Prés. The two began a passionate affair which lasted four years. Her film career developed smoothly. In Hollywood, she appeared for MGM in the third of the popular Andy Hardy films, Judge Hardy's Children (1938, Edgar B. Seitz). She played a French girl for whom Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) falls.
French postcard by Editions et Publications Cinématographiques (EPC), no. 236. Photo: Raymond Voinquel.
An Astounding Virtuosity
Back in France, Jacqueline Laurent had her greatest success with Le jour se lève/Daybreak (1939, Marcel Carné) for which Prévert wrote the script. In this classic masterpiece of the French poetic realism of the 1930’s, she co-starred as a young florist who falls in love with a factory worker (Jean Gabin) but her relation with the evil Valentin (Jules Berry) leads to murder. JB du Monteil at IMDb writes: “That was one of the last French masterpieces of the thirties just before the war. Marcel Carné was accused of pessimism and the movie was quickly forbidden by the military censorship that used to say in 1940: ‘if we've lost the war, blame it on Quai des Brumes'(Carné's precedent movie). The director answered: 'you do not blame a barometer for the storm'). Le jour se lève is, if it's possible, darker than its predecessor. From the very beginning, the hero, a good guy (Gabin) is doomed, his fate is already sealed, because the tragedy has already happened. That's why the movie is a long flashback. The memories are brought back on the screen with an astounding virtuosity by some elements of the set.”
French postcard by SERP, Paris, no. 183. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
Only after three years, Jacqueline Laurent appeared in her next film, the romantic drama L'homme qui joue avec le feu/The man who plays with fire (1942, Jean de Limur) with Ginette Leclerc. She starred opposite Pierre Brasseur in Les deux timides/Two shy ones (1943, Yves Allégret) and in Italy with Clara Calamai in Addio, amore!/Farewell, love! (1943, Gianni Franciolini). She played the female lead opposite Fernandel in Un chapeau de paille d'Italie/The Italian straw hat (1944, Maurice Cammage). This comedy was a remake of a classic silent film by René Clair, and although the film was shot in 1940, it could not be released until 1944 because of the war. The Italian production L'abito nero da sposa/The black wedding dress (1945, Luigi Zampa) with Fosco Giachetti was also delayed by the war. The shooting of the historical drama started in early 1943 in the Cinécitta studios, but was interrupted during most of the war. The shooting only resumed once Rome was liberated in June 1944, and the film was finally released in 1945. After that she made a third Italian film, Le vie del peccato/The ways of sin (1946, Giorgio Pastina) with Leonardo Cortese. Then she retired from the cinema, and would later marry twice. Her only other film appearance was an uncredited bit role in Le coup de grace/The coup de grace (1965, Jean Cayrol, Claude Durand) with Danielle Darrieux. Jacqueline Laurent died in 2009 in Grasse, France at the age of 91.
Scene from Le jour se lève/Daybreak (1939) with Jean Gabin and Jacqueline Laurent. Source: (YouTube).
Scene with Jacqueline Laurent and Fernandel in Un chapeau de paille d'Italie/The Italian straw hat (1944). Source: Camille885 (YouTube).
Sources: Yvan Foucart (Le coin du cinéphage) (French), Alexandre Carle (Les Gens du Cinéma) (French), La Saga Des Etoiles Filantes (French), Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.