Craggy-faced Eddie Constantine (1917 - 1993) was an American actor and singer, who spent his career as a tough guy in European films. He became famous for a series of French B-films in which he played private eye Lemmy Caution, based on the hero of the detective novels by Peter Cheyney.
Dutch postcard by Ed. H. Troukens, Hofstede, no. 1025. Photo: Ufa, Berlin.
German postcard by ISV, no. H 12.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/35. Publicity card for Philips to promote the single Flüstertango/Heut' dreh'n wir mal ein Ding, Marcel (nr. 373 095 PF).
Singing in Nightclubs
Eddie Constantine was born Edward Constantinowsky in Los Angeles in 1917 to Russian immigrant parents. Her had a Russian father and Polish mother. Eddie studied voice in Vienna, but when he returned to the US, his singing career there was unsuccessful. He found work as an extra in films like Egypt by Three (1953, Victor Stoloff). His wife, dancer Helene Mussel, joined the Ballets de Monte Carlo, and he followed her to Paris, where he began singing in nightclubs. Discovered by Édith Piaf, he became her protégé and intimate friend. She cast him in the musical La p'tite Lili and helped him launch a career as a popular recording artist. Constantine also helped Piaf with translations for her 1956 album, La Vie En Rose / Édith Piaf Sings In English. He has song-writing credits on the English versions of some of her most famous songs, especially Hymne à l'amour/Hymn to Love.
French postcard by Editions du Globe, no. 242. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
French postcard by Editions du Globe, no. 301. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
French postcard by Editions P.I, Paris, no. 539. Photo: Staval.
Eddie Constantine landed the role of the no-nonsense, hard-hitting private detective Lemmy Caution in the French action thriller La Môme vert-de-gris/Poison Ivy (1953, Bernard Borderie) with glamorous Dominique Wilms. This role made him a huge star in his own right in 1950's France. He continued to play Lemmy Caution in a series of French B-pictures, including Cet homme est dangereux/This Man Is Dangerous (1953, Jean Sacha), Les femmes s'en balancent/Dames Don't Care (1954, Bernard Borderie), Vous pigez?/Diamond Machine (1955, Pierre Chevalier), Lemmy pour les dames/Ladies'Man (1961, Bernard Borderie) and À toi de faire ... mignonne/Your Turn, Darling (1963, Bernard Borderie). His character was a suave-talking, seductive smooth guy, which he often played for laughs. He eventually became a French citizen and enjoyed great popularity in several European countries, including France and Germany, as well as in Africa. He starred in international productions like Passport to Shame (1958, Alvin Rakoff) with Diana Dors, recorded several successful songs and wrote the novel La Proprietaire which was in 1976 translated in English and published as The Godplayer.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1049. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Austrian postcard by Kellner-Fotokarten, Wien, no. 82090. Photo: Gloria-Film / Wesel. Publicity still for Hoppla, jetzt kommt Eddie/Hi, Here's Eddie (1958, Werner Klingler).
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel (ca. 1961), no. 370. Photo: F.L. Paris / Gloria-Film, Munchen.
German postcard by Kunst und BildBerlin-Charlottenburg, no. V 112. Photo: Melodie / Deutsche London / Dittner. Publicity still for Bonsoir Paris (1956, Ralph Baum).
Eddie Constantine’s most significant film was Jean-Luc Godard's philosophical science fiction film Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution/Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965). In this parodic homage to the detective genre he reprised - to a more radical end - the role of Lemmy Caution. He turned his accent and perceived American cockiness to advantage in his portrayal of Lemmy Caution, and later described his film persona as having been 'James Bond before James Bond'. His box-office appeal in France waned in the mid-1960’s. He starred in other genres like in the arthouse film Lions Love (1969, Agnès Varda), but usually maintained his basic tough-guy, heroic acting style. Filmmakers of die Neue Deutsche Welle, the New German Cinema resurrected Constantine and his persona in the 1970’s. Rainer Werner Fassbinder cast him as the laconic star of the film-within-the-film in Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte/Beware of a Holy Whore (1971). He eventually relocated to Germany and appeared in a number of German TV dramas like Malatesta (1970, Peter Lilienthal), Welt am Draht/World on a Wire (1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), the popular comedy series Zwei himmlische Töchter/Two Heavenly Daughters (1978, Michael Pfleghar) and the feature film Die Dritte Generation/The Third Generation (1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder).
German postcard by Ufa (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. 1694. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Lucienne Chevert / Unifrance / Constantin Film.
German postcard by Ufa/Film-Foto, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. 3964. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Sam Lévin / Ufa.
French postcard by Editions du Globe (EDUG), Paris, no. 442. Photo: Sam Lévin.
French postcard by Editions P.I, Paris, no. 253. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Eddie Constantine also acted in the Dutch films Geen paniek/No Panic (1973, Ko Koedijk), Bloedverwanten/Blood Relatives (1977, Wim Lindner) and Paul Chevrolet en de ultieme hallucinatie/Paul Chevrolet and the Ultimate Hallucination (1985, Pim de la Parra). His international productions included Raid on Entebbe (1977, Irvin Kershner) and The Long Good Friday (1980, John Mackenzie). He became more and more a cult figure and appeared in arthouse films by Ulrike Ottinger (Freak Orlando, 1981), Mika Kaurismäki (Helsinki Napoli All Night Long/Helsinki-Naples All Night Long, 1987), and Lars von Trier (Europa/Zentropa, 1991). He continued reprising the role of Lemmy Caution well into his 70’s and his final appearance as the character was in Jean-Luc Godard's Allemagne 90 neuf zéro/Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991). Eddie Constantine died of a heart attack in 1993 in Wiesbaden, Germany. He was married three times, to Helinka Musilova (divorced), with whom he had three children, Dorothea Gibson (1977–78, divorced), and the film producer Maya Faber-Jansen (1979–93, Constantine's death), with whom he had one child. His son Lemmy Constantine (1957), named for Constantine's famous role, is also a singer and actor.
Eddie Constantine in the British thriller SOS Pacific (1959, Guy Green). Source: VespaGS (YouTube).
Trailer Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution/Alphaville, A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965). Source: Danios12345 (YouTube).
Trailer Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte/Beware of a Holy Whore (1971). Source: Menemicnr05 (YouTube).
Sources: Wikipedia, AllMovie, Daniel Yates (IMDb) and IMDb.