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15 March 2013

Bernard Lancret

French actor Bernard Lancret (1912 – 1983) was a popular romantic leading man of the French theatre during the 1930’s. In the cinema he had his breakthrough in the classic La Kermesse héroïque/Carnival in Flanders (1935) and he appeared in more than 30 more films.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by EPC., Paris, no. 45. Photo: Roger Corbeau.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by Edit. Chantal, Rueil, no. 622A. Photo: Discina, Paris.

Jan Brueghel
Bernard Lancret was born as Bernard Paul Mahoudeau in Gonesse, France in 1912. Very young he got involved in the theatre. He met Louis Jouvet who encouraged him to pursue his career and assigned him a role in La guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu (The Trojan War will not take place) by Jean Giraudoux. Many plays followed. He took the pseudonym Lancret in memory of French Romantic painter Nicolas Lancret. Indeed during the 1930’s, he played in the romantic leading man style. In 1935 he made his film debut in Et moi, j'te dis qu'elle t'a fait de l'oeil/And I’m telling you she has her eye on you (1935, Jack Forrester) with Jules Berry. He distinguished himself for the first time as Flemish painter Jan Brueghel alongside Françoise Rosay in La Kermesse héroïque/Carnival in Flanders (1935), the famous film by Jacques Feyder. James Travers at Films de France: “The most striking thing about La Kermesse héroïque is its epic visual feel. Huge sets and a cast of, if not thousands, several hundred, give a convincing recreation of 17th century Flanders. Feyder is reputed to have made the film to promote Flemish art. This is borne out by the elaborate sets and costumes (evidently inspired by the paintings of Frans Hals and Jordaens) which gives the feel of a painting ‘that has come to life’. Although made in black and white, it is a hugely colorful film, full of energy and humanity – in fact very typical of Feyder’s works as a whole. The film skillfully combines the spectacle of a quality historical drama with outrageous comic farce, making this one of the finest comedies in French cinema history.” Lancret continued his film career brilliantly in the following decade. His other films during the 1930’s include La citadelle du silence/The Citadel of Silence (1937, Marcel L’Herbier), Le joueur d'échecs/The Chess Player (1938, Jean Dréville) with Françoise Rosay and Conrad Veidt, and Sérénade/Schubert’s Serenade (1939, Jean Boyer), in which he played composer Franz Schubert opposite Lilian Harvey.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by Editions Chantal, Paris, no. 622. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by Collection Ciné Miroir.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard, no. 622.

Another Flagship of the French Cinema
During the war, Bernard Lancret appeared in the psychological thriller Le Corbeau/The Raven (1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot), another flagship of the French cinema. Craig Butler reviews at AllMovie: “Le Corbeau is a stunning examination of paranoia, distrust, and human venality. Sporting a bleak world view that is typical of much of director Henri-Georges Clouzot, it's a film that is enormously effective as both an intriguing mystery and a statement on the human condition. (...) Clouzot also makes Le Corbeau an incredibly visual experience, with a rich use of stark blacks and whites, surprising angles (including a shot from the p.o.v of a letter on the ground), and intriguing compositions. Especially noteworthy are the sequence in which one of the poison pen letters floats calmly to the ground in the middle of a church service, capturing the attention of one and all, and that in which a mob chases one of the suspects through the streets of town. The tension and the mystery that the director imparts to the film is astonishingly effective, and he's aided by a perfect cast. Pierre Fresnay is perhaps first among equals, but each one contributes to making Le Corbeau an amazing film.” Other films Lancret made in these years are the Guy de Maupassant adaptation Pierre et Jean/Pierre and Jean (1943, André Cayatte) as the brother of Gilbert Gil, and La fausse maîtresse/The false teacher (1942, André Cayatte), alongside Danielle Darrieux. After the war, Bernard Lancret played one of Michèle Morgan’s lovers in the tearjerker La belle que voilà/Here is the beauty (1949, Jean-Paul Le Chanois), based on a novel by Vicky Baum. He also appeared in the hilarious ménage à trois farce Julietta (1953, Marc Allégret) starring Dany Robin, Jeanne Moreau and Jean Marais. James Travers: “Assisted by Allégret’s light-as-gossamer directorial touch and a script that abounds in amusing comic situations, Moreau, Marais and Robin form an unbeatable combination, transforming what might have been a humdrum and rather silly comedy into an entertaining minor classic of French cinema.” In his final film he played Brigitte Bardot’s criminal father in the sex comedy Cette sacrée gamine/Naughty girl (1955, Michel Boisrond). James Travers: “Cette sacrée gamine is a chore to sit through, lacking both a decent narrative and any really good gags.” At the age of 43 he retired from show business to convert some success in real estate. Bernard Lancret died in 1983 in Mougins, France. He was married to film actress Christiane Delyne.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 112. Photo: Roger Carlet.

Bernard Lancret
French postcard by Editions E.C., Paris, no. 25. Photo: Roger Carlet.

Sources: James Travers (Films de France), Craig Butler (AllMovie), Julien B. (Artistes 1940), Notre Cinéma, Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

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