02 September 2013

Marcel Lévesque

French actor and scriptwriter Marcel Lévesque (1877-1962) excelled in silent and sound comedies but he also played memorable parts in the crime serials by Louis Feuillade and in Jean Renoir’s Le crime de M. Lange.

Marcel Levesque in La nouvelle mission de Judex
French postcard by Coquemer Gravures, Paris. Photo: Gerschel / Gaumont. Still for La nouvelle mission de Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1917-1918).

Countless Witty Characters

Joseph Marcel Lévesque was born in the Montmartre district of Paris in 1877.

He entered the Paris Conservatory but left quickly enough to make his stage debut in 1896. In 1900, he joined the cast of the Théâtre de l’Athénée, where for five years he forged a reputation as an actor who easily changed from comedy to drama.

Afterwards he also played at the Odeon and the Palais Royal. Like so many other stage performers, the film world discovered his talent, as of 1909. Lévesque started to appear in various shorts, but little is known about this.

He did act with Jean Dax and Nelly Cormon in the short historical film L’arrestation de la Duchesse de Berry/The arrest of the Duchess of Berry (André Calmettes, 1910) for Films d'Art (Pathé).

In 1913, he joined Gaumont where he met actor-director Léonce Perret for whom he wrote La belle-mère/The Stepmother (1913) with Suzanne Le Bret, followed by Léonce et Poupette (1913), which he scripted as well and in which he played Léonce’s man servant.

He followed this with the lead in L’illustre Mâchefer/The Illustrious Clinker (1913), directed by Louis Feuillade, who would become his regular director between 1913 and 1918 and which whom he acted in almost 30 films plus some serials.

Feuillade would have him play countless witty characters in the comedy series La vie drôle/Funny Life.

Meanwhile, Marcel Lévesque had tried his luck at film direction at Gaumont with La pintade et le dindon/Guinea pig and fowl (1915) with Madeleine Guitty as his partner.

Feuillade also used him in more mature roles for his crime serials Les Vampires/The Vampires (1915-1916) with the dangerous Musidora – Lévesque played Oscar Mazamette - and Judex (1916-1917).

In Judex he played the unpredictable Cocantin, a role he resumed in Feuillade’s sequel La nouvelle mission de Judex/The New Mission of Judex (1917-1918), again with René Cresté as the protagonist.

Lévesque also played in a parody of the crime serials, Le pied qui étreint (1916) by Jacques Feyder, with again Musidora, René Poyen (Bout de Zan) and André Roanne.

Pina Menichelli and Marcel Lévesque in La dame de Chez Maxim's
Italian postcard by Ed. G.B. Falci, Milano. Photo: publicity still for La dame de Chez Maxim's (Amleto Palermi, 1923) with Pina Menichelli.

Extraordinary, Subtle And Discreet Performance 

Although Marcel Lévesque did not always have the lead in his films, his extraordinary, subtle and discreet performance made him steal the scenes in whichever film he acted in.

In 1918, producer Louis Nalpas engaged him for some years to be Serpentin in a burlesque series draped around his character and directed by Jean Durand, occasionally also by Alfred Machin.

Gaston Modot was often his co-actor here.

In 1919 Lévesque also played in the prestigious, two-part exotic drama La sultane de l’amour (René Le Somptier, Charles Burguet,  1919), starring France Dhélia.

In 1920 Marcel Lévesque went back to the theatre to act in Je t’aime (I love you), a new play by Sacha Guitry.

In the early 1920s Lévesque went to Italy to be the comical antagonist of Pina Menichelli in the Georges Feydeau comedies La dama de Chez Maxim's/La dame de chez Maxim’s (Amleto Palermi, 1923) and Occupati d'Amelia/Occupe-toi d’Amélie (Telemaco Ruggeri, 1924). These were Menichelli's last films before she married and retired from the screen.

He also played with Mario Bonnard in Il tacchino/The turkey (1924) and Théodore et Cie (1925) and with Palermi again in Florette e Patapon (1927) with Ossi Oswalda.

Marcel Levesque in La nouvelle mission de Judex
French postcard by Coquemer Gravures, Paris. Photo: Gerschel / Gaumont. Still for La nouvelle mission de Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1917-1918).

The Unforgettable, Authority Respecting Concierge

Unlike many other actors from the silent cinema, Marcel Lévesque’s career took a new turn with the advent of the talkies.

He became one of the most important supporting actors in early French sound cinema.

Lévesque played a pharmacist in love with Josseline Gaël in Jacques Tourneur’s drama Tout ça ne vaut pas l’amour/All this is not worth the love, 1931) starring Jean Gabin, and he played a collector of garters in L’affaire Coquelet/The Cockelet Case (Jean Gourguet, 1934).

But most of all he was the unforgettable, authority respecting concierge in Jean Renoir’s Le crime de Monsieur Lange/The Crime of M. Lange (1935-1936), starring Florelle, René Lefèvre and Jules Berry.

In 1936 Lévesque found Sacha Guitry again for Faisons un rêve/Let’s Have a Dream, an adaptation of a play by le Maître written in 1916, and starring Jacqueline Delubac and Raimu.

During the war years Lévesque acted in a handful of films such as Marcel L’Herbier’s La nuit fantastique (1941) with Micheline Presle, Jean Grémilllon’s Lumière d’été (1942) with Madeleine Renaud, and Sacha Guitry’s La Malibran (1943) with Suzy Prim.

Marcel Lévesque played his last film part in 1956 in Sacha Guitry’s Assassins et Voleurs/Thieves and Assassins, starring Jean Poiret and Michel Serrault.

In their biography of Lévesque at CineArtistes. Christophe Lawniczak and Philippe Pelletier mention that in many film encyclopaedias, the name of Marcel Lévesque is mentioned only for the distribution but not in the credits (he replaced Charles Bayard).

At the age of 70, Marcel Lévesque stopped film acting and moved to Couilly-Pont-aux-Dames, where he ran a retirement home for old actors. He died there in 1962.

Suzy Prim
Suzy Prim. French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 1066. Photo: Manuel Frères. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Christophe Lawniczak and Philippe Pelletier (CineArtistes) (French), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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