09 October 2012

Gabriel Signoret

From 1909 on, French actor Gabriel Signoret aka Signoret (1878 - 1937) played in some 85 films, mostly silent ones. Signoret also had an extremely rich career on the French stage, mostly as actor, but occasionally also as director.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard by Editions Pathé Frères. Photo: Félix.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard. Photo: Pathé.

Gabriel Signoret, Nos artistes dans leur loge
French postcard in the series Nos artistes dans leur loge, no. 185. Photo: Comoedia.

Naturalist Plays
Gabriel Augustin Marius Signoret was born in Marseille, France, in 1878. Signoret was the brother of actor Jean Signoret, but he is unrelated to actress Simone Signoret. Between 1900 and 1906 Signoret was highly active at the Théâtre Antoine, mostly in plays directed by André Antoine himself, such as the Naturalist plays La Terre (1902) by Emile Zola and The Good Hope (1902) by Herman Heijermans. They also worked together on classics like William Shakespeare’s King Lear (1904). In 1907 Signoret moved to the Théâtre Réjane where he stayed until 1909. After that he switched from one theatre to another, such as the Théâtre du Gymnase and the Théâtre Femina, acting in plays by a.o. Bernstein, Georges Feydeau and Tristan Bernard, as well as in revue and opéra-bouffe. After a gap in 1919-1922, Signoret continued his stage career in the 1920's and 1930's, but less intense than before. He directed two plays: Les Marchands de gloire (1925) by Marcel Pagnol and Paul Nivoix, at the Théâtre de la Madeleine, and Trois pour 100 (1933) by Roger Ferdinand, at the Théâtre Antoine.

Gabriel Signoret
Swiss postcard by Grav. & Imp. SADAG, Genève, in the series Les Etoiles du Cinema, offered by Chocolat Séchaud, Montreux.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard, no. 2829.

Gabriel Signoret, Vins Désiles
French postcard by S.I.P. Photo: H. Manuel, Paris. Caption: 'Que ce soit en vers ou en prose, On t'a chanté vers genereux, Pardonnez-moi ces vers que j'ose, C'est pour te chanter avec eux, Dédié au Vin Désiles.' (Whether in verse or prose, generous verses have been dedicated to you. Permit me to dedicate these verses to you, It's to praise you together with the others. Dedicated to Vins Désiles.)

Films D'art
Gabriel Signoret's film career started in 1909 at Pathé Frères with the so-called film d’art films. These films were often based on famous stage plays and involved actors from the French stage. Under direction of André Calmettes, he acted in Rival de son père/Rival of his father (1909), L’aigle et l’aiglon/The Eagle and the Eaglet (1910) and L’Usurpateur/The Usurper (1911, co-directed by Henri Pouctal). Between 1911 and 1914 Signoret played at Pathé in some twenty short films, most directed by René Leprince (some in co-direction with Ferdinand Zecca), and some by Camille De Morlhon. In 1914-1915, he also acted in some films at Gaumont, directed by Louis Feuillade, but Signoret’s main output as film actor in the First World War years remained at Pathé. He appeared in films directed by Leprince, Zecca and De Morlhon. In 1916 he also started to act at Eclipse in the films by René Hervil and Louis Mercanton, such as the war propaganda film Mères françaises/Mothers of France (1917, René Hervil, Louis Mercanton), starring Sarah Bernhardt, Le Torrent (1917, René Hervil, Louis Mercanton) with Louise Lagrange and Jaque Catelain, and Bouclette (1918, René Hervil, Louis Mercanton), starring Gaby Deslys. For the latter two Marcel L’Herbier had written the scripts. In 1916 Signoret played in Noël cambrioleur/Christmas burglar, his first part in a film by director Jacques de Baroncelli. It would be the start of an intense collaboration during the late 1910's and early 1920's. Signoret starred in De Baroncelli’s films Le Délai/Time (1918) with Denise Lorys, Flipotte (1920) with Suzanne Bianchetti, Le Secret du Lone Star/The Secret of Lone Star (1920) with Broadway star Fanny Ward, La Rafale/The burst (1920) with Ward and Yvette Andreyor, Le Rêve/The Dream (1921) with Andrée Brabant, the Honoré de Balzac adaptation Le Père Goriot/Father Goriot (1921) with Claude France, and Roger la Honte/Roger the Shame (1922) with Rita Jolivet. Signoret also acted in films by the Impressionist avant-garde such as La Cigarette/The Cigarette (1919) by Germaine Dulac and Le Silence/The Silence (1920) by Louis Delluc. This intensity explains why Signoret was away from the stage in the early 1920's.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 81.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard by Editions Filma in the series Les Vedettes du Cinéma, no. 25. Photo: Agence Générale Cinématographique.

High Placed Men
Until the mid-1920's, Gabriel Signoret had a steady career in the French silent cinema, with memorable titles like La Porteuse de pain/The Bread Peddler (1923, René Le Somptier) with Suzanne Desprès, L’Ornière/Micheline Horn (1924, Édouard Chimot) with Ginette Maddie, L’Enfant des Halles/The Child of the Market (1924, René Leprince) with Suzanne Bianchetti, Les Deux gosses/The Two Kids (1924, Louis Mercanton) with Yvette Guilbert, and Jocaste (1924, Gaston Ravel) with Sandra Milovanoff. In the early 1930's, when sound cinema had set in, Signoret returned to the French cinema. He had important parts in films by Marcel L’Herbier, often as high placed men. He was an admiral in Veille d’armes/Sacrifice of Honor (1935, Marcel L’Herbier) with Annabella and Victor Francen, with Francen being court-martialled for making mistakes in ship manoeuvres. In Les Hommes nouveaux/The New Men (1936, Marcel L’Herbier) with Harry Baur, Signoret played marshal Lyautey in a drama about a simple worker (Baur) making his fortune in Morocco during Lyautey’s governorship. In Nuits de feu/Nights of Fire (1937, Marcel L’Herbier) with Gaby Morlay and Francen, Signoret is an evil substitute prosecutor, who accuses a young lawyer and the wife (Morlay) of the disappeared prosecutor to have killed the husband (Francen). James Travers at Films de France: "This dry historical melodrama is a world apart from the silent masterpieces that earned Marcel L’Herbier his reputation as one of finest filmmakers of his generation. Lacking the scale, visual appeal and dramatic impact of L’Herbier’s earlier films, Nuits de feu is a comparatively low-key work, which would be easy to overlook were it not for some fine acting performances." Other remarkable titles were Trois pour cent/Three percent (1933, Jean Dréville) – the adaptation of the play which Signoret had directed himself, Ménilmontant (1936, René Guissart) in which Signoret paired with Pierre Larquey as two old men, and Arsène Lupin, détective/Arsene Lupin, Detective (1937, Henri Diamant-Berger) starring Jules Berry. James Travers: "The best thing about this film is its tireless sense of fun. It is not really a comedy, but the characters are played with great comic panache (particularly Berry’s Lupin), and there is a lot of probably unintentional wit in the script. But what contributes most to the film’s atmosphere is probably its jaunty 1930s music and the chic costumes." Gabriel Signoret died in Paris in 1937.

Gabriel Signoret
French postcard by Paris sur Scene in the series Nos artistes dans leurs expressions, no. 1049.

Gabriel Signoret, Campari
French postcard by Campari. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères. Caption: 'One ne connait vraiment Paris que lorsqu'on boit un Campari.' (One only really knows Paris when drinking a Campari).

Sources: James Travers (Films de France), Ciné-Artistes, Cinema Francais.fr, Ciné Ressources, Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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