28 March 2014

Marie Bell

French stage and film actress Marie Bell (1900-1985) played elegant roles in late silent and early sound films. She is best known for her work in film classics as Jacques Feyder's Le Grand Jeu (1934) and Julien Duvivier's Un Carnet de Bal (1937).

Vintage postcard, no. 7.

French Resistance

Marie Bell was born as Marie-Jeanne Bellon-Downey in Bègles in the Gironde in 1900. At 13 she made her stage debut as a dancer at the London Pavillion.

Back in France, she was trained at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Conservatory) and then at the Conservatoire de Paris (Paris Conservatory). There she won the First Prize in 1921.

She appeared in such silent films as Paris (René Hervil, 1924) with Dolly Davis, and Madame Récamier (Tony Lekain, Gaston Ravel, 1928) with Françoise Rosay. After appearing in films for four years Bell joined the distinguished Comedie-Française and would stay there till 1953.

She was mainly a stage actress, but she became a leading film actress in France when sound film arrived, playing in one film after another.

Her early sound films include La nuit est à nous/The Night is Ours (Henry Roussel, 1929) with Jean Murat, L'homme qui assassina/The Man Who Committed the Murder (Kurt Bernhardt, Jean Tarride, 1930) with Jean Angelo, and L'homme à l'hispano/The Man in the Hispano-Suiza (Jean Epstein, 1932).

Her best remembered roles are in the superior Foreign Legion melodrama Le grand jeu/The Full Deck (Jacques Feyder, 1934) opposite Pierre Richard-Willm and Un carnet de bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937) opposite Louis Jouvet and Fernandel.

During the German Occupation of France (1940-1944), she participated in the French resistance as one of nine directors of the Front National du Théatre.

French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 733. Photo: Paramount.

French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 680. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères.

French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 860. Marie Bell in the early sound film La nuit est à nous/The Night Belongs To Us (Roger Lion, Carl Froehlich, Henry Roussell, 1930). It was the French version of the German film Die Nacht gehört uns (1929) by Froehlich and Roussell. Both versions were shot in Berlin. The film, based on a play by Henri Kistemaeckers, tells about a female daredevil in car races, Bettine Barsac, who has a car accident but is saved by an unknown man. Soon after they meet again, but he proves to be a married man. Bell's co-stars were Henry Roussell, Jean Murat and Sylvie.

French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 766. Photo: Schmoll. Publicity still for La nuit est à nous/The Night Belongs To Us (Roger Lion, Carl Froehlich, Henry Roussell, 1930).

French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 988. Photo: Paramount.

Luchino Visconti

Since 1934, Marie Bell was the director of the Théâtre des Ambassadeurs and from 1958 till her death she was the director of the Theatre du Gymnase, which now bears her name.

Her interpretation of the role of Phèdre in the tragedy by Jean Racine was highly noted. Author André Malraux was cited in the magazine L'Avant-Scène n°34": "Seeing Marie Bell in Phèdre is a unique opportunity for anyone who wants to know what is the French genius."

She was best known as a classical actress, but she was not afraid to appear in pieces of avant-garde theatre, as in Le Balcon (1960) written by Jean Genet and directed by Peter Brook.

After years of absence, she returned to the cinema with a small part in Il Gattoparde/The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) and as the mad mother of Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) in Luchino Visconti's film Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa/Sandra (1965).

In 1969 she was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. She was awarded the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour) by President Charles de Gaulle for her valiant work in the French Resistance.

Her final film appearance was in a film by Jean-Claude Brialy, Les volets clos/Closed Shutters (1972).

Marie Bell died in 1985 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. She was married to film actor Jean Chevrier.

French postcard by Editions Chantal (EC), Paris, no. 80. Photo: Piaz.

French postcard by Editions Chantal, Paris, no. 591.

French postcard by PC Paris, no. 84.

French postcard. Photo: collection: Ciné Miroir.

French postcard by SERP, Paris, no. 61. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Davyd (Artistes1940) (French), Ciné-Ressources (French), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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