05 March 2016

Pierre Richard

French actor Pierre Richard (1934) became popular as a clumsy daydreamer in comedy films of the 1970s. Richard is best known internationally as the star of the zany spy farce Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chassure Noire/The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972) and for his hilarious comedies with Gérard Dépardieu. He also wrote and directed several films himself.

Pierre Richard
East-German postcard by Progress Film-Verleih, Berlin, no. 161/78.

Pierre Richard
French postcard by La Roue Tourne, Paris.

A Naive Superspy on a Top Secret Mission

Pierre Richard was born Pierre Richard Maurice Charles Leopold Defays in Valenciennes, France, in 1934. His family was upper-class with an embarrassing riches of middle names.

He started his acting career at the theatre and and build up his trade at the Paris Music Hall. In 1958, he made his film debut in a small, uncredited part in the French-Italian drama Les Amants de Montparnasse/The Lovers of Montparnasse (Jacques Becker, 1958), which chronicles the last year of the life of the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani (Gérard Philipe) who worked and died in poverty in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris.

Ten years later followed the comedy Alexandre le bienheureux/Very Happy Alexander (Yves Robert, 1968), starring Philippe Noiret, in which Richard played a secondary role toward the end of the plot. Two years later he directed and starred in the comedy Le Distrait/The Daydreamer (Pierre Richard, 1970), co-starring Marie-Christine Barrault and Bernard Blier. The film combines elements of a slapstick, horror and romantic comedy. Richard plays Pierre Malaquet, an eccentric and extremely absent-minded advertising manager.

Two years later followed the comedy Les malheurs d'Alfred/The Troubles of Alfred (Pierre Richard, 1972). Alfred (Pierre Richard) is an unemployed architect who is incredibly unlucky, and when he tries to commit suicide, he meets a female television presenter (Anny Duperey) who is pursued by the same misfortune.

That same year, he had his international breakthrough with the comedy hit Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire/The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972), directed by Yves Robert and written by Francis Veber. Richard played a naive, innocent concert musician plucked by chance to become a superspy on a top secret mission. The same team made also the sequel, Le retour du grand blond/The Return of the Tall Blond Man (Yves Robert, 1974). Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire was remade in English as The Man with One Red Shoe (Stan Dragoti, 1985) with Tom Hanks.

Richard also appeared in several other comedies, frequently teamed with Aldo Maccione. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: “his characters often have taken on an hilariously guileless persona and, coupled with his innate gift for klutzy physical comedy, have become an audience favourite for nearly four decades.”

Pierre Richard
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Pierre Richard
German autogram card by Kino, ca. 1989.

One Can Always Dream

Francis Veber cast Pierre Richard while directing his own first feature film: Le Jouet/The Toy (Francis Veber, 1976) with Michel Bouquet. The film was remade in Hollywood as The Toy (Richard Donner, 1982) starring Richard Pryor.

Veber and Richard had a long and successful partnership during the 1980s, highlighted by three comedies – La Chèvre/Knock on Wood (Francis Veber, 1981), Les Compères/ComDads (Francis Veber, 1983) and Les Fugitifs/The Fugitives (Francis Veber, 1986) – which paired Richard as a comic duo with Gérard Depardieu.

All three were remade in Hollywood, the latter as Three Fugitives (1989), also directed by Veber and starring Nick Nolte and Martin Short. However, the many Hollywood remakes and imitations of the films with Richard mostly pale compared to the originals.

Pierre Richard again moved behind the camera to direct On peut toujours rêver/One Can Always Dream (1991) and Droit dans le mur/Straight into the Wall (1997), a dramatic commercial and critical failure. In 2006 the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema awarded him a lifetime achievement César.

In addition to being an actor and film director Pierre Richard is also a businessman. He owns the restaurant Au pied de chameau in Paris and a 20-hectare vineyard in Southern France which produces some 80,000 bottles a year, including some 12,000 bottles of rosé labelled as le Bel Évêque. If he is not overseeing his wine business on location, he lives in Paris. He used to live for many years on a barge on the Seine in the centre of Paris.

Pierre Richard married and divorced three times, and has two sons: Olivier and Christoph, who are both musicians. Olivier is a group member of Blues trottoir and plays the saxophone whereas Christophe plays the double bass. His grandson, Arthur Defays, is a model and a young actor.

Pierre Richard is still very productive in the cinema and one his more recent films is Et si on vivait tous ensemble?/All Together (Stéphane Robelin, 2011) with Geraldine Chaplin and Jane Fonda.

Trailer for Le Jouet/The Toy (1976). Source: Slava Batareykin (YouTube).

International trailer for Et si on vivait tous ensemble?/All Together (2011). Source: Indie & Foreign Films (YouTube).

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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