07 October 2023

Directed by Julien Duvivier

Today, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto starts, the 42nd Edition of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. We're in Italy and every day, EFSP will post about the festival programme. The opening event is La divine croisière (1929). Director Julien Duvivier (1896-1967) was one of the leading representatives of poetic realism in French cinema in the 1930s. Duvivier was a highly versatile and seasoned film director. Besides classics like Un Carnet de bal (1935), Pépé le Moko (1937), Le Fin du jour and Sous le ciel de Paris (1951), he also shot several comedies, such as the first two Don Camillo films with Fernandel. His silent films are less known but are also interesting. Our first Pordenone post is dedicated to this French film director.

Jean Gabin in Pépé le Moko (1937)
French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris, no. 49. Jean Gabin in Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Harry Baur in Poil de carotte (1932)
Dutch postcard. Photo: Fim Film, Amsterdam. Harry Baur in Poil de carotte/The Red Head (Julien Duvivier, 1932).

Louis Jouvet in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
French postcard. Photo: Louis Jouvet in Un carnet de bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Fernand Gravey in The Great Waltz (1938)
French postcard, no. 34. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Fernand Gravey in The Great Waltz (Julien Duvivier, 1938).

Gérard Philipe in Pot-Bouille (1957)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, no. 1290, 1960. Photo: Gérard Philipe in Pot-Bouille/Lovers of Paris (Julien Duvivier, 1957).

The first of a set of astounding films

Julien Henri Nicolas Duvivier was born in Lille, France, in 1896. He was the son of a production manager. Duvivier's school education began at the Collège des Jésuites in Lille, later he moved to Paris. Together with a school friend he visited the Théâtre Odéon, under the direction of André Antoine, in 1916. Since there was a shortage of actors at most theatres during wartime, the inexperienced young man was given a chance.

Duvivier worked in André Antoine's Théâtre Libre. His shortcoming was that he had trouble remembering texts. When this became apparent during a performance in which he had a complete blackout, a friend advised him that he would rather shift his focus to direction. Duvivier indeed turned to directing at the theatre. As he was also active as a writer, he soon moved into film. In 1916, he became an assistant to Antoine as a filmmaker. He joined Gaumont in 1918 as a scriptwriter and assistant to Louis Feuillade, André Antoine and Marcel L'Herbier.

In 1919, he directed his first film, Haceldama ou Le Prix du Sang (1919), a Western shot in Corrèze which was not a great success. In the 1920s, several of his films dealt with religious subjects, including Credo ou la Tragédie de Lourdes/The Tragedy of Lourdes (1924), L'Abbé Constantin/Father Constantin (1925) and La Vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin/The Miraculous Life of Teresa of Lisieux (1929), a film about the Carmelite saint. His first notable success was Poil de Carotte/Carrot Top (1925), a poignant adaptation of Jules Renard's classic novel. In 1925, he joined the Film d'Art" production company, founded by Marcel Vandal and Charles Delac. He stayed there for nine years.

In 1926, he shot L'Homme à l'Hispano with Georges Galli. Duvivier's reputation as a reputable, efficient director jumped in the sound era. Hilarious is the comedy Le mystère de la tour Eiffel (1928), a rollicking adventure, culminating with a big chase on the Eiffel Tower. Another interesting film was Au bonheur des dames/Ladies' Paradise (1930) with Dita Parlo. His breakthrough came with David Golder (1931), his first talking film and the film debut of Harry Baur. Then he made a string of small but successful films including Allo Berlin? Ici Paris!/Here's Berlin (1932) and Poil de carotte/The Red Head (1932). He found sound films more appealing, unlike other directors who preferred silent films, as they expanded the possibility for him to present dramatic works more expressively. In 1934, Maria Chapdelaine marked his first collaboration with Jean Gabin. Then, with La Bandera (1935), he enlisted the talents of dialogue writer Charles Spaak, with whom he often worked.

In 1935, he also shot Golgotha, an original vision of the Passion of Christ. At Film Reference, Dudley Andrew does not like the film: "This solemn, even bombastic, film could not be farther from the swiftness and authentic feeling of the romantic Foreign Legion film La Bandera made the same year. Where Golgotha is an official presentation of French cinema, La Bandera seems more intimate, more in the spirit of the times. Its success was only the first of a set of astounding films that include La Belle Équipe, Pépé-le-Moko, Un Carnet de bal, and Le Fin du jour. It is tempting to surmise that cultural history and Julien Duvivier came for once into perfect coincidence in this age of poetic realism."

Lil Dagover and Gaston Jacquet in Le Tourbillon de Paris (1928)
French postcard by Film français Aubert, Paris. Photo: Lil Dagover and Gaston Jacquet in Le Tourbillon de Paris/The Maelstrom of Paris (Julien Duvivier, 1928).

French postcard. Robert Le Vigan as Jesus Christ in Golgotha (Julien Duvivier, 1935).

Jean Gabin in La bandera (1935)
French postcard, no. 49. Photo: Jean Gabin in La Bandera (Julien Duvivier, 1935).

Raimu and Milly Mathis in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
French collectors card. Photo: Raimu and Milly Mathis in Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Fernand Gravey and Luise Rainer in The Great Waltz (1938)
Belgian card by Kwatta in the Ciné Stars series. Photo: M.G.M. Fernand Gravey and Luise Rainer in The Great Waltz (Julien Duvivier, 1938).

One of the most legendary figures in the history of French cinema

Julien Duvivier's sureness of pace in the late 1930s brought him a Hollywood contract even before the Nazi invasion forced him to leave France. In 1938, Duvivier shot The Great Waltz, a biography of Johann Strauss, for MGM. Without the strong personality of Jean Renoir or René Clair, and with far more experience in genre pictures, Duvivier fit in rather well with American film production methods. During the Second World War, Duvivier made five films in the United States, including Lydia (1941) starring Merle Oberon - a remake of Duvivier's Un carnet de bal (1937), and two anthology films, Tales of Manhattan (1942) with Charles Boyer and Rita Hayworth, and Flesh and Fantasy (1943) with Edward G. Robinson, Charles Boyer and Barbara Stanwyck. He deplored the lack of personal control or even personal contribution in the industry, but he acquitted himself well until the Liberation.

After the war, Duvivier found it difficult to recapture the success of the 1930s. In 1946, he released Panique/Panic, adapted from Georges Simenon's novel 'Les Fiançailles de monsieur Hire'. The film, a distillation of the vilest instincts of human nature, remains the director's most personal and darkest work. However, it was an abject failure, both critically and publicly, with critics criticising it for a return to pre-war poetic realism. In collaboration with Jean Anouilh, he wrote the screenplay for Anna Karenina (1948) the adaptation of Tolstoy's novel starring Vivien Leigh. After Anna Karenina (1948) in the U.K. and Black Jack (1950) with George Sanders in Spain, Duvivier continued to film in France.

In 1951, he made Sous le ciel de Paris/Under the Sky of Paris, an original drama in which, over the course of a single day, we follow a number of characters in Paris whose destinies intersect. That same year, 1951, Duvivier shot the first Don Camillo comedies, Le Petit Monde de Don Camillo/The Little World of Don Camillo, with Fernandel and Gino Cervi. It was an immediate popular success which he himself followed up with Le Retour de Don Camillo/The Return of Don Camillo (1953). Other highlights were the thriller Voici le temps des assassins/Deadlier Than the Male (1956) with Jean Gabin and Danièle Delorme, the Émile Zola adaptation Pot-Bouille/Lovers of Paris (1957) starring Gérard Philipe and Marie-Octobre/Secret Meeting (1958), starring Danielle Darrieux, Paul Meurisse, Serge Reggiani and Bernard Blier.

In 1959, he was invited to be part of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival, the year the Nouvelle Vague fully emerged. Duvivier's final portmanteau film was Le Diable et les dix Commandements/The Devil and the Ten Commandments (1962), while the scenario of Chair de poule/Highway Pickup (1963) with Robert Hossein and Catherine Rouvel has a resemblance to The Postman Always Rings Twice and again features an unscrupulous woman. His last film was the crime thriller Diaboliquement vôtre (1967) with Alain Delon and Senta Berger. It was not released until after his death in 1967. Duvivier suffered a heart attack in his car, causing a traffic accident after which the 71-year-old died. He left behind his son Christian, and his wife Olga Nochimowsky died twelve years before him. Duvivier is buried in the ancient cemetery at Rueil-Malmaison in Hauts-de-Seine.

Julien Duvivier's filmography counts almost seventy titles, including some classics of world cinema. Akira Horowitz at IMDb: "Revered by such legendary fellow directors as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier is one of the most legendary figures in the history of French cinema. He is perhaps the most neglected of the 'Big Five' of classic French cinema (the other four being Jean Renoir, René Clair, Jacques Feyder, and Marcel Carné), partly due to the uneven quality of his work. But despite his misfires, the cream of his oeuvre is simply stellar and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as filmdom's most breathtaking masterpieces."

Dutch film poster by Ad Werner for the film Panique/Panic (Julien Duvivier, 1946). Pictured are Viviane Romance as Alice and Michel Simon as Monsieur Hire.

Il ritorno di Don Camillo (Brescello)
Italian postcard by Ed. Riservata Chiesa Parocchiale di Brescello. Promotion for Brescello (Reggio Emilia), city of the Don Camillo films. This card shows scenes from Il ritorno di Camillo/Le Retour de don Camillo/The Return of Don Camillo (Julien Duvivier, 1953).

Dany Carrel, Gérard Philipe and Danièle Darrieux in Pot-Bouille (1957)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, no. 1294, 1960. Photo: Dany Carrel, Gérard Philipe and Danièle Darrieux in Pot-Bouille/Lovers of Paris (Julien Duvivier, 1957), adapted from the novel by Émile Zola.

Brigitte Bardot in La femme et le pantin (1958)
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 3944. Photo: Pathé /N.V. City film, Den Haag. Brigitte Bardot in La femme et le pantin/The Female (Julien Duvivier, 1958).

Giulietta Masina
Vintage card. Giulietta Masina in Das kunstseidene Mädchen/The High Life (Julien Duvivier, 1960).

Michel Simon in Le diable et les 10 commandements (1962)
German promotion card. Michel Simon in Le diable et les 10 commandements/The Devil and the Ten Commandments (Julien Duvivier, 1962).

German postcard by Progress, no. 1.973, 1964. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Fernandel in Le diable et les dix commandements/The Devil and the Ten Commandments (Julien Duvivier, 1962).

Alain Delon in Diaboliquement vôtre (1967)
French postcard in the Collection Cinéma Couleur by Editions La Malibran, Paris, no. MC 26. Photo: Alain Delon in Diaboliquement vôtre/Diabolically Yours (Julien Duvivier, 1967).

Sources: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, James Travers (French Films), Dudley Andrew (Film Reference), Akira Horowitz (IMDb), Wikipedia (Dutch, German, French and English), and IMDb.

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