Darrieux, Danielle


Darrieux, Danielle
(1917- )
   Actress. One of the major actresses of French cinema, Danielle Darrieux was born in Bordeaux but was raised in Paris. She had not intended, it seems, to become an actress, but was instead studying the cello at the Conservatoire de musique, when in 1931 she was cast as Antoinette in Willhelm Thiel's French remake of his German film Le Bal (1931). There are different versions of how this came about. Some sources say Darrieux's mother arranged the audition, others that Theil discovered Darrieux at the conservatoire. However it happened, the film launched Darrieux's career, and she would go on to work in both cinema and theater.
   Darrieux has had a very long and fairly continuous career in cinema lasting from Le Bal up to the present. Immediately following Le Bal, she found herself cast in similar juvenile roles in fairly sentimental films, such André Berthomieu's Coquecigrole (1931) and Michel Bernheim's Panurge (1932), but by 1936 that would change. Her role in Anatole Litvak's Mayerling would make her a genuine star.
   After Mayerling, Darrieux was offered a wider variety of roles. The same year she appeared in Marcel Carné's Jenny (1936) and Alexis Granowsky's Tarass Boulba (1936). There followed a number of other excellent films including Henri Decoin's Mademoiselle ma mere (1937) and Maurice Tourneur's historical film Katia (1938). Darrieux's work with Decoin launched not only several years of collaboration between the two, but also a romance, and Darrieux and Decoin married the same year. During their marriage, Decoin typically cast Darrieux in melodramas, and these are regarded as some of her best performances. Decoin/Darrieux collaborations include Abus de confiance (1938) and Retour à l'aube (1938).
   In 1938, Darrieux also crossed the Atlantic to film in Hollywood, where Mayerling had also made her a star. She made one film in Hollywood, Rage of Paris (1938), and then quickly returned to France and remained there during the war and occupation, continuing to make films. She, like Arletty and other actors and filmmakers who remained, would later suffer criticism for what was seen as their collaboration with the Nazi authorities. In Darrieux's case, the criticism stemmed not from her personal relationships, as with Arletty, but from her willingness to work for the Nazi-owned production company, Continental Films. During this period, Darrieux appeared in such films as Decoin's Premier rendez-vous (1941), a comedy, Léo Joannen's Caprices (1942), André Cayatte's La Fausse maîtresse (1942), and Marcel L'Herbier's Au petit bonheur (1945). Darrieux and Decoin parted ways during the Occupation, divorcing. They would not work together again for a number of years.
   After Liberation, Darrieux did not have the difficulty some of her contemporaries faced in resuming her career. She would also periodically return to Hollywood to film. Some of her best and best-known roles, in fact, are from the postwar period. In 1948, she appeared as the queen opposite Jean Marais in Pierre Billon's adaptation of Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas. The film remains a classic and the performance is regarded as one of Darrieux's best. She also appeared in two land-mark Max Ophuls films, La Ronde (1950) and Madame de . . . (1953).
   This period would find Darrieux doing more comedy in films. Noteworthy examples are Claude Autant-Lara's Occupe-toi d'Amélie (1949) and Carlo Rim's Escalier de service (1954). She did mystery films, such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 5 Fingers (1952) and Julien Duvivier's Marie-Octobre (1959), and also literary adaptations, such as Autant-Lara's Le Rouge et le noir (1954) and Duvivier's Pot-Bouille (1957). She also worked again with Decoin on two fairly dark films, La Vérité sur Bébé Dongé (1952) and the historical film L'Affaire des poisons (1955). Darrieux, who has a very good singing voice, also produced a number of records during this period, and even made one musical, Rich, Young, and Pretty (1951).
   Just as she had little difficulty in continuing her career after the war, the transformations in film caused by the filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave did little to put an end to Darrieux's filmmaking career. Although she concentrated her efforts more on her stage career in the 1960s and 1970s, even replacing Katharine Hepburn on Broadway in the stage production Coco, Darrieux acted in film. She appeared in such films as Autant-Lara's Vive Henri IV . . . vive l'amour (1961), Duvivier's Le Diable et les dix commandements (1962), Claude Chabrol's Landru (1962), and Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda's Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort (1967).
   Although she has slowed to one film every year or so since the 1970s, Darrieux has produced a fairly constant body of work even over the past thirty years. Dominique Delouche featured her in Divine (1975). She also appeared in Philipe de Broca's Le Cavaleur (1979), André Téchiné's Le Lieu du crime (1986), and Benoît Jacquot's Corps et biens (1986). She has quite recently appeared in several films, including Jeanne Labrune's Ça ira mieux demain (2000) and Thierry Klifa's Une vie à t'attendre (2004), and she gave a fabulous performance in François Ozon's acclaimed 8 femmes (2002). After more than seventy yearson screen and onstage, Danielle Darrieux has demonstrated a talent and a star power that few actors or actresses have ever had.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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