- (1896-1969)Director and screenwriter. Henri Decoin came to the cinema somewhat late in life. In his youth, he was very athletic, an avid sportsman and an Olympic athlete, participating on the French swimming team in the 1912 Olympic games. He spent his early adult years fighting in World War I first as an infantryman, then as an airman, and after the war, became a sports-writer and author, writing one boxing novel titled Quinze combats as well as a play.Decoin began his career in cinema in the mid-1920s. He started out as a screenwriter. Among the silent films made from his screenplays are Maurice Champreux's Le Roi de la pédale (1925) and Luitz-Morat's La Ronde infernale (1928). Decoin also wrote a number of screenplays during the early years of sound cinema, including several literary adaptations. Sound films made from his screenplays include Carmine Gallone's Un soir de rafle (1931), Jacques de Baroncelli's Roi de Camargue (1934), and Abel Gance's Poliche (1934).It was in the 1930s that Decoin turned to directing, taking on projects he had written himself. He made his first films in 1933, Les Bleues du ciel and Les Réquins du pétrole, with a fair degree of success. The following year, 1934, while working with the German director Kurt Bernhardt on the French version of L'Or dans la rue (1934), Decoin met the seventeen-year-old actress Danielle Darrieux. The two married shortly thereafter and began an onscreen collaboration that lasted several years and marked one of the high points of both their careers. Decoin and Darrieux made five films together before parting company in 1941. Those five films, Mademoiselle ma mère (1937), Retour à l'aube (1938), Abus de confiance (1938), Battement de coeur (1939), and Premier rendez-vous (1941), were primarily well-written melodramas (the last being the exception) that cast Darrieux in lead roles. They were a great success during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and Decoin-Darrieux became a power couple in cinema.During the Occupation, Decoin remained in France, working with Continental Films, the German, Nazi-owned production company. He would ultimately make three films for Continental, Premier rendez-vous (1941), Les Inconnus dans la maison (1942), starring Raïmu, and Mariage d'amour (1942). Decoin parted ways with Continental in 1942, about the time he parted ways with Darrieux. He went on to make films independently. His other films from the Occupation era include Le Bienfaiteur (1942), also starring Raïmu, Je suis avec toi (1943), and L'Homme de Londres (1943), an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel.After the war, Decoin's films took on a more sober edge, and he broadened his range (perhaps after the taste of Simenon) to include a touch of noir. His later films include La Fille du diable (1946), Les Amoureux sont seuls au monde (1947), Les Amants du Pont St. Jean (1947), Non coupable (1947), Entre onze heures et minuit (1949), and Au grand balcon (1949). He continued directing into the 1950s, working again with Darrieux on La Vérité sur Bébé Dongé (1952) and L'Affaire des poisons (1955). Other films from the decade include Dortoir des grandes (1953), starring Jean Marais, Razzia sur la Chnouf (1955), starring Jean Gabin, and La Chatte (1958), starring Françoise Arnoul, with whom he made a number of films during the decade. These, like many of Decoin's later films, were primarily film noir or experiments with noir. There were, however, also some Hollywood-style musicals thrown into the mix in the form of Charmants garçons (1957) and Folies Bergère (1957).Decoin's production slowed noticeably in the 1960s, although he did some television productions and a handful of films. Among these were Le Masque de fer (1962), an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel, and Nick Carter va tout casser (1964), a reprisal of the silent-film classic detective. Overall he left a body of some forty-five films comprising an interesting range of styles and stories, and a fair number of other films for which he had written screenplays. Although he may always be best known for having boosted the career of Danielle Darrieux, Decoin made a significant contribution to film history himself.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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