Tuesday, February 17

RIP Louis Jourdan

For a couple of decades he was certainly Hollywood's idea of the suave Continental lover.  It's probably fitting that he passed away on Valentine's Day.  It's been years since we've heard of him.  Although well-liked in the film industry, he always kept his private life very private.  He was never one to engage in much publicity and was never particularly given to ballyhooing his films.  He was married to the same woman, his childhood sweetheart, for 67 years.

His good looks, suave manner and elegant speaking voice kept him working for years, both in France and the United States.  He most often worked in romantic roles, both comedies and dramas, and was a superb villain, I think, due to the fact that his facial figures gave off an ambiguity, a mysteriousness and a sadness.  He often seemed to be studying people in scenes, taking quietness and reticence to an elevated place that could be unnerving for those of us watching him in the dark.  It was in these roles that I enjoyed him the most.  And of course he made a couple of musicals that I happened to catch.

He was born, one of three sons, in Marseilles in 1921 to a hotelier and his wife.  He was educated in France, England and Turkey.  It was in his home country that he attended acting school and while doing so, director Marc Allégret tapped him for his first movie role but the film was never completed because of the war.  He appeared in several films during the Occupation, mostly with Allégret in the director's chair.  When Jourdan's father was arrested by the gestapo, the young actor joined the resistance.  He helped print and distribute illegal leaflets.

A talent scout for Hollywood producer David O. Selznick spotted Jourdan in a French film and whisked him away to the film capital.  He made his American debut in The Paradine Case (1947), one of Alfred Hitchcock's least successful films.  The public didn't much care for it either, but I liked it.  Of course, it didn't hurt that Gregory Peck was the star.  He played a valet accused of murdering his employer and that mysterious face of his kept the audience guessing for most of the film.  Jourdan was hired against Hitchcock's wishes.  The director thought the actor's prettiness ruined the story.  But Selznick liked what he saw and put him under contract.  Jourdan could be feisty, however, and he was constantly put on suspension for refusing roles.

One he wisely didn't refuse is one of his best, Letter to an Unknown Woman (1948).  He brought a smarmy charm to the role of a concert pianist who seduces and abandons Joan Fontaine.  It turned out to be one of the best-written roles Jourdan would ever play and he was good in it.

In 1949 he was at MGM to play the lover of the married Madame Bovary, portrayed by Jennifer Jones.  With a cast that included James Mason and Van Heflin, it should have been great but it was too heavy-handed for most audiences.  He was at Fox in 1951 romancing Debra Paget in Bird of Paradise and Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies... both fun and forgettable.  Perhaps they are why he returned to France for a couple of films.

And now the entire "3 Coins" cast is gone

When he returned, he was one of the six principals in Fox's 1954 worldwide hit, Three Coins in the Fountain.  If the truth be told, it was more silliness about three girls looking for love.  Jourdan played a prince with his usual haughty charm while Maggie McNamara swooned.  It was a help that Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Rossano Brazzi were along for the mush and a title song helped push the film to the top of the box office.

Interesting that he didn't use the popularity of the film to propel him in films and that he debuted on Broadway instead.  He was a most successful run in The Immoralist, sharing the stage with Geraldine Page and James Dean.  Despite Jourdan's excellent notices, all eyes and ears were on Dean.

He returned to Hollywood in 1956 for two of my favorite Jourdan roles... and they certainly couldn't have been any more different.  The Swan holds a special memory in me because Grace Kelly's only top-billed role found her playing a princess.  Jourdan is her young brothers' tutor.  He and the princess are in love with one another while she must contemplate marriage to a prince she barely knows.  Next up was Julie.  With Doris Day in a rare dramatic role, Jourdan is her obsessively jealous husband who ultimately decides to murder her.  I tell you, the man was riveting as a maniacal stalker.

He did a couple of unnoticed films and also some television for a couple of years and then wondered into the biggest film of his career, Vincente Minnelli's Academy Award-winning Gigi (1958).  Funny, but despite all the hoopla, I rather straddled the fence on this one at the time but have come to appreciate it much more.  As Gaston, a wealthy and bored playboy, he maintains a mere friendship with a young girl being trained to be a courtesan.  After her transformation is complete, Gaston sees how beautiful she is and wants her for himself.  Jourdan was fortunate to sing (I'm being kind) the enchanting title song. 

Leslie Caron, sheer perfection in the title role, and Jourdan did not particularly get along during the filming.  He was apparently unhappy with Minnelli and whined a bit much for Caron.  So amusing to hear when you consider what you saw on the screen.

The following year he made another three-girls-in-search-of-a-husband film, a good one, The Best of Everything.  He played a supercilious Broadway director who uses and discards an emotionally fragile Suzy Parker.  In 1960 he appeared in his second musical, Can-Can.  It was a bit of a mess, starting with some serious miscasting.  Jourdan played a judge involved in a love triangle.  It was the leading role in the play but in the movie version it became a secondary role.  Sadly, it was a bit of a metaphor for Jourdan's career as well.

In 1963 he found himself as one of The V.I.P.s along with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rod Taylor, Maggie Smith, Elsa Martinelli, Orson Welles and Margaret Rutherford.  Weather sidelines airline passengers while Jourdan is Taylor's boyfriend as she tries to escape the clutches of Burton.  Ah, another case of merry movie-making.  In real life Taylor and Burton couldn't keep their hands off one another and Taylor and Jourdan couldn't stand one another.

Sadly, this about wrapped up any semblance of a noteworthy career.  He continued to work in the States and Europe until 1992 and still did a fair amount of television.  The only thing truly worth mentioning, however, is his good portrayal as the chief Bond villain in 1983's Octopussy.

Oddly, in some ways, Jourdan was never a great fit in Hollywood.  For all his charm and good looks and that French accent, I never found him to have any discernible sex appeal.  I'm not finding any fault with that, per se, but I suspect it has something to do with why he never truly rose to the top of his profession. 

I really do commend him for not only his 67-year marriage but a Hollywood marriage to boot.  I think I should say... my goodness!  His wife just passed away last year.  Their great happiness was interrupted in 1981 when their 29-year old son and only child committed suicide.

I thank him for the half dozen or so films that I much enjoyed.  Louis Jourdan died at his home in Beverly Hills at age 93.

Easy on the Eyes

1 comment:

  1. From my friend Carlo who is having computer problems:

    Louis Jourdan! No doubts a handsome, elegant and refined man , yet...I don't know, there was nothing in his look that really attracted me.Among the films You mention I think I saw almost all of them and was very disappointed by Bird Of Paradise: Joel Mac Crea was much better. Among al the films you mention the only one that I remember is Three Coins In the Fountain. I know, the film was a happy nothing but it is a proof that the Rome I have in my mind did existed. To day most of her charm is lost on account of grafitis which cover most of historical buildings, dirt in the street and unpleasant people, badly dressed up and yes, ugly.I realize I did not speak of L.Jourdan, b ut actually I did not have much to say about him. Forgive me. Al the best. Carlo