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Happy Birthday Monsieur Delon!!

by Tony Nash

(Any and all opinions are of the author alone)

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Today the iconic French superstar Alain Delon celebrates his 85th birthday. While not very well known in the States, this legend of World Cinema has fans all throughout Europe and parts of Asia, his films still very popular. What makes Delon reaching his 85th year of life a milestone and something to celebrate is the tough road and difficulties this man had to endure before he found the career that would steer him on the right path. Born to parents already at the end of their marriage, Delon spent the majority of his childhood traveling between the homes of his parents and their respective new partners. Unable to stand his parents’, particularly his mother’s, going from lover to lover, Delon decided he wanted to go to America, particularly Chicago, after spending time with friends at the cinema, and resolved to stow away on a ship bound for the States. This plan got derailed when his mother reported him as a runaway and a cop had pinched him for trespassing and vagrancy even before he got to the docks.

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When it looked like he was on track to good behavior working at his stepfather’s butcher shop, Delon decided to join the Navy to finally be free of what he saw as too dysfunctional a family. The Navy proved no better for him as his attitude and smart-alack behavior constantly landed him in the brig with a shaved head and was equally constantly seasick. Transferring to a paratrooper’s division, Delon saw action in Indo-China, the first of series of rebellions in French held colonies  After his service was completed, Delon worked a series of odd-jobs until he was asked to be an escort for actress Brigitte Auber for a film festival. Several producers took interest in Delon’s looks, which were considered similar to the recently deceased James Dean, and began working in films. Two pivotal roles that made Delon a star almost overnight were Rocco Parondi in Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) for Luchino Visconti and Tom Ripley in Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) for Rene Clement, the former making him a romantic leading man, and the latter making him keen for character and genre parts.

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Visconti and Clement again certified Delon as a bankable name with the films Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) and Les Felines (The Cats/Joy House), leading to film offers from the US. A supporting role in The Yellow Rolls Royce and the lead in Once a Thief were favorably seen by both critics and audiences, and showcased Delon’s charms and grit well. While Delon had a good command of the English language and was handsome, his accent, mannerisms, and personality just didn’t seem to click with US audiences and any chances for a favorable career in America were put on hold. Upon his return to France Delon met with Jean-Pierre Melville who offered him the lead role in his cynical Noir Thriller Le Samourai (The Samurai/The Godson), where Delon was able to reinvent himself as a hardboiled, cold-blooded gangster type, completely shedding his previous matinee/romantic idol image, the the ladies couldn’t help but still fall in love with him even when he showed no feeling or emotion.

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The seventies saw Delon enjoying success in gangster and cop roles, beginning the brooding mystic romantic engima he’d become most famous for. This success led to Hollywood offering another opportunity to Delon to become a name in the US. Roles in Scorpio and The Concord-Airport 79 were moderate successes and again audiences were intrigued by Delon’s mysteriousness and gaze, but as he was getting into his 40’s, selling him as a romantic figure was too far-gone, and instead of going through more disappointments and lack of roles, Delon decided to stick primarily to films in Europe. By the 80’s, he decided to move to character and supporting roles, though he would occasionally still get tough guy roles to show he hadn’t lost any steam. By the 1990’s, he was acting only occasionally and currently lives in semi-retirement, but still makes TV appearances to talk about his career.

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In a pure case of irony, the advent of DVD and Blu Ray allowed the children and grandchildren of the US audiences Delon couldn’t reach in his heyday to view and come to really enjoy and admire his work as an actor, allowing him a whole generation of fans worldwide. While not as mainstream as one thinks he should be, enough fans of World Cinema and the Art House scene allow him to garnish a whole new world to tell his story to.

(Alain Delon is, along with Tomas Milian, one of my all time favorite Euro actors and someone whom I think everyone should watch at least one film of. Even though he’s world weary now to an extant, he still likes talking about his career to fans new and old, and, I think, is happy he can still make impressions upon viewers. I highly recommend seeking out any of his films as the majority of them are available on Blu Ray and DVD.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Alain Delon

Wikipedia/Alain Delon



Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight, Film: Special Topics

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