Jean Gabin (1904-1976)
- Albert Prejean, Jenny, France, 1936. Realisateur Julien Duvivier made it clear: "If you film with that debutant, you'll never make La Belle équipe." The first-timer was Marcel Carné and Gabin made four classics with him, including Le quai des brumes, 1938, Le jour se leve, 1939. (Oh yes, and Gabin did make La belle équipe. Of course).
- Charles Boyer, The Garden of Allah, 1936. Ironically, among the guys refused for the Trappist monk in love with Marlene Dietrich was the French movie icon (“a refined edition of Victor MacLaglen,” Kay Brown reported to her boss, producer David Selznick) and very soon, Gabin was tete over valseuses in love with “La Grande.”
- Gabriel Gabrio, Regain, France, 1937. Writer-director Marcel Pagnol asked him. to be Panturle, but Gabin was not free and “Gaby” was.
- Fernandel, Le Schpountz/Heartbeat, France, 1937. Legend insists the playwright-cineaste Marcel Pagnol wrote the comedy for “Fernand” - indeed, to help persuade him accept a smaller role in Regain. Not so, said Pagnol. The idea of Gabin came first.
- Fernand Gravey, Le dernier tournant, France, 1939. First director Jean Renoir, then Marcel Carné tried to make the first screen version of James M Cain's The Postman Never Rings Twice. They both wanted Gabin and Michel Simon. Only Simon survived for Pierre Chenal's version.
- George Brent, The Rains Came, 1939. Fox's Greek chieftain Spyros Skouras never understood why the top French star refused “the best films on our programme.” This one was set in India (and Burton re-made it as The Rains of Ranchipur, 1955).
- Raimu, Untel pere et fils, France, 1940. Charles Spaak wrote the script for Gabin, Françoise Rosay and Pierre Blanchar. Realisateur Julien Duvivier shot it with Raimu, Suzy Prime, Louis Jouvet. Banned in France by Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels, the film first opened in America in ’43 - and two years later at home, after all hostilities ended in ’45.
- Walter Pidgeon, How Green Was My Valley, 1941. The other reject was... the Oscared best film of the year. Just difficult for a Frenchman to be a Welsh preacher in a Welsh mining village.
- Humphrey Bogart, Passage To Marseille, 1944. Jack Warner, the chief Warner brother, threatened to replace Bogie with the French Tracy (reuniting him with previous Paris partner Michèle Morgan) for refusing to squeeze another film inbetween Sahara and Marseille. Even after Casablanca, Bogart was forbidden to refuse scripts!
- Yves Montand, Les portes de la nuit, France, 1946. Montand’s first important role was due to Gabin’s fury when his lover, Marlene Dietrich, was dropped for young Nathalie Nattier. “You want me to shoot with a kid - at my age?” Gabin had signed on June 25, 1945 before Jacques Prévert finished the script (based on his Rendez-vous ballet) and, naturally, suggested “La Grande.” She signed in September. However, December shooting was postponed as Joinville Studio was full until January. Gabin was set for another movie in April. Neither star loved the script. “I’ve no role,” said Gabin, “it’s all for Serge Regianni.” Using her script-approval clause, Marlene walked. Gabin followed, despite union trouble and referee André Malraux trying to postpone his other film until May. On Friday the l3th, Carné phoned Montand... Gabin was right: it was Reggiani’s film! Montand was too young, too inexperienced - and the public hated his song, “Les Feuilles mortes.” Over the years, he made them love him in movies - and adore the song. It became his anthem.
- Marcello Pagliero, Dédée d’Anvers, France, 1948. In their earlier days together, Marlene and Jean Gabin discussed various Paris projects, including Henri La Barthe’s novel that later made Simone a shining star.
- Marcello Pagliero, Les jeux sont faits, France, 1947. Micheline Presle wanted Gabin for love in the afterlife. “Out of the question,” screamed her producers. “OK, I’ll give my my salary to help change your minds.” No way. Gabin, said The Word, was finished. (Until Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi, 1953). The London-born Pagliero debuted as the Resistance leader aided by Anna Magnani in in Rossellini’s Roma, citta aperta (Rome, Open City), 1945. He acted in 14 features and directed 16. Gabin wasn’t in any of them.
- Charles Vanel, Le Salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear, France, 1951. Gabin was not always right. “He refused to play a coward,” said Yves Montand. “Or that’s what he told me. He didn’t think his fans would pay to see him play a coward.” (To say nothing about being a supporting role to Montand!). Vanel won Best Actor at Cannes l953. (Gabin was Best Actor at Venice the following year in L’air de Paris - beating Brando in On The Waterfront!)
- Serge Reggiani, Casque d’Or, France, 1951. First planned by realisateur Julien Duvivier before WWII when Gabin wanted to make it... probably with his drug-addicted lover, Mireille Balin (after their Pépé-le-Moko, 1936, and Gueule d'Amour, 1937). Duvivier preferred Viviane Romance, from Gabin’s La belle équipe classic, 1935 (and, centuries later, Mélodie sous-sol (US: Any Number Can Win), 1962). The project went on to various directors (including, ironically, Yves Allegret, husband of the eventual, titular Simone Signoret, and reached Jacques Becker in 1946. He simply took his time and made one of his two masterpieces.
- Lino Ventura, Les tontons flingueurs, France-Italy-West Germany, 1963.
Michel Audiard scripted his pal Albert Simonin’s book, Grisbi or Not Grisbi, for Gabin - obviously, as this was the third story about Max-le-menteur, played by Gabin in Touchez pas au grisbi and Le cave re rebiffe. But the silver-haired icon refused, still hurting from the way he felt Audiard had slanted their previous thriller, Mélodie en sous-sol, more towards his young co-star Alain Delon. After 16 films together, Gabin broke up with prodigious writer (129 scripts in 36 years). Difficult to believe but the French legend was also jealous at the success of his “exclusive scenarist” with other actors. Officially, the reason was réalisateur Georges Lautner was using his team , not Gabin’s usual technicians. (Always having the same crew - now that’s real star power!). Audiard simply called up his (and Gabin’s) pal, Ventura, who worried about being funny. “Just play it straight and it’ll work.” And it did. An instant cult comedy, it’s treasured lines are as well known in France, as say Casablanca’s elsewhere. “Le Vieux” (The Old Timer) finally made peace with Audiard fours years later and even invited Audiard to direct one of his final films, Le Drapeauy noir flotte sur la marmite, 1971.
- Lino Ventura, Ne nous fachons pas, France, 1966. Ditto, really and realisateur Georges Lautner ran to Ventura - star of his two previous hits.
- Lino Ventura, Le deuxieme souffle, France 1966. Some years before the Jean-Pierre Melville classic, another French director, Denys de La Patêlliere, tried to set it up for Gabin as Gu, the escaped con - and Ventura as Commissaire Blot. Melville also first saw Ventura as the cop (chasing Serge Reggiani), before handing Gu to Lino and the cop to Paul Meurisse.
- Serge Reggiani, La chat et la souris, France, 1975. “I love France,” said Claude Lelouch, “therefore I love Gabin.” And the realisateur made a couple of attempts to work with his idol. But even with his most celebrated partner, Michèle Morgan, as bait, the veteran was not tempted. He died the following year at 72. Lelouch made a tribute to him with Attention bandits, 1987, which opened on the day Gabin died: November 15, 1976.
- Alberto Sordi, Le temoin, France-Italy, 1978. What? Sordi? This is the most staggering replacement for the gigantic Gabin... “Le Vieux” was keen on his 99th project in 48 years, even suggesting certain changes - could he be a painter rather than a piano teacher? Three days later, he was dead. Actor-turned-one-man-Nouvelle-Vague Jean-Pierre Mocky’s Italian partner suggested Sordi. Mocky claimed Fellini convinced the Italian comic to accept the offer. Even then, Sordi brought his own scenarist and had to be tactfully restrained by co-star Philippe Noiret from directing the film, himself! Is that why Bette Davis once called him: Alberto Sordid?
- James Woods, Once Upon A Time In America, US-France, 1983. Sergio Leone dreamt of having his Jewish hoods played in old-age by James Cagney and Sergio’s favourite actor, Gabin... And the French icon was keen, reported the maestro, “as long as he didn’t have to fly. He’d go by boat.” “Planes,” explained Gabin, “I don’t like, Boats, I love. We’ll go together and talk about Max.” The excellent plan was dropped when James Woods replaced Gérard Depardieu as the no longer French Max.
- William Hurt, La Peste/The Plague, France-Argentina-Britain, 1991. First film of the Albert Camus novel was announced by director Marcel Cravennne at the second Cannes festival in 1947 - for Gabin and Vivien Leigh.