- Pierre Vaneck, Pardonnez-nous nosoffenses, France, 1956. No luck in his first movie auditions, including actor-director Robert Hossein’s second film. “If he saw the film today, he would thank me… I don’t remember him, but I chose the families for height, faces, hair-colour and, perhaps, Jean-Paul didn’t fit in - and he’s told that story a thousand times to give me complexes.” “Happily,” laughed Belmondo, “the film was called Forgive Us Our Offenses. I do!” The film was an enormous flop and Hossein felt washed up, when producer Raoul Levy dropped him and moved on from him and his actress wife, Maina Vlady, to Roger Vadim and and his actress wife, Brigitte Bardot… Bebel and Hossein joked about it for years, later co-starred in La Casse and Le profesional and, bien sur, it was Hossein (who also filmed with Vadim-BB) who orchestrated and directed Bebel’s theatrical comeback in the 80s: Kean and Cyrano de Bergerac.
- Georges Poulouly, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (UK: Lift to the Scaffold; US: Frantic),France, 1957. For the punk killer in his first feature, new French realisateur Louis Malle looked over the similarly new young turks - Bebel, Richard Bohringer, Sami Frey, Larent Terzieff. However, when shooting started on September 23, it was with the ex-child star of René Clément’s 1951 classic, Jeux interdits/Forbidden Games. Like having Shirley Temple play Lizzie Borden. (Belmondo starred in Malle’s Le voleur, 1966).
- Laurent Terzieff, Les tricheurs, France, 1958. Bebel was a huge hit on stage in Oscar when veteran Marcel Carné announced him for the lead. Then, he saw Terzieff (also rejected for the Hossein film). And decided Belmondo was too “peuple” for a philosophical student. He remained in the gang although the Carné style - “heavily structured within the technical constraints of the period” - nearly put him off cinema. Yet the film helped start lanouvelle vague… Ironic, considering that with his first short - some 29 years earlier! - Carné had been called by critic Jean Mitry, “a kind of new wave.”
- Jacques Charrier, Les drageurs, (US: The Chasers),France, 1958. Trying his hand at directing for the first time, actor Jean-Pierre Mocky wanted his fellow drama student drama-school pal to play the lead in his look at sexuality in the late 1950s.It was another pal, Gérard Hoffman, who invented the verb for, well, skirt-chasing. Charrier was better known (if only as Brigitte Bardot’s first husband), but Belmondo was the nation’s biggest star over the next three decades.
- Michel Constantin, Le trou, France, 1960. When suggested as one of five prisoners tunneling out of La Santé prison, realisateur Jacques Becker said: "Non! Not him. I saw his short, Charlotte et son jules. Physically, fine. Voice, impossible." (In the short, he had been dubbed by his director - a certain Jean-Luc Godard). Becker's son, Jean, directed Belmondo in another José Giovanni prison drama, Un Nommée La Rocca, 1961. Bebel loved it so much, he re-made it as La Scoumoune, with Giovanni directing, in 1972.
- Pierre Mondy, Boulevard, France, 1960. His agent, Blanche Montel, wanted him to work with veteran Julien Duvivier. But that would have meant missing “what Blanche said would be the biggest error of my life.” A bout de souffle. Or, Breathless. Agents!
- Jacques Riberolle, L'eau a la bouche, 1960. La nouvelle vague was gaining speed. Auteur Jacques Doniol-Valcroze chose him for his wife, Françoise Brion's lover. She readily agreed. The producers did not. Pug-ugly! “Imagine Belmondo taking a woman in his arms!” The film was shot at the same time as Jean-Luc Godard's A bout de souffle, with the two critics-turned-realisateurs phoning each other every night to report on their new adventures.
- Sami Frey, La vérité/The Truth, France, 1960.
Asked merely to kiss Bardot in a test, Belmondo insisted on reading the young musician's dialogue. Veteran director Henri-Georges Clouzot called him back for another audition a few hours before he was due to test for Peter Brook's Moderato cantabile - so Clouzot locked the door and kept talking and Belmondo only escaped by threatening to jump out the window. “This was the only time
I saw Brigitte in my movie career... even though we were suggested for other films.”The French producers' dream team - BB and Bebel. Brigitte Bardot and Jean-Paul Belmondo... Never happened. There had several offers - Le repos du guerrier, La Chamade, La Sirene du Mississippi, L'ours et la poupée, Cesar et Rosalie. And in 1960, they even tested as the passionate and doomed lovers in her favourite film, La verité/The Truth. Passion was her business and (at the time) doom was his. Sami Frey got the film - and the girl! Photo: courtesy Daniel Bouteiller/Telé Ciné Documentation]
- Gérard Barray, Les Trois mousquetaires/The Three Musketeers, France, 1961. An old-hat project in the midst of the New Wave revolution - offered due to his spirited TV D'Artagnan over Christmas 1959. This was to be helmer Philippe de Broca's far richer Ariane production - with Charles Aznavour, Alain Delon, Sophia Loren. Bernard (Angelique) Borderie had the same project and Ariane would not deal... so De Broca turned Belmondo into Cartouche, even livelier than D'Artagnan.
- Alain Delon, L'Eclisse, Italy, 1962. Superstar swop. Alain Delon backed out of L'Ainé des Ferchaux, just as Belmondo gave up on Michelangelo Antonioni. Delon won!.
- Robert Hossein, Le repos du guerrier/Warrior's Rest, France, 1962. Realisateur and Bardot-creator Roger Vadim was intrigued by the dream couple that Henri-Georges Clouzot never used for La verité - BB and Bebel! By now, they were the top French stars. Shy of screen sex, Bebel did not fancy the role. "Bardot is not, perhaps, a great actress but she's a grande personage. Difficult to find a film to suit us." They never did.
- Jean-Claude Brialy, Château en Suède, France-Italy, 1963. Withdrew after first rehearsals to join Jeanne Moreau in Moderato cantabile for director Peter Brooke. Four years previously, Belmondo had replaced Brialy in Claude Chabrol’s A Double tour/Web of Passion.
- Antonio Sabata, Grand Prix, 1966. Hollywood started getting interested and offered him a Howard Hawks project and John Frankenheimer’s car racing drama. Non, merci! His son, Paul, later became a Formula 1 racing driver.
Oskar Werner, Fahrenheit 451, 1966.
Two years after producer Raoul Levy first told him the Ray Bradbury story, the French nouvelle vague icon François Truffaut secured the rights in July 1962 - and talked to Belmondo. He was booked throughout ’63. His price was too steep - “nothing less than 60m Francs.” He made a further 24 more films before finally joining forces with Truffaut in La Sirene du Mississippi, 1969. Producer Lewis Allen suggested Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, Montgomey Clift or Sterling Hayden. Producer Sam Spiegel tried muscling in by promising Robert Redford (and the Burtons!). Getting desperate, Truffaut made the mistake of his life by giving the fireman to Werner (originally booked for the fire chief). Any of the others asleep would have been better! The Austrian’s head had been turned by Hollywood since his and Truffaut’s Jules et Jim triumph. Werner argued constantly over (his dull) interpretation, refused one “dangerous” scene (as if a fireman would not have to deal with fire) and even cut his hair to ruin continuity. If not for the six years of planning, Truffaut would have walked. Instead, he simply truncated Werner’s later scenes - and used a double, John Ketteringham, in most of them!
- Paul Meurisse, Le Deuxième Souffle, France, 1966. Too busy (mainly with Ursula Andress since Les Tribulations d'un chinois en chine, 1965). “No regrets because Meurisse was absolument formidable” in director Jean-Pierre Melville’s thriller. And no regrets about leaving Melville to Alain Delon. Belmondo found the director interesting, cultivated, charming “but odious on the set, mainly with the technicians, creating a terrible ambience.”
- Alain Delon, Lost Command, 1966. Anthony Quinn as Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Raspeguy proved this was the Hollywood version of the French in Indochina. So a young French was required. Belmondo was not interested in acting in English. Delon was - and he had served in what soon became better known as... Vietnam.
- Nino Manfredi, Le tresor de Sam Gennaro, Italy, 1966. As usual, his commitments clashed - ie world travels with Ursula Andress. By now, Life magazine’s cover was calling him: “The new style movie hero: sexy, crazy and cool.”
- Jean-Claude Brialy, Lamiel, France, 1967. Nearly made by cineaste Claude Chabrol in 1961 to keep Belmondo and Sophia Loren together, switching them to Stendahl from Dumas and the abandoned Musketeers. Bebel had replaced a suddenly spotty Brialy in Chabrol's A double tour, 1959.
- Malka Ribowski, L'une et l'autre, France, 1967. He refused to work with director Rene Allio....
- Philippe Noiret, L'une et l'autre, France, 1967. ... no matter which role was offered.
- Charles Bronson, C'era una volta il west/Once Upon A Time in the West, Italy-US, 1968. Now this is a turn up for the books… Quelle surprise! Having never mentioned it before (or it would have already been here!), suddenly in a 2014 Studio magazine interview, Belmondo claimed that Sergio Leone had asked him to play Harmonica… (presumably after being rejected by James Coburn and Clint Eastwood). Bebel passed because, or so he swore, his lady at the time advised him against it! (Et oui, he added). It would never have worked. Imagine all that build-up at the railroad station. The train steams in. No one seems to get off. Train pulls out and... voila! But that's bloody Bebel! What’s he doing in a Western? LOL all around, no?
- Steve McQueen, The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968. No one - Canadian director Norman Jewison, lawyer-writer Alan Trustman, not even United Artists - wanted McQueen in a suit. Jewison designed it for Belmondo, Sean Connery or Rock Hudson.
- Roger Van Hool, La Chamade, France, 1968. Producers were still trying for BB-Bebel. They rejected the Françoise Sagan novel. Everyone did. (With reason). For six years.
- Jean-Louis Trintignant, L’Américain,, France, 1969. “Give me three days to think about it,” said Belmondo during La Sirene du Mississippi. When Bebel refused Bozzu… the actor-turned first-time director, Marcel Bozzuffi, turned to his pal and Z co-star, to take on the French guy back home in Rouen after a decade in the US. Claude Lelouch produced - and directed Bozzu’s scenes. Result: Flop. Despite a cast including Simone Signoret, Francoise Fabian (Mrs Bozzu, from Ma nuit chez Maude with JLT) and three other Z guys: Jean Bouise, Bernard Fresson, Jacques Perrin.
- Gian Maria Volonte, Le Cercle Rouge, France, 1970. Auteur Jean-Pierre Melville made cult films with both Belmondo and Delon and would have been first to co-star them - if Bebel had liked Melville and “if Delon hadn’t wanted to do Borsalino with Belmondo.” Next: rock star Johnny Hallyday. Becoming a co-production with Italy meant... Melville being shocked to find that Volonte, a great Italian stage actor, knew next to nothing about screen acting.
- Jean-Pierre Cassel, L'ours et la poupée, France, 1970. Ten years on and BB-Bebel was thwarted yet again. She rejected his Sirene du Mississippi, he was not keen on this comedy. Also, a chance meeting with Alain Delon revealed that director Michel Deville had sent his script to them both, saying:“I wrote it for you”! Deville had first wanted Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo. She agreed, having just made La Sirene du Mississippi with him. He disagreed having just made La Sirene du Mississippi with her. And so, Cassel, who had lost D’Artagnan to Belmondo in the 1959 TV production, was finally rewarded for bringing Une ravissante idiote to BB’s attention in 1963. (Well, she liked it!). This one did better. Everywhere but France where critics moaned they weren’t Kate Hepburn/Cary Grant - while Italian producers kept chasing them for more of the same.
- Michel Piccoli, La poudre d'escampette, France, 1971. After Cartouche, L'Homme de Rio, Les Tribulations d'un chinois en chine, Belmondo found a Philippe De Broca script not up to snuff. “Because,” explained the director, “the hero died. Ah, la valse des acteurs!”
- Bernard Fresson, Macedoine, France, 1971. Approached by Michèle Mercier and her producer husband about what was then La femme sandwich. “Ma chere, I adore you but your little direct rI hate already. Useless to go any further.” Director Jacques Scandelari’s short career of seven films in a dozen years, was over by 1978.
- Georges Descrières, Arsène Lupin, France-Belgium-Canada-Italy-Netherlands-Switzerland-West Germany, TV, 1971-1974. Chief of the new Young Turks of la nouvelle vague had no need - or time - for television. But the gentleman thief (very much a French cousin of the British Raffles created six years earlier in 1899) made a Euro-superstar out of the Comédie-Française actor. Hence, despite his panoply of stage roles, the headlines of his 2013 obituaries simply cited Lupin.
- Sami Frey, Cesar et Rosalie, 1972. Impressed by the Ventura-Belmondo chemistry in his third film, Classe tous risques, 1960, realisateur Claude Sautet immediately wanted them for the two guys in love with Bardot’s Rosalie. Then, Classe flopped and his (semi-autobiographical) script was viewed as too close to Jules et Jim in story and (for awhile) in period. Bardot quit, Deneuve arrived and Belmondo was too big a star to be third banana. Sautet improved it - to heady, classic status - by switching to Yves Montand and Frey opposite Romy Schneider.
- Marlon Brando, Ultimo tango à Pariji/Last Tango In Paris, France-Italy, 1972.
Losing his ideal couple, Conformistes Jean-Louis Trintignant and Dominique Sanda (pregnant by Jean-Louis’ brother-in-law, Christian Marquand), Italian maestro Bernardo Bertolucci started shopping around and, to his surprise, or ignorance, ran headlong into Belmondo's notorious pudeur about sex scenes. “I don’t do porno!” retorted Bebel. He was only the great lover (Laura Antonelli soon replacing Ursula Andress) off-screen. OK then, how about Alain Delon? “Sure but I have to produce it!” Bye-bye, Delon! “Hi Marlon, it’s Bernardo…”
- Steve McQueen, Papillon, 1973. When Robert Dorffmann asked him to film Henri Charriere’s best-seller, director Richard Brooks asked for Alain Delon and Belmondo. “But that would cost $4m,” moaned the shocked producer. Or, then again half, what McQueen and Hoffman cost him.
- Jacques Brel, La bande à Bonnot (Bonnot’s Gang),France-Italy, 1974. There was early trouble in Jean-Luc Godard’s marriage to Anna Karina, 1961-1967, and he scrambled around various projects to keep themselves together - after her affairs with Jacques Perrin and Maurice Ronet, plus a suicide attempt. When dropping Eva, the ever bilious JLG became keen on another Hakim brothers’ project - to co-star Karina and Belmondo from 1960’s Une femme est une femme. But that re-coupling didn’t encore until Pierrot le fou, 1965, as Bebel was committed to Louis Malle’s Le voleur, 1966.
- Yves Montand, Le sauvage, France-Italy, 1975. When auteur Jean-Paul Rappeneau arrived for his lunch date with Belmondo, the French superstar had brought his lover with him. Nothing was said, nor had to be. The meaning was obvious. Bebel expected Laura Antonelli to be his co-star. (As in Rappenau’s Les Mariés de l’an II, 1970, and Claude Chabrol’s Docteur Popaul, 1972). Rappeneau was more keen on Bardot - or Deneuve, who finally made the film with Yves Montand. Not keen on playing second fiddle to Deneuve, Montand insisted on having a Big Finish scene, “taking revenge on The System.” This was shot, expensively, in New York and then axed for sticking out like a sore Costa-Gavras thumb.
- Jean Rochefort, Calmos, France, 1976. Abrasive scenarist-director Bertrand Blier wrote his very-black sex-comedy, for Belmondo and Jean Yanne. Bebel always avoided Blier - until Les Acteurs, a quarter of a century later! When, of course, they got on like “partners in crime!” Too late. Both were, sadly, in decline.
- Alain Delon, Monsieur Klein, France, 1976. Realisateur Costa-Gavras offered the drama of the man taken for a Jew in Occupied Paris at exactly the wrong moment - right after the total flop of Stavisky, 1974, sent Belmondo back to the cover of a flood of action-man zeroxes. Delon always took more chances with his image (and paid for it with flops). His version, for the Brechtian director Joseph Losey, won the Best Film César award.
- Philippe Noiret, L'African, France, 1983. Philippe De Broca, a favourite and favoured Belmondo director, thought a little of Bebel when writing his script, but the "too powerful" superstar turned him down because the heroine's role was as important as his. “And he found his character too old!” Bebel was 49; Noiret, 51.
Nicolas Silberg, Mesrine, France, 1983.
Not even superstars get their own way... It was easy to beat Delon to the autobiography of the French Public Enemy #1, Jacques Mesrine. In 1978 Belmondo paid 500,000 Francs to the publisher of L'Instinct de mort, who also happened to be his friend and agent, Gérard Lebovici (whose 1984 murder remains unsolved). Bebel was fascinated by the self-confessed killer who came from a good family, won heroism medals in the Algerian war and boasted “I’ve never stolen from the poor, never raped, attacked old people or exploited women.” After 12 (of 14) massive hits by the prodigious French dialoguist-turned-auteur Michel Audiard (129 scripts in 36 years), Bebel asked him to help with the adaptation. When star and criminal met in jail (20 years for bank robbery, armed assault), the gangster approved the scenario . Then, he made a point of telling the star: “Ne mettez pas le mot fin, ce n’est pas fini - “Don’t use: Fin. It’s not over yet!” And a few days later, he broke out of Le Santé prison (the first convict to scale the walls of the jail in 112 years). Not so easy to make the film... Various Paris helmers (Yves Boisset, Costa-Gavras, Philippe Labro, Roman Polanski) were not tempted. Like Vincent Cassel 25 years later, they had no wish to make Mesrine trop sympathetic. The ever bilious Jean-Luc Godard was keen - he had already named his Pierrot le fou, 1965, after a public enemy #1 of the 40s, Pierre Loutrel. JLG summoned his Pierrot (Belmondp) to a meeting at the Artmedia agency office in May 1979. Godard saw the killer - for killer, he was - as a rebel mix of Robin Hood and Cartouche (a previous Belmondo role). “He killed lots of people,” he mentioned to the actor. ”I’d love to do the same but I don’t have the courage.” Nor, in the end, did Bebel. Or not after Godard outlined his version. After shelling out half-a-millionFrancs for the rights,Godard expected Belmondo to simply portray an actor wanting to play Mesrine - withGodard playing his metteur-en-scene. (Or, added the actor, the hero!) The last straw was his title: Frere Jacques. “M Godard was scared of the subject,” realised Belmondo. “For me, the Godard of the 60s is dead.” Unfortunately, he was the only one to see this (patently obvious) fact... Nicholas Silberg played the lead in André Gènovés’ 1983 thriller, Mesrine, without any rights to the man’s book… and Godard used Mesrine’s son, Bruno, in his Eloge de l’amour, 2000.
- Gérard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac, France, 1990. When finishing L'Incorrigible in 1975, director Philippe de Broca announced his “oldest dream film.” Belmondo was interested but against wearing a false nose and “he didn’t want to play a man starting to grow old.” Yves Montand and Philippe Noiret also passed. De Broca threw in the towel - picked jup by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, who wrote L’homme de Rio for Belmondo, Le Sauvage for Montand and directed Noiret in La vie de château. He didn’t call on any of them, choosing the majestic Depardieu... who had shared with Belmondo what Truffaut called a symbolic scene in Stavisky - "Two generations in the cinema, face to face." Then, nose to nose. As Depardieu shot his masterpiece while Belmondo, then 57, continued his Paris stage comeback... as Cyrano!
- Alain Delon, Nouvelle vaugue, Switzerland-France, 1989. When searching in 1964 for a project to help save his marriage to Anna Karina, Jean-Luc Godard suggested a story of an actress caught between two men - played by the same man (Belmondo). Nothing came of it. In 1987, Godard discussed it with Marcello Mastroianni - who passed on what eventually became Nouvelle vague with Alain Delon, thoroughly bemused on and off-screen, struggling with having Godard’s last minute dialogue on cue-cards.
- Gérard Derpardieu, Uranus, France,1990. Blanc, Desarthe, Galabru, Luchini, Marielle, Noiret, Prevost… The top Paris producteur-realisateur Claude Berri assembled a treasure-trove of a cast for novelist Marcel Aymé’s rich characters. Depardieu was first to say yes - and then non, fearing being confused with the drunkard Leopold. Berrri called on Bebel to save the day. He did not even reply. Fortunately, Depardieu changed his mind - and, as per usual, stole the entire proceedings.
- Warren Beatty, Bugsy, 1991. Auteur Jean-Luc Godard became interested in the Bugsy Siegel story in 1978. Belmondo felt the storyline was not solid enough - even with Vittorio Gassman, Diazne Keaton and Charlotte Rampling aboard.
- Alain Delon, Le lion, TV, France, 2003. When Belmondo split from director Serge Moati’s new version of the Joseph Kessel novel (starring William Holden in 1961), Delon jumped - with his 13-year-old daughter, Anouchka, as co-star - into Jose Pinheiro’s version.