Lino Ventura (1919-1987)
- Franco Fabrizzi, Un temoin dans la ville, France-Italy, 1959. Auteur Edouard Molinaro offered the killer or the taxi-driver hero. “I can't be a cold-blooded killer, lunatic, sadist or child-slayer,” said Lino, among the few to make heroes more memorable than villains.
- Robert Hossein, Le Meurtrier, France, 1963. Realisateur Claude Autant-Lara suggested the lead role in his version of the Patricia Highsmith's The Blunderer. “A fabulous story,” said Lino, “hiding on a bus as the unbreakable alibi for a guy. You can travel across the USA coast to coast on a bus. The very length of the trip was the alibi. In France, a bus trip from Limoges to Pezenas can't offer the same kind of alibi. They ignored this... and they fell flat on their faces.”
- Jean-Paul Belmondo, 100 000 dollars au soleil (Green in the Sun), France-Italy, 1963. Ventura had enjoyed working with réalisateur Henri Verneuil on Les lions sons laches (US: The Lions Are Loose), 1960, and loved his new project. Sole question was which tough guy? Rocco hijacking a truck packed with the title or the guy chasing him, Marek, aka Plouc. Ventura voted for Marco and had a great John Fordian fight with Rocco Belmondo. Ventura later co-starred with Alain Delon and Jean Gabin in Verneuill’s similarly gripping Le clan des Siciliens (US: The Sicilian Gang), 1969.
- Paul Meurisse, Le deuxieme souffle, France, 1966. Some years before the Jean-Pierre Melville classic, another director, Denys de La Patelliere, planned it with Gabin as Gu, the escaped con - and Ventura as Commissaire Blot. Melville also first saw Lino as the cop, before making him Gu - and the cop became Paul Meurisse.
- Michel Piccoli, Les choses de la vie, France, 1969. “Let me think about it with ma petite tete de Parmesan...”
- Bourvil, Le cercle rouge, France, 1970. Despite the fact that Lino and Jean-Pierre Melville only talked to each other via their assistants during the realisateur’s previous classic, L'armée des ombres (The Army of Shadows), 1969, Ventura had been offered Comissaire Mattei. Melville being such animpeccable polar director meant that one great cast (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Paul Meurisse and Lino) could finish up as another classic group: Bourvil, Delon, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte. The great heist tale was concoctedby Meville in 1950 and shelved after the heists of The Asphalt Jungle, 1950, and Rififi, 1955. Sadly, this proved to be the penuiltimate film for Bourvil (ditto for Melville); he was billed as André Bourvil for the first and last time in his 62 movies.
- Yves Montand, César et Rosalie, 1972. Impressed by the Ventura-Belmondo chemistry in his third film, Classe tous risques, 1960, Claude Sautet wanted them for his (semi-autobiographical) tale of the two guys in love with the same woman (due to be Brigitte Bardot). Until Classe flopped - and the next Ventura-Sautet, L'arme a gauche, 1965, was an even bigger disaster. That convinced Sautet to (stupidly) steer clear of Ventura forever more... although Lino had hits with everyone else. Vittiorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni were suggested before Montand made César his very own.
- Jean-Louis Trintignant, Un homme est mort (US: The Outside Man), France-Italy-US, 1972. Producer Jacques Barr, realisateur Jacques Deray and scenarist Jean-Claude Carrier, were staying in Greta Garbo’s old mansion, swiftly writing a thriller when a Henry Fonda project was rejected.Next, so was Ventura for the hitman on the run in LA after killing a gang boss (in Cubby Broccoli’s mansion),because the US backers didn’t know him. They knew Unhomme est un femme and allowed Jean-Lou to play with Angie Dickinson and Ann-Margret!
- Marcel Bozzuffi, Chino, 1973. More keen on Le silencieux, debut feature of an assistant director pal from many of his films, Claude Pinoteau. Lino had been in a previous Bronson vehicle, The Valachi Papers, 1972. “He introduced himself as the French Charles Bronson - true. He's a far better actor than I am.”
- Michel Bouquet, Deux hommes dans la ville (US: Two Men In Town), France-Italy, 1973. Auteur Jose Giovanni dips into his troubled past (again) via ex-con Alain Delon being rehabilitated by Jean Gabin and hassled by Michel Bouquet’s old and unforgiving cop. Ventura passed. Nothing wrong with his “educator” role but he felt the flic was totally implausible. Hah! Ventura was soon enough in trouble with just such a cop in Les misérables, 1982. Bet no one told Victor Hugo that Inspecteur Javert was “not credible.” (Giovanni, incidentally, had been reprieved from Death Row).
- Pierre Mondy, La Telephone Rose, France, 1975. Ever since L'Emmerdeur, 1973, French comedy writer Francis Veber nearly always went first to Lino, who took about four seconds to realise every new Veber script was a warmed-over L'Emmerdeur.
- Max von Sydow, Three Days of the Condor, 1975. "If I refused films, it's because the scripts were not good - for me.”
- Philippe Noiret, Le vieux fusil, France, 1975. When Yves Montand refused, realisateur Robert Enrico contacted Ventura - and, this time, Noiret made it his own. “A true actor,” explained Lino, “is supposed to be able to play just any part, including the part contrasting most with himself - and make it believable. If I try to do that, I am lousily out of tune. My range as an actor is limited.”
- Jean-Paul Belmondo, L’Incorrigible, France, 1975. Despite previous successes with Belmondo, director Philippe de Broca planned this one for Lino. Scenarist Michel Audiard told him:“At the start, you’re a dame pipi [ female lavatory attendant].” Ventura exploded:“Ventura as a dame pipi! You joking or what?” And he got up and left the café.
- Yves Montand, Le sauvage, France, 1975. Auteur Jean-Paul Rappeanu got the brush-off from Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo. As everyone knew, Ventura was not at ease with love stories while Montand could play anythjing. He loved the title but not playing second fiddle to Catherine 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.
- Bruno Cremer, Sorcerer, 1976. Ventura quit when director William Friedkin lost Steve McQueen, the script’s greatest fan - by not shooting inside the US. “One of the biggest mistakes I ever made.... There were other actors I had who would’ve done it with Steve, like Lino Ventura and Marcello Mastroianni. That’s the cast I had if I could’ve gotten Steve. I said: ‘I don’t need stars; I’ll just make it with four good actors.’ And I did.” Another of his major mistakes. Of course, trying to re-make Le salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear, 1953, was the biggest error or ’em all. Ventura said he told Friedkind: “It’s shit! And anyway, who are you going to scare today with nitroglycerine?”
- Christian Marquand, Apocalypse Now, 1976.
- François Truffaut, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1976. After Steven Spielberg’s offerwas rejectedby five top French stars (Yves Montand, Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Lino), Truffaut warned him that he’d be a neutral actor, playing himself. “But many times on the set, he managed to get me to go beyond myself.” It was the “tastiest” casting said co-producer Julia Phillips - not that she enjoyed working with him. Not a jot. “I could detect the aura of a private dancer in Truffaut.”
- Gérard Depardieu, La Chevre, France, 1981. Francis Veber kept trying to win him back. WithL'EmmerdeurII, III, X...!
- Yves Montand, Le Choix des armes,France, 1981. Realisateur Alain Corneau asked but Ventura was tired of gangsters, even well-off retired ones... wed to Catherine Deneuve.
- Roger Hanin, La Rumba, 1987. “He’s a much better actor than I am,” said Hanin about offering Lino the lead role in his latest outing as director. Ventura turned itdown but asked what else he could do for his old pal- andchose a little cameo as a Godfather for what proved his final film.