Bernard Blier (1916-1989)
- Carette, La Bête humaine (UK: Judas Was a Woman),France, 1938. “Standnext to Gabin,” said the legendary Jean Renoir in his Champs-Elysees office. “Hmm, you look young... No matter.” And so Blier became Jean Gabin’s mechanic, shot publicity photos and started learning to drive a train and then… “I’m sorry, I was right the first time, you are too young.” Renoir called him back after having hassles with Julien Carette, but Blier was shooting Place de la Concorde and his producer would not release him. No matter, Blier went onto make seven films with Gabin.
- Blavette, Le Dernier Tournant, France,1939. Blier (“Je suis le plus grand cocu de l’histoire du cinéma francais”) was shooting this first of the four screen versions of James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice inNice - and Le jour se leve in Paris. Until bad weather delayed the Midi shooting so much, he stayed in the (far) better film. The two actorslater shared a special scene in Quai des Orfevres, 1947.
- François Perier, Orphée, France, 1950. Alas, he was unavailable to be Heurtebise, Death’s chauffeur and guardian spirit, in the Greek myth a reworked b ythe one-man media explosion: actor, designer (of sets and credit titles), director, narrator, novelist, painter, playwright, poet and scenarist Jean Maurice Eugène Cocteau. Blier and Perier were friends since drama studies at the Conservatoire de Paris.
- Pierre Brasseur, Maître après Dieu, France, 1951. Unavailable for the Jan de Hartog script about Captain Joris Kniper whobelievesthat he is the"skipper next to God” - as in the US title.
- Charles Boyer, La fortuna di essere donna (US: What A Woman), Italy-France, 1956. Damn! Too busy toplay with - indeed, chase -Sophia Loren... inher third film with Marcello Mastroianni.
- Bourvil, La traversée de Paris, France-Italy, 1956. It was a shock for the French to learn that their beloved classic - about the black market during the German Occupation - was originally aimed by realisateur Claude Autant-Lara at Yves Montand and Blier, rather than Jean Gabin and Bourvil. Poor Blier was dropped when Bourvil became available - although the author Marcel Aymé was totally against him after “ruining” the film of another of his books, Le passe-muraille, in 1950. The director insisted upon wanted Bourvil and Jean Gabin and no one else. And like his politics, Autant-Lara was extremely right. Even if Louis de Funès stole the show. “He was incredible. He took a tiny role and made it huge!” From hereon, “Fufu” was no longer “serving the soup” to the stars but above the title…
- François Périer, Le notti di Cabiria (UK: Cabiria; US: Nights of Cabiria), Italy-France, 1957. As big a favourite in “Transaplin cinema” as at home, Blier won an Italian Oscar, but never a French one until a career award just weeks before his death. He worked with Comencini, Lizzani, Monicelli, Risi, Scola, Visconti. Yet he refused... Fellini! And so, the latest guy to betray the whore, Cabiria, went toBlier’s old friend from (different) drama classes. Tough to reject a masterpiece. The result was tougher. “Fellini never called on me again.”
- Serge Reggiani, Tutti a casa (US: Everybody Go Home), Italy-France, 1960. Unavailable when maestro Luigi Comencini called Blier after his success in La grande guerra, 1959,first of seven films forhis favourite Italian film-maker, Mario Monicelli.
- Gerhard Bienert,Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, East Germany, 1961. The French tried to save the utter mess that was the filming of Bertold Brecht’s play. The plan began in 1949. No script was ready until ’62, when Anna Magnani was an inevitable choice for the hooker Yvette (even though Yvette was French). Except both Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe de Santis refused to party. Enter a French co-production deal with the Dédée dAnvers and Meneges couple, Blier and Simone Signoret ,as Feldkoch and Yvette, for German director Wolfgang Staudte. He lost control and fled after 12 days of German diva Helene Weigel (the original stage Mutter) refusing to be on-set if she wasn’t in the shot. She, finally filmed her most famous role in ’61. Blier didn’t care, “There’s nothing that pisses me off more than Brecht!”
- Louis de Funès, Carambolages, France, 1963. Prodigous dialoguist-turned-auteur Michel Audiard (129 scripts in 36 years) suggested Blier as the disagreeable travel agency boss. He was engaged elsewhere The film’s star, Jean-Claude Brialy, suggested “Fufu,” the stutter, splutter, mutter, nutter comic who ate scenery as if it were ratatouille. Gaumont got him although no one was keen. His films were still flopping. (de Funès always had the bad fortune to see his farces open opposite such hits as Tati’s Mon Oncle, Disney’s Snow White, Belmondo’s L’Homme de Rio, Delon’s Tulipe Noir). Director Marcel Bluwal admitted pushing hard for Michel Serrault instead. Three years later, Gaumont signed de Funès for La Grande Vadrouille - 17m people saw it, making it #1 at the French box-office until Titanic struck the iceberg 30 years later!
- Orson Welles, La fabuleuse aventure der Marco Polo, (US: Marco The Magnificent), Italy-France-Yugoslavia-Afghanistan-Egypt, 1965. As Akerman, Marco's Tutor,Blier was part of Paris producer Raoul Levy’s lofty plans for the Polo story - to be played by Curd Jürgens, Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon or, finally, Horst Buchholz Shooting started (with Delon) in ’62, quickly ran out of funds (how Wellesian is that?), began again in ’63 and finally opened in ’65 to a wholly disinterested public.
- Anthony Quayle, Incompreso, Italy-France, 1966. Italian director Luigi Comencini asked Blier to play the widower dealing with his son after his mother’sdeath, a classic tear-jerker.
- Jacques Brel, Mon oncle Benjamin, France-Italy, 1969 For some 20 years, Blier had dreamt of playing novelist Claude Tillier’s hero. But director Marc Allégret and scripter Jean Aurenche could never get it off the ground. By the time Èdouard Molinaro set it up, Blier was neither young nor agile enough - but happily participated as the Marquis de Cambyse.
- Micheline Presle, L'événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune, France-Italy, 1973. Busy in the theatre, including directing Gérard Depardieu to his first real success (in Galápagos, 1971), Blier lost a most original medico to... one of the grande dames of French stage and screen.... as Marcello Mastroianni became the world’s first pregnant man.
- Jean Rochefort, L’Horloger de Saint-Paul, France, 1973. Blier had encouraged Bertrand Tavernier moving from publicistto film-maker (appearing inhis second sketch film, La chance et l'amour, 1964) and the realisateur, in turn, was “not proud” of never finding a great role for Blier. “Even though I had thought of him and Bourvil whenpreparing [Georges Simenon’s] L’Horloger.”
- Lucien Barjon, La merveilleuse visite, France-Italy, 1974. Not available for what proved Marcel Carné’s final feature - a bad one and very homo-erotic in the way the gay Carné, 65,filmed the naked “angel” Gilles Kohler... in a debut that led him to Hollywood soaps: Dallas, All My Childrenand, talking of homo-erotica,Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon.”
- Philippe Noiret,Le temoin, France-Italy, 1978. When Blier proved unavailable, realisateur Jean-Pierre Mocky called upon Blier’s “cher ennemi ” for the somewhat Chabrolesque thriller. The two actors rarely got on. Noiret was allegedly jealous of Blier cornering the Michel Audiard market - appearing in 19 of his scripts!
- Jean-Pierre Cassel, Nudo di donna, Italy-France, 1981. A Paris stage contract prevented Blier being an irascible Venetian librarian in his Italian pal Nino Manfredi’s directing debut. Blier made 195 films in 50 years. “The onlysecret of a long career is to avoid routine andalways take risks. “
- Michel Galabru, Réveillon chez Bob, France, 1984. An on-off date with Burt Lancaster, Stéphane Audran and Chilean director Miguel Littin for Le Voyageur de quatre saisons kept him out of realisateur Denys Granier-Deferre’s tale of strangers searching for Bob on New Year’sEve in Paris.
- Philippe Noiret, La famiglia (US: The Family), Italy-France, 1987. Once again, Noiret replaced the old enemy when had to leave the Ettore Scola project due to production delays. Italian maestro Mario Monicelli reported in 1975 that the old foes had reconciled in Florence when playing dear friends: Amici miei. They stayed together for Amici miei 2 but Noiret, was AWOL from Amici miei 3. (So was his journalist role and Monicelli).