A well-regarded, meticulous craftsman, writer-director Jean Delannoy has had a career which spanned an incredible eight decades, from his days as an actor in silent films to his later forays in television and in big screen religious biopics. The son of a civil servant and a schoolteacher, Delannoy was educated in Paris and after a string of unfulfilling jobs (i.e., bank salesman, journalist) he decided to try his hand at acting in films. Dashing and handsome, Delannoy soon found employment in roughly 10 movies, including 1927's "Casanova," but quickly became disenchanted with appearing in front of the camera. While serving in the military, he worked with the film unit of the army and after his discharge secured a position as an editor at Paramount's French studios. Working quickly (by his account, it took less than two weeks to assemble a feature), he accrued credits on some 40 films. At the same time, Delannoy began dabbling in the medium, shooting a handful of short films, the best known of which was 1934's "Une vocation irresistable," focusing on a barber with aspirations for a life as a performer.
In 1939, he completed "Macao, l'enfer du jeu/Gambling Hell," a thriller about gunrunners in the Far East co-starring Erich von Stroheim and Sessue Hayakawa. When the Germans occupied France, the director was forced to replace von Stroheim (who was a virulent anti-Nazi) with Pierre Renoir and re-shoot several sequences in order to secure distribution. (The Renoir version was released in 1942 and the von Stroheim one after the war in 1945.) By 1940, however, Delannoy had achieved commercial success with "Le Diamant noir" (in which his sister Henriette appeared). During the German occupation in the early 40s, the director avoided collaborating with Continentale and remained in the free zone. Among his best work of this period is "Pontcarral, colonel d'empire" (1942), an epic about a Napoleonic era soldier who marries a woman who doesn't love him and meets a noble end during a military campaign in Africa. One line in the film had particularly resonance with French audiences: during an interrogation scene, when questioned about his enmity toward the monarchy, the hero replies "Under such a regime, sir, it is an honor to be condemned." Delannoy also scored with a modernized version of the Tristan and Isolde story written by Jean Cocteau "L'Eternal retour/Love Eternal/The Eternal Return" (1943).
Following WWII, Delannoy achieved another pinnacle with "La Symphonie Pastorale" (1946), which earned the grand prix at Cannes. Adapted from a novel by Andre Gide, it was a beautifully shot love story involving a blind girl and the Protestant minister who take her in. Like much of Delannoy's work, there is a stylized, almost icy tone despite the passions of the story. Collaborating with Jean-Paul Sartre, the director fashioned (along with Pierre Bost) "Les Jeux sont faits/The Die Is Cast/The Chips Are Down" (1947), an ambitious romance about a couple who meet in the afterlife and are given a second chance at love. "Dieu a besoin des hommes/God Needs Men/Isle of Sinners" (1950), set against the harsh beauty of the Breton coast, shared the international prize at the Venice Film Festival but drew a mixed critical reception. Some felt the story, about a sacristan who poses as a priest, was overwhelmed by the scenery while others felt it was sacrilegious. For much of the 50s, Delannoy turned out polished, if unexceptional films, including two starring Michele Morgan, "Obsession" (1954) and "Marie Antoinette" (1956), and three featuring Jean Gabin, "Chiens perdus sans collier" (1955), "Maigret tend un piege" (1958) and "Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre" (1959). He also helmed the uneven adaptation of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1957), featuring Anthony Quinn in the title role. Reuniting with Cocteau, he turned out the lush costume epic "La Princesse de Cleves" (1960). Originally written as a semi-sequel to "L'Eternal retour" and meant to reteam Jean Marais and Madeleine Sologne, the film instead did not reach the screen for over 15 years. Too old for the lead, Marais undertook the supporting role of the heroine's spouse while Jean-Francois Poron and Marina Vlady were the leads. Again Delannoy's glacial tendencies rendered what should have been a star-crossed romance as an attractive but unengaging piece.
By this time, with the ascent of the New Wave," Delannoy was perceived as "academic" and anachronistic. Recognizing the changing dynamics in filmmaking, he segued to the small screen, helming a series of telefilms and miniseries, many of which with historical themes. "Le Jeune homme et le lion" (1976) focused on Charlemagne while the multi-part "Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut" (1978, adapted by Jean Anouilh) and "Crime de Pierre Lacaze" (1983) dazzled French viewers. At the age of 80, Delannoy returned to features with "Bernadette" (1988), a biography of the woman from Lourdes who purportedly saw visions of the Virgin Mary. Although a proposed sequel never got off the ground, the director did film "Marie de Nazareth/Mary of Nazareth" (1995), an uneven religious biopic about the mother of Jesus. At the time, Delannoy was thought to have been the oldest active filmmaker (now surpassed by Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira).
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Served in the French military in the Cinematographic Section of the Armed Forces (Service Cinematographique de l'Armee)
Short film directing debut, "Franches lippees"
Made his best-known short, "Une Vocation irresitible"
Feature film directing debut, "Paris-Deauville", a low-budget comedy
Completed filming "Macao, l'enfer du jeu/Gambling Hell", co-starring Erich von Stroheim; after German occupation of France, von Stroheim's scenes were reshot featuring Pierre Renoir; Renoir version released in 1942; von Stroheim version in 1945
Initial commercial success, "Le Diamant noir"
Began collaboration with cinematographer Christian Matras with the lavish epic "Pontcarral, colonel d'empire"
Helmed "L'Eternel retour/Love Eternal/The Eternal Return", starring Jean Marais and Madeleine Solonge and scripted by Jean Cocteau
Had post-war success with "La Symphonie pastorale"; named best film at the Cannes Film Festival
Earned international acclaim for "Dieu a besoin des hommes/God Needs Men/Isle of Sinners"
Directed the historical biopic "Marie Antoinette", starring Michele Morgan
Helmed the disappointing remake of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida
Reteamed with Jean Cocteau for "La Princesse de Cleves"
Last feature film for 12 years, "Pas folle la guepe"
Named president of IDHEC
Returned to feature films with "La messagere"
At age 80, directed the feature, "Bernadette" the story of St. Bernadette; announced plans for a sequel "La passion de Bernadette" (unproduced)
Helmed "Marie de Nazareth/Mary of Nazareth", an uneven biopic of the Virgin Mary