Alain Delon: How The French Actor Became a Global Star

ALAIN DELON, LA BEAUTÉ DU DIABLE ET LES FEMMES © : “Dossier de l'écran“ - Jean-Luc Lerdon - INA/Licange
ALAIN DELON, LA BEAUTÉ DU DIABLE ET LES FEMMES © : “Dossier de l'écran“ - Jean-Luc Lerdon - INA/Licange
ALAIN DELON, LA BEAUTÉ DU DIABLE ET LES FEMMES © : “Dossier de l'écran“ - Jean-Luc Lerdon - INA/Licange
Born on November 8, 1935, in Sceaux, France, Delon's early years were marked by a brush with the underworld. As he moved to Paris with almost no money, he started hanging with...
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ALAIN DELON, LA BEAUTÉ DU DIABLE ET LES FEMMES © : “Dossier de l'écran“ - Jean-Luc Lerdon - INA/Licange

- Where to watch French movies in America -

French cinema lives on TV5MONDE USA! The French language entertainment network airs hundreds of French films every year on top of TV shows on French culture, fashion and art-de-vivre. At no extra cost, you can also enjoy the French streaming platform TV5MONDEplus, with its thousands of French movies. Explore the legacy of Alain Delon with featured content such as "Alain Delon: Face au Monde"  and delve into his enigmatic allure in "Alain Delon: La Beauté du Diable et les Femmes".

And if you've seen all of Alain Delon's classics and you're looking to discover his later work, stream now his hit cop TV show Frank Riva now on TV5MONDEplus!

Cinema saved Delon from becoming a gangster

Born on November 8, 1935, in Sceaux, France, Delon's early years were marked by a brush with the underworld. As he moved to Paris with almost no money, he started hanging with the wrong crowd around the red district of Pigalle. In his own word, he admitted he could have been part of this world if the women in his life hadn't convinced him to pivot dramatically towards the limelight of the silver screen. Delon's cinematic odyssey began with a chance encounter at the Cannes Film Festival, where he caught the eye of casting director Henry Willson. This fortuitous meeting set the stage for Delon's transformation. While initially poised to conquer English-speaking cinema, Delon found his niche closer to home, establishing himself as a formidable presence in French and Italian films.

His breakout roles included "Sois belle et tais-toi" (Be Beautiful But Shut Up) directed by Marc Allégret, and "Christine," where he shared the screen with Romy Schneider, marking the beginning of a tumultuous yet passionate off-screen romance. As their chemistry ignited on screen, Delon's star continued to rise, solidifying his status as a leading man of French cinema.

Stream now "Alain Delon: La Beauté du Diable et les Femmes" and deep dive into the women that shaped Alain Delon's life and career

The 60's superstar

In the 1960s, Delon's meteoric rise to superstardom paralleled that of his contemporaries, notably Jean-Paul Belmondo. Together, they dominated the silver screen, captivating audiences with their raw talent and undeniable charisma. Delon's portrayal of Tom Ripley in "Plein Soleil" (Purple Noon), directed by René Clément, stands as a testament to his aura on screen. Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, the film follows Ripley's descent into deception and murder, captivating audiences with its gripping narrative and Delon's mesmerizing performance. Purple Noon was later made into a Hollywood remake "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999) with Matt Damon in the title role, then yet again in 2024 into the Netflix show "Ripley". "Plein Soleil" garnered widespread acclaim, earning Delon accolades from fans and critics alike.

Yet, it was "Mélodie en sous-sol" (Any Number Can Win), directed by Henri Verneuil, that propelled Delon to new heights of fame and acclaim. Driven by his admiration for Jean Gabin, Delon spearheaded the project. The film, which revolves around a daring heist orchestrated by a seasoned criminal (Gabin) and a young protégé (Delon), garnered widespread praise for its suspenseful plot and stellar performances.

"Any Number Can Win" earned Delon a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Films, further solidifying his status as an international sensation. The film's success transcended borders, particularly in Asia, where Delon's has since been a star as much as in France.

Alain Delon's most notable role is without a doubt his portrayal of Tancredi in "Le Guépard" (The Leopard), directed by Luchino Visconti. The film, which clinched the Palme d'Or at Cannes, stands as a towering achievement in cinematic history and a defining moment in Alain Delon's illustrious career. Adapted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, the film transports audiences to 19th-century Sicily, where the decadent world of the aristocracy collides with the winds of change sweeping across Italy. Alain Delon's portrayal of Tancredi, a young nobleman caught amidst the tumult of political upheaval and social transformation, is a masterclass in understated elegance and emotional depth. Against the backdrop of sumptuous landscapes and lavish costume design, Delon navigates the complexities of his character with nuance and grace, capturing the essence of a man torn between tradition and progress. As the patriarch of his family, embodied by the legendary Burt Lancaster as Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, Delon's Tancredi embodies the hopes and fears of a fading aristocracy clinging to its power and privilege. Visconti's sweeping directorial vision, coupled with Delon's magnetic presence, elevates "Le Guépard" beyond mere historical drama, transcending its period setting to explore timeless themes of identity, legacy, and the inexorable march of time.

La piscine, a cult classic

"La Piscine" stands as a defining moment in Alain Delon's career, marking not only a cinematic triumph but also a poignant reunion with his former partner, Romy Schneider. Directed by Jacques Deray, this seductive thriller immerses audiences in a sun-soaked world of passion, jealousy, and intrigue. Delon stars as Jean-Paul, a brooding and enigmatic writer who finds himself entangled in a complex love triangle with his girlfriend Marianne, played by his real-life former flame Romy Schneider, and her ex-lover Harry, portrayed by the charismatic Maurice Ronet. Against the backdrop of a luxurious villa in the South of France, tensions simmer and emotions boil over as the characters navigate the murky depths of desire and betrayal. "La Piscine" captivated audiences with its lush cinematography, evocative score, and sizzling chemistry between Delon and Schneider, propelling it to cult classic status. For Delon and Schneider, the film marked a bittersweet reunion, five years after their tumultuous breakup, serving as a poignant reminder of their undeniable on-screen chemistry and enduring legacy in the annals of cinema.

At the time, Alain Delon was married to Nathalie Delon, who gave birth to Alain Delon's first child Anthony Delon, born in 1964 in Los Angeles. Nathalie Delon became herself an actress, convinced by French director Jean-Pierre Melville who casted her alongside Alain Delon in the movie "Le Samouraï" in 1967.

Stream now "Alain Delon: La Beauté du Diable et les Femmes" to deep dive into Delon's career and his on or off screen relationships with Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale, Nathalie Delon and Romy Schneider among others.

A series of success

Throughout the 1960s, Alain Delon graced the silver screen in a series of iconic films that solidified his status as a cinematic legend. One such masterpiece is "L'Éclipse" (L'eclisse), directed by the visionary Michelangelo Antonioni. Alain Delon portrays Piero, a suave and enigmatic stockbroker entangled in a tumultuous affair with the captivating Vittoria, played by Monica Vitti. Set against the backdrop of modern-day Rome, the film explores themes of alienation, disconnection, and the elusive nature of human connection. "L'Éclipse" received widespread acclaim for its bold visual style, innovative storytelling, and Delon's mesmerizing performance, cementing its status as a seminal work of art-house cinema.

Another milestone in Delon's illustrious career is "Rocco and His Brothers," directed by the legendary Luchino Visconti. In this epic family drama, Delon embodies the role of Rocco Parondi, a sensitive and introspective young man who must navigate the trials and tribulations of life in post-war Milan alongside his four brothers. As Rocco grapples with themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and identity, Delon delivers a performance of remarkable depth and nuance.

Delon's cinematic journey in the 1960s also includes "Les Amours célèbres," a captivating anthology film directed by Michel Boisrond, Claude Barma, and Philippe de Broca. In this anthology of love stories inspired by historical figures, Alain Delon shares the screen with the incomparable Brigitte Bardot in one of the segments. Delon's portrayal of the dashing Duke is imbued with charm, charisma, and a hint of vulnerability, complementing Bardot's magnetic presence as Queen Margot. "Les Amours célèbres" was well-received by audiences and critics alike for its enchanting narratives, stellar performances, and timeless themes of love and desire. The movie started the lasting friendship between Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot.

A Hollywood career between successes and disappointments

Alain Delon's foray into English-speaking cinema, while brief, left an indelible mark on his storied career, though not without its disappointments. Despite his formidable talent and international acclaim, Delon found himself grappling with roles that failed to showcase the depth of his abilities during his sojourn in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, he made notable appearances in films such as "Les Tueurs de San Francisco" (The San Francisco Killers) and "Texas, nous voilà," where he brought his trademark charisma to the screen, even in roles that fell short of his aspirations.

In "Les Tueurs de San Francisco," Delon navigated the gritty streets of the titular city, infusing his character with a sense of enigmatic allure amidst the backdrop of crime and intrigue, though the film may not have fully capitalized on Delon's potential.

Similarly, in "Texas, nous voilà," Delon ventured into the realm of Westerns, portraying a rugged cowboy in the untamed frontier of Texas. While the film may have fallen short of his artistic aspirations, Delon's commanding presence and rugged charm ensured that his performance resonated with audiences, despite the limitations of the role.

One of the highlights of Delon's English-speaking career came with his role in the war epic "Les Centurions," directed by Mark Robson and featuring an ensemble cast including Anthony Quinn and George Segal. In this ambitious film, Alain Delon showcased his dramatic range as a French officer grappling with the complexities of war and the moral dilemmas inherent in conflict. Though the film provided Delon with a more substantial role, it still failed to fully capitalize on his talents, leaving him yearning for more substantial opportunities in the English-speaking world.

Alain Delon, cop or gangster!

In the 1970s and 1980s, Alain Delon solidified his status as a cinematic icon. Embracing his affinity for gritty crime dramas, Delon gravitated towards roles that mirrored the underworld allure of his idol, Jean Gabin. His filmography during this period is replete with gangster and cop films like The Red Circle (Le Cercle Rouge), Un Flic, Flic Story, Trois hommes à abattre, Mort d'un Pourri. One standout film from this era is "Borsalino and Co," a sequel to the 1970 hit "Borsalino," directed by Jacques Deray. In this riveting crime saga, Alain Delon reprises his role as François Capella, a charismatic gangster with a penchant for stylish suits and ruthless ambition. Set against the backdrop of 1930's Marseille, the film follows Capella's quest for power and vengeance amidst the backdrop of Prohibition-era crime and corruption. Delon's portrayal of Capella is a tour de force, blending suave sophistication with steely determination, capturing the essence of a man caught in a world of betrayal and betrayal.

Another notable entry in Alain Delon's filmography from the 1970s is "Un Flic" (A Cop), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, who had already directed Delon in Le Samouraï in 1967. In this atmospheric crime thriller, Delon stars as Commissaire Edouard Coleman, a seasoned police detective tasked with bringing down a notorious gang of bank robbers. As Coleman navigates the treacherous world of crime and deception, he finds himself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with Simon, played by Richard Crenna, a charming yet ruthless thief. Delon's portrayal of Coleman is a masterclass in understated intensity, capturing the character's moral ambiguity and existential angst with haunting precision. "Un Flic" is a gritty and atmospheric meditation on crime and morality, featuring Delon at the height of his powers. With its stylish direction, taut screenplay, and Delon's compelling performance, "Un Flic" remains a standout film in the actor's illustrious career.

One of his last roles as Frank Riva

After a relatively quiet period in the 1990s, Alain Delon made a triumphant return to the spotlight in the 2000s on both stage and screen. His foray into television that truly reignited public interest in his career. In 2001, Delon took on the role of Fabio Montale in the acclaimed French television series "Fabio Montale de Marseille." Set in the vibrant city of Marseille, the series follows the exploits of Montale, a former cop turned private investigator, as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the Mediterranean metropolis. Building on the success of "Fabio Montale," Delon further solidified his television legacy with his role in the popular series "Frank Riva." In this gripping crime drama, Delon starred as the titular character, Frank Riva, a seasoned detective grappling with his own demons as he seeks justice in the streets of Paris. With its taut storytelling, gritty atmosphere, and Alain Delon's compelling performance at its core, "Frank Riva" captivated audiences and reaffirmed Delon's status as a television icon.

Stream Frank Riva now on TV5MONDEplus