Pierre-Albert Espinasse in Paris, 22 December 1903 or 1905.
Studied acting at the Paris Conservatory; later studied with Harry Baur.
1924–25—served in French Army.
Married 1) the actress Odette Joyeux (divorced), son: the actor Claude
Brasseur; 2) Lina Magrini, 1947 (divorced).
c.1920—stage acting debut; 1924—film debut in
La Fille de l'Eau
; 1925—his play
produced at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre; early
1930s—popular attention for appearing in series of villainous roles
in several French versions of German films; 1934—in Hollywood film
; 1940—directed Marcel Achard's play
; 1940s-50s—continued to act both on stage and in films.
In Brunico, Italy, 14 August 1972.
Films as Actor:
La Fille de l'Eau
Madame Sans Gêne (Pérret) (as walk-on)
Feu! (de Baroncelli) (as sailor)
Je suis un as (Tzipine—short); Ce qu'on dit, ce qu'on pense (short); Etoile filant (Bouquet—short); Une Heure de rêve (Tzipine—short); Un Trou dans le mur (Barberis) (as Anatole)
Circulez! (de Limur) (as Jean Dupont-Desroches); Papa sans le savoir (R. Wyler—short); Une Rêve blond (Martin) (as Maurice)
Mon ami Victor (Berthomieu); Quick (Siodmak) (as Maxime); Moi et l'impératrice (Martin and Holländer) (as Didier); Voyage de noces (Schmidt) (as Rudi); La Chanson d'une nuit (Litvak) (as Koretzky); F.P.1 ne répond plus (Hartl) (as Georges); Une Faim de loup (Fried and Morskoi—short)
Le Sexe faible (Siodmak) (as Jimmie); Incognito (Gerron) (as Marcel); L'Oncle de Pekin (Darmont) (as Philippe); Le Médécin de service (Cerf—short); Vacances conjugales (Greville) (as Pierre)
Caravane ( Caravan ) (Charell) (as Le Lieutenant de Tokay); La Garnison amoureuse (Vaucorbeil) (as Pierre); Johnny haute-couture (de Poligny) (as Johnny); Le Miroir aux alouettes (Le Bon) (as Jean Forestier); Quadrille d'amour (Fried) (as Robert Lancelot)
Le Bébé de l'escadron ( Quand la vie était belle ) (Sti) (as Georges); Bout-de-chou (Wulschléger); Jeunesse d'abord (Stelli) (as Stéphane Minot); Un Oiseau rare (Pottier) (as Jean Berthier)
Pattes de mouche (Grémillon) (as Michel); Vous n'avez rien à déclarer? (Joannon) (as Edmond de Trivelin); Une Femme qui se partage (Cammage) (as Cornette); Le Mari rêve
Mademoiselle ma mère (Decoin) (as Georges); La Schpountz (Pagnol) (as Cousine)
Claudine à l'école ( Claudine ) (de Poligny) (as Le Docteur Dubois); Giuseppe Verdi (Gallone) (as Alexandre Dumas); Quai des brumes ( Port of Shadows ) (Carné) (as Lucien); Goose de riche (de Canonge) (as Pierre Mougins); Café de Paris (Lacombe) (as Le Rec); Hercule ou l'incorruptible (Esway) (as Bastien); Grisou (de Canonge) (as Henri Hagnauer, + sc)
Visages de femmes (Guissart) (as Fred); Les Frères corses ( The Corsican Brothers ) (Kelber); Dernière jeunesse ( Last Desire ) (Musso) (as M. de Gilhooley); La Père Lebonnard (de Limur) (as Freddy); Le Chemin de l'honneur (Paulin) (as Lt. Philippe Drierminoff); Frères d'Afrique (Navarra); Sixième étage (Cloche) (as Jonval); Trois Argentines à Montmartre (Hugon) (as Toninett)
Le Soleil a toujours raison (Billon) (as Gabriel)
Les Deux Timides (Y. Allégret) (as Thibaudier); Promesse à l'inconnue (Berthomieu) (as Lussac); Le Croisée des chemins (Berthomieu) (as Hubert Epervans)
Adieu Léonard (Prevert) (as Bonenfant); Lumière d'été (Grémillon) (as Roland Maillard)
Le Pays sans étoiles (Lacombe) (as Jean-Pierre/Francois-Charles); Les Enfants du paradis ( The Children of Paradise ) (Carné) (as Frédérick Lemaître); La Femme fatale (Boyer) (as Jean Pleyard)
Jéricho (Calef) (as "Marche Noir"); Les Portes de la nuit ( Gates of the Night ; Ports of the Night ) (Carné) (as Georges); Pétrus (M. Allégret) (as Rodriguez); L'Arche de Noë ( Noah's Ark ) (Jacques) (as Bitru); L'Amour autour de la maison (de Hérain) (as Douze-Apôtres); Rocambole (2 parts: Rocambole and La Revanche de Baccarat ) (de Baroncelli)
Croisière pour l'inconnu (Montazel) (as Emile Fréchisse)
Les Amants de Vérone ( The Lovers of Verona ) (Cayatte) (as Raffaele); La Nuit blanche (Pottier) (as Pierre); Le Secret de Monte-Cristo (Valentin) (as Francois Picard)
Portrait d'un assassin (Roland) (as Fabius); Millionnaires d'un jour (Hunebelle) (as Francis)
Souvenirs perdus ("La Statuette" ep.) (Christian-Jaque) (as Philippe); Maître après Dieu ( Skipper Next to God ) (Daquin) (as Capitaine Joris); L'Homme de la Jamaique (de Canonge) (as Jacques Marel); Julie de Carneilhan (Manuel) (as Herbert Espivant); De Renoir à Picasso (Haesaerts) (as narrator)
Barbe-Bleue ( Bluebeard ) (Christian-Jaque) (as Amadée de Salfère); Les Mains sales ( Dirty Hands ) (Rivers) (as Hoederer)
Le Plaisir ( House of Pleasure ) ("La Maison Tellier" ep.) (Max Ophüls) (as Julien Le Dentu); La Pocharde (Combret) (as Renneville); Le Rideau rouge (Barsacq) (as Ludovic Arns); Saint-Tropez, devoir de vacances (Paviot—short); Torticola contre Frankensberg (Paviot—short); Jouens le jeu ("L'Impatience" ep.) (Gillois)
La Bergère et le ramoneur (Grimault) (as voice of the bird); Vestire gli ignudi (Pagliero) (as Gorlier)
Raspoutine (Combret) (title role); Les Soliloques du pauvre (Drach—short) (as narrator)
La Tour de Nèsle (Gance) (as Buridan); Napoléon (Guitry) (as Barras)
Porte de Lilas ( Gates of Paris ) (Clair) (as Juju)
Sans famille (Michel) (as Jeroboam Driscoll); Les Grandes Familles ( The Possessors ) (de la Patellière) (as Maublanc); La Vie à deux (Duhour) (as Pierre Carreau)
La Loi ( Where the Hot Wind Blows ) (Dassin) (as Don Cesare); La Tête contre les murs (Franju) (as Docteur Varmont); Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir (Diamant-Berger) (as Docteur Nègre)
Les Yeux sans visages ( Eyes without a Face ) (Franju) (as Genessier); Cartagine in fiamme ( Carthage in Flames ) (Gallone) (as Sidone); Il bell'Antonio (Bolognini) (as Alfio Magnano); Candide (Carbonnaux) (as Pangloss); Le Dialogue des Carmélites (Agostini) (as commissioner of the people); Les Ennemis (Molinaro)
Les Amours célèbre ("Agnès Bernauer" ep.) (Boisrond) (as Le Grand-Duc Ernest de Wittelsbach); Pleins feux sur l'assassin (Franju) (as Comte Hervé de Keraudren); Vive Henri IV, Vive l'amour (Autant-Lara) (as Montmorency); Le Bateau d'Emile (de la Patellière) (as François Larmentiel); Les Petits Matins (Audry) (as Achille Pipermint); Rencontres (Agostino) (as Carl Krasner)
Le Crime ne paie pas ( Crime Does Not Pay ) ("L'Affaire Fenayrou" ep.) (Oury) (as Martin Fenayrou); L'Abominable Hommes des douanes (M. Allégret) (as Le Tueur Russe)
Les Bonnes Causes ( Don't Tempt the Devil ) (Christian-Jaque) (as Cassidi)
Liola ( A Very Handy Man ) (Blasetti) (as Simone Palumbo); Le Magot de Joséfa (Autant-Lara) (as the Mayor); Humour noir ("La Bestoile" ep.) (Autant-Lara); Un Soir . . . par hasard (Govar) (as Charles); Le Grain de sable (Kast) (as Georges Richter); Lucky Joe (Deville) (as chief commissioner); Les Comédians (Thierry—short)
La Métamorphose des cloportes (Granier-Deferre) (as Tonton); Deux Heures à tuer (Govar) (as Laurent); L'Or du duc (Baratier) (as uncle); Pas de caviar pour tante Olga (Becker) (as Patache); Pas de panique (Gobbi) (as Toussaint)
La Vie de château ( A Matter of Resistance ) (Rappeneau) (as Dimanche); Un mondo nuovo ( A Young World ) (de Sica) (as boss); La Fille de la mer morte (Golan); King of Hearts ( Le Roi de coeur ) (de Broca) (as Général Géranium)
Le Fou de Labo 4 (Besnard) (as Father Ballanchon); La Petite Vertu (Korber) (as Polnik)
Les Oiseaux vont mourir aux Pérou ( Birds in Peru ) (Gary) (as husband); Goto, île d'amour (Borowczyk) (as Goto); Sous la signe de Monte-Cristo (Hunebelle) (as Faria)
Macédoine (Scandelari) (as Bloch-Dupond)
Les Mariés de l'an deux (Rappeneau) (as Gosselin)
La più bella serata della mia vita (Scola) (as Comte la Brunetière)
Film as screenwriter:
Les Amants de demain (Blistène)
By BRASSEUR: books—
Aile est morte (verse), with Dede Sunbeam, Paris, 1926.
La Guerre de mines (play), Paris, 1939.
Tobie est un ange (script for film never completed), Paris, 1941.
Un Ange passe (play), Paris, 1947.
Le Mascaret (play), Paris, 1947.
L'Enfant du dimanche (play), Paris, 1959.
Ma Vie en vrac , Paris, 1972.
By BRASSEUR: articles—
"Vous m'avez appris mon métier," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 20 November 1958.
Interview in Cinémonde (Paris), 4 July 1961.
On BRASSEUR: articles—
Cinémonde (Paris), 10 October and 19 December 1952, and September 1971.
Beylie, Claude, "Mort d'un bateleur," in Ecran (Paris), November 1972.
Barrot, Oliver, and Philippe Ariotti, "Pierre Brasseur" in Anthologie du cinéma , Vol. VIII, No. 76, Paris, 1974.
Ecran (Paris), January 1978, updated 15 December 1979.
* * *
Pierre Brasseur once wrote, "There exist three kinds of actors, the good, the bad, and the great." As a participant in practically every major development in the French cinema after 1920, he proved himself to be one of that final category. His early involvement with the Parisian avant-garde in the 1920s was followed by his first leading roles in French-German co-productions of the early 1930s. He found his best roles during the grand epoch of poetic realism, and survived the desert of the 1950s French filmmaking to find himself stranded in the 1960s: an actor's actor in a director's cinema.
His stage work was always central to his career, and in the mid-1920s the charming young comedian was adopted by the intelligentsia. He first worked with Jean Cocteau in 1924, and was soon associated with the Surrealist group, having contact with André Breton and others, and contributing poems and texts to La Révolution Surréaliste . In 1925 his first play, L'Ancre noire , was produced, and he continued to write or collaborate on play and film scripts, notably with Marcel Dalio.
After military service, the first major phase of his acting career began at UFA studios in Berlin in films made for German and French release. "To be employed at UFA was, for me, more important than going to Hollywood," he wrote, and he remained in Berlin for a year and a half, establishing himself as a leading comedian in a series of romantic farces. He did briefly visit Hollywood in 1934, where Erik Charell was directing Caravan for Fox in English and French versions. Brasseur played the Philip Holmes role in the French one, opposite Charles Boyer who starred in both.
On his return to France, Brasseur lent his presence to a series of quickly made and undistinguished films, although one of these, Un Oiseau rare , marked the first of 11 films he made which were written by Jacques Prévert. Among his films of this period were a number of bawdy comedies, a genre then accounting for a significant proportion of French production. Perhaps not untypical of his mid-1930s work is his appearance, along with such comedians as Raimu and Saturnin Fabre, in Joannon's extremely vulgar Vous n'avez rien à déclarer? , in which Brasseur appears as a timid young man who is temporarily impotent.
In 1936 he first worked with Jean Grémillon, in the minor and commercially unsuccessful Pattes de mouche , but it was his brief appearance opposite Jean Gabin in Carné's Quai des brumes in 1938 that revealed another Brasseur, one capable of infinitely more subtle and complex characterization. He nevertheless continued to play the cynical Don Juan and various playboys until the war, taking over that specialty from the aging Jules Berry.
It was during the war that Brasseur left his mark. After working with Yves Allégret on Tobie est un ange , which Brasseur co-scripted (the film's negatives were destroyed in a fire before its release), and on Les Deux Timides , he collaborated once again with Grémillon in Lumière d'été . Brasseur starred as the brilliant, decadent painter Roland Maillard, in a celebrated performance detailing the disintegration of an artistic career.
He soon followed this with his greatest role, as the famous nineteenth-century actor Frederick Lemaître in Les Enfants du Paradis . The film brought together two performers at the summit of their art: Jean-Louis Barrault and Brasseur, the mime and the comedian. Brasseur's performance, requiring him to create roles such as Othello within the role of Lemaître, is an example of a complex character thought over in every detail.
After the war, theatrical work increasingly occupied Brasseur. In 1948 he joined the renowned company of Barrault and Madeleine Renaud, appearing in plays of Camus, Claudel, and others. He worked in films between theatrical engagements, and these films were often adaptations of stage plays, such as Sartre's Les Mains sales or Vestire gli ignudi from Pirandello.
After the success of his humorous and pathetic Juju in Clair's Porte de Lilas , Brasseur was cast mainly in supporting roles. Though he made interesting film appearances, especially in a series of three films for Georges Franju, and in Bolognini's Il bell'Antonio , his work in theater was more notable, for example his acclaimed performance in a 1967 Paris production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming .