Charles Denner – French Actor

Charles Denner born May 29th 1926 and died September 1995 was a French actor born to a Jewish family in Tarnów, Poland. During his 30-year career Denner worked with some of France’s greatest directors of the time, including Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Costa-Gavras, Claude Lelouch and François Truffaut who gave him two of his most memorable roles, as Fergus in The Bride Wore Black (1968) and Bertrand Morane in The Man Who Loved Women (1977)

Acting Career

Denner was on the stage for 10 years before Yves Allegret gave him a small part in La Meilleure Part (1956), which starred Gerard Philipe as an engineer losing both his job and his mind. He played the assistant to police inspector Lino Ventura in Louis Malle’s outstanding thriller of an adulterous wife (Jeanne Moreau) and her lover (Maurice Ronet), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (1957).

Charles concentrated on the stage while Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and other film-makers revolutionized French cinema at the time.  When Denner returned it was in a star role – and with a bald head and a full beard – as Landru (1962), the infamous wife- poisoner, killing off such vieille vague stars as Danielle Darrieux and Michele Morgan: this was one of Chabrol’s early studies of murder and adultery among the bourgeoisie, the whole expected to be a winning combination (Francoise Sagan worked on the screenplay) – which Chabrol needed, after some undeserved flops, but it was perhaps too full-frontal for public acceptance and certainly too misogynist.

Denner had another whale of a role in Alain Jessua’s witty and stylish La Vie a l’envers (1964), as a seemingly cheerful clerk in a Paris estate agent’s office who turns his back on the world. It was easily Jessua’s best film and certainly there is no film in which Denner delves into himself so deeply – but it is not necessarily his best film, for there were many very good ones to come. Taking them chronologically and with regard to those seen outside France, there are Constantin Costa-Gavras’s first feature, Compartiment Tueurs (1964), an all-star (Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Trintignant) murder mystery, with Denner as one of the dead girl’s lovers, a sarcastic cop-hater; Chabrol’s Marie-Chantal contre le Dr Kah (1965), one of the “commercial” films this director made to restore his bankability; Claude Berri’s first feature, the autobiographical Le Vieil homme et l’enfant (1966), as the father of the small Jewish boy who makes a friend of a gruff country gentile (Michel Simon); and Malle’s turn-of- the-century Le Voleur (1967), with Belmondo as one of the inevitably dreamy French crook and Denner as an ageing crime tsar.

Mr. Denner’s Death

On Sunday September 10 , 1995, Charles Denner died at a hospital near his home in Dreux, France just west of Paris. Mr. Denner was 69.

No cause of death was given, but he had been fighting lung cancer for more than a decade.

During Denner’s acting career that began when he was 19, Denner worked with many of the most prominent French movie directors of the postwar era, including Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, Claude Lelouch, Yves Allegret and Claude Berri as well as the Greek-born Costa-Gavras.  Charles Denner was a thin man with bushy eyebrows, dark hair and an immediately identifiable voice, Mr. Denner often played introspective characters who considered distrust of the world to be elementary common sense. But he was also a talented comic actor who extracted humor from the accidents of everyday life.

Charles Denner will truly be missed!

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