While Louis de Funès took over the Gendarme’s cap for the third time, his cult role since 1964, filming was disrupted by the “events” of May 1968. But what worries the actor is being robbed of his belongings, especially his gold bars hidden in his garden. While the French Cinematheque dedicates a great exhibition that is currently in full swing, back on a revealing anecdote.
“It is the gold, the gold to wake up!” The replica of Gérard Oury’s La Folie des grandeurs, released in 1971, still resonates in the collective memory. During his career, De Funès regularly played rapiat characters, culminating in his portrayal of Harpagon in the film version of Molière’s L’Avare (1980). And it is no coincidence that the actor is so fair in this register: “He used to pay his taxis by cheque, hoping that the value of his signature would prevent them from being charged,” says Jérôme Duhamel in his book The Twentieth Century Beast and Villain: Spirit and Evil Spirit from 1900 to the present day (ed. Albin Michel).
At the end of La Folie des grandeurs, De Funès is at the height of his fame, but this has not always been the case. Born in Courbevoie in 1914, he first dreamed of being a pianist, but knew lean cows: “He can play two or three hundred titles on demand in vogue of the last twenty years (…) but that doesn’t always make huge tips,” according to Bertrand Dicale, author of the biography Louis de Funès: grimaces and glory (ed. Grasset). It was not until 1956, at the age of 42, that he obtained an early recognition with Claude Autant-Lara’s La Traversée de Paris. At last, he has achieved success and has no desire to experience the galley again. Especially since he is traumatized by the memory of his father, who, having wanted to trade in synthetic emeralds, simulated a suicide to escape the ruin, before escaping to Venezuela. And this visceral fear of poverty, he felt concretely three years earlier, during the uprising of May 1968.
That same year, everything smiled at him. After several films in the 1950s, it exploded during the decade of the yé-yés, with Le Corniaud (1965), La Grande Vadrouille (1966) and above all, the saga of the Gendarmes, started in 1964, with Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez, with 5 million admissions at the box office: “Louis de Funès becomes a phenomenon, which bursts quite late. But his self-deprecation, the very British truculence he wears in each of his roles, is very appealing,” says Alain Kruger, curator of the exhibition at the Cinémathèque. On the private side, the actor married Jeanne Augustine Barthelemy, niece by marriage to Guy de Maupassant, in 1943. Twenty years later, she inherited part of the family castle of Clermont, in the Loire-Atlantique, which De Funès bought in its entirety in 1967, after the success of La Grande Vadrouille. True to his reputation, he does some work there: “To protect himself from burglars, he truffles his castle of alarms, which, of course, are triggered in an untimely way (especially at his own funeral),” according to Bertrand Dicale. The comedian also buries a safe filled with silver and gold bars in his garden.