Claude Rich, who has died aged 88, was a familiar face in French cinema and theatre for almost seven decades. The much-loved actor alternated between stage and screen, considering the latter as recreation, the former a passion. In fact, he had few really challenging roles on screen, despite having made films for the New Wave directors Alain Resnais, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. His reputation among French audiences derived from a string of mainstream comedies, especially in the 1960s, in which they cherished his ever-youthful, naive persona, his lilting voice and consistent smile, either charming or mischievous.
The film that made him a star was Les Tontons Flingueurs (1963), rendered variously in English as Monsieur Gangster or Crooks in Clover (literally, The Killer Uncles). Scripted by Michel Audiard, a master of witty and biting French argot, the comedy-thriller has Rich as Antoine, an effete young man engaged to the teenage ward of Fernand, a reformed gangster (Lino Ventura). Rich is both amusing and suitably irritating as a snob and pedant, causing Fernand to kick him out of the house.
Rich - Strasbourg - Siblings - Widowed - Mother
Rich, who was born in Strasbourg, was brought up with his three siblings by his widowed mother (his father, an engineer, died of flu when Claude was a boy). At school in Paris during the German occupation, he thought of becoming a Roman Catholic priest. However, after the war, he worked in a bank, while becoming interested in acting.
At the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art, Jean Rochefort, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Annie Girardot were among his contemporaries. In 1953, soon after leaving with a second prize (no first prizes were given that year), Rich got work in professional theatre, beginning with the role of one of the two cynical murderers in Patrick Hamilton’s Rope (1954) at the Théâtre de la Renaissance. A year later,...
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