Craggy-featured French character player and an occasional lead, in more than 200 films in a career spanning over 75 years. A slightly stocky man of medium height, with a rumbling voice and a strong, f...
Wrote and directed one film, "Dans la nuit/In the night", in which he also played the leading role
Last film, "The Seasons of Pleasure", directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky
Wanted to follow in his family's seafaring footsteps; aspired to be a naval officer, but problems with his eyes necessitated giving that up
Lived in the south of France for the last 20 years of his life
Began film career
Played most famous role in Henri-George Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear"
Craggy-featured French character player and an occasional lead, in more than 200 films in a career spanning over 75 years. A slightly stocky man of medium height, with a rumbling voice and a strong, focused gaze, Vanel began in films in 1912 and would eventually be directed by the likes of Jacques Feyder, Luis Bunuel, Maurice Tourneur, Pierre Chenal, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Pierre Mocky. Early on in his screen career he played the leading role in a film he also wrote and directed, "In the Night" (1930), and he also did well as the nasty, relentless Inspector Javert opposite Harry Bauer in Raymond Bernard's screen version of "Les Miserables" (1934). As late as 1976 Vanel played the leading role of the grandfather in Peter Lilienthal's docudrama, "Es Herrscht Ruhe im Land".
American audiences are most likely to remember Vanel as the detective on the trail of former cat burglar Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" (1955), but perhaps the gifted actor's most memorable screen role came as the eldest of four men assigned to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerine across dangerous terrain in Henri-Georges Clouzot's agonizingly suspenseful "The Wages of Fear" (1952). Vanel deserved won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival for his superb performance, in which his increasingly frail character suffers humiliation at the hands of Yves Montand and endures remarkable physical torment during the dangers of the journey. The seasoned, always welcome veteran continued acting in films until 1988, when he performed in Mocky's "The Seasons of Pleasure".
"You know, in our profession, there is no end. As long as one has the strength to do it, you can act." (Vanel, at age 94, in an interview given for a Swiss newspaper, quoted in his obituary in "The New York Times" 4/16/89).