“You are too handsome, you won’t have a brilliant career,” producers told Alain Delon at the very beginning of his film path. However, refusals did not plunge the future artist into despondency.
Once, Delon met famous director Yves Allégret. In 1957, Delon made his debut film, which was Allégret’s “Send a Woman When the Devil Fails.”
A year later, Alain Delon played “Be Beautiful But Shut Up” by Marc Allégret, the brother of Yves Allégret. In the film, Delon appeared in a scene with French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, also beginning at that time.
Fame and recognition came to Alain Delon after the detective film “Purple Noon” (1960) by René Clément. Critics began to talk about the talent of the young actor, noting that he had an almost charming combination of “devil’s soul” and “angel face”. Delon was called “the 1960 Julien Sorel” (the protagonist of Stendhal’s novel “The Red and the Black”, 1830).
Then came roles in the films of famous Italian directors, including Luchino Visconti (“Rocco and His Brothers”, “The Leopard”) and Michelangelo Antonioni (“Eclipse”).
In 1963, the crime drama of Henri Verneuil (born Ashot Malakian) “Any Number Can Win” based on the novel “The Big Grab” by Zekial Marko (pen name John Trinian) appeared on the screens. The picture was warmly received by viewers, later becoming a recognized classic of the genre.
“Any Number Can Win” was included in the list of the best foreign films of 1963 according to the American National Board of Review. In 1964, the film was nominated for the Golden Globe award in the Best Foreign Film category. In the same year and category, it received the Edgar Award.
The main roles in the film of Verneuil were performed by Jean Gabin and Alain Delon. Gabin played the role of full-time thief Charles who was recently released from prison and who conceived a big affair before retiring – robbing a casino on the Cote d’Azur. Charles is aided by a twenty-year crook Francis Verlot, whose role was played by Alain Delon.
Alain Delon later talked about the role of Francois Verlot as one of the best in his career. He also highly appreciated Verneuil’s directing skills.
The tandem of Gabin and Delon vividly characterized Verneuil: “On one hand, a thick-skinned animal. Slow. Heavy sunken eyes under wrinkled eyelids and a feeling of calm strength, behind which is weight. Body. Age. Experience. Forty years of career. About seventy films. This was Gabin.
On the other – a predatory cat. Young beast, claws hidden, restrained, but the teeth sharp, and in his blue-icy gaze was the sense of purpose of those who will one day be on top. This was Delon.”
In 1969, another crime drama by Henri Verneuil was released – “The Sicilian Clan”, a film telling the story of a gangster family of immigrants from Sicily. The main roles in it were performed by all the same Jean Gabin and Alain Delon, as well as Lino Ventura.
Addressing the criticism of the choice of heroes for his films, Verneuil chose the words of Anton Chekhov as the epigraph to “The Sicilian Clan”: “When I defend horse thieves, I am not claiming that it’s bad to steal horses. This is a jury case, not my personal one.”
The epigraph to the film is a paraphrase of Chekhov’s letter to publisher Alexei Suvorin from April 1, 1890: “You are scolding me for objectivity, calling it indifference to good and evil, lack of ideals, ideas, and so on. You want me, portraying the horse thieves, to say that stealing horses is evil. But this has already been known without me. Let their jurors judge them, my job is to show who they are.”