Salacrou, Armand 1899-1989
Salacrou, Armand 1899-1989
(Armand Camille Salacrou)
Born August 9, 1899, in Rouen, France; died November 23, 1989, in Le Havre, France; son of Camille (a pharmaceutical maker) and Gabrielle (Pestel) Salacrou; married Jeanne Jeandet, 1922; children: two daughters. Education: Attended the Sorbonne, Paris, France, beginning 1918. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting art.
Journalist, critic, film director, and writer. Served as assistant director on 1929 filmMonte-Cristo; drama critic for L'Humanité and journalist forInternationale, 1921-22; worked in the film industry, 1925-27; playwright, c. 1925-1989; secretary to Charles Dullin at the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Paris, 1929-32; marketer for his father's pharmaceuticals company, beginning 1929; also worked in advertising prior to World War II. Former president, UNESCO International Institute of the Theatre; jury president, Cannes Film Festival, 1963. Member, Académie Goncourt, 1949-83; chair of first executive committee, International Theatre Institute. Military service:Served in the French military, beginning 1940; served in the Front National of the French Resistance duringWorld War II.
Society of French Dramatists (former president, beginning 1965).
Palmes Académiques; named Grand Officer of the French Legion of Honor.
La Boule de verre (title means "The Glass Ball"; first published in Intentions, Volume 3, numbers 28-30, 1924), Éditions Estienne (Paris, France), 1958.
Le Casseur d'assiettes (title means "The Breaker of Dishes"), Galerie Simon (Paris, France), 1924.
Magasin d'accessoires (title means "Accessory Store"), first published in Sélection, Volume 4, number 10, 1925.
Le Pont de l'Europe (three-act play; title means "The Bridge of Europe"), [Paris, France], 1925.
Tour à Terre (title means "The Fallen Tower") first produced in Paris, France, at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, 1925.
Les trente tombes de Judas (title means "The Thirty Tombs of Judas"), first published in Sélection,Volume 5, number 9, 1926.
Patchouli (first produced in Paris, France, at the Théâtre de l'Atelier, 1930), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1930.
Atlas-hôtel (three-act), [Paris, France], 1931.
Une femme libre (title means "A Free Woman"), first produced in Paris, France, at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, 1934.
Les frénétiques, [Paris, France], 1935.
L'inconnue d'Arras (three-act; title means "The Unknown Woman from Arras"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1936.
La vie en rose (one-act; title means "Life in Rose"), Cahiers du Sud (Marseille, France), 1936.
Un homme comme les autres (three-act; title means "A Man Like the Others"), Les Oeuvres Libres (Paris, France), 1937.
La Terre est ronde (title means "The World Is Round"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1938.
Histoire de rire (three-act; also known as Foolish Husbands,), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1940.
La Marguerite, Histoire de rire, et Le Casseur d'assiettes (three plays), [Paris, France], 1941.
Les fiancés du Havre (three-act), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1944.
Le Soldat et la sorcière (title means "The Soldier and the Sorcerer"), Fayard (Paris, France), 1946.
Les nuits de la colère (title means "Nights of Anger"), [Paris, France], 1946.
L'Archipel Lenoir, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1948.
Dieu le savait!; ou, La vie n'est pas sérieuse (three-act; title means "God Knows!; or, Life Is Not Serious"), France Illustration (Paris, France), 1951.
Sens interdit; ou, Les âges de la vie, psychodrame(title means "Forbidden Senses; or, The Ages of Life, Psychodrama"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1952.
Les invités du bon dieu (three-act; title means "The Guests of the Good God"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.
Une femme trop honnête (three-act; title means "A Too-Honest Woman"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1956.
Le Miroir (four-act; title means "The Mirror"), [Paris, France], 1956.
Boulevard Durand: Chronique d'un procès oublié,Gallimard (Paris, France), 1960.
La Réprouvée (one-act), La Table Ronde (Paris, France), 1961.
Comme les chardons (title means "Like the Thistles"), Gallimard, 1964.
La Rue noire (title means "The Black Street"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1967.
Three Plays (contains The World Is Round, When the Music Stops, and Marguerite), translated by Norman Stokle, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1967.
Monte-Cristo, Les Films Louis Nalpas, 1929.
L'homme de nulle part (title means "Man from Nowhere"), 1937.
(With Georges Neveux) Histoire de rire (adaptation of the play of the same name), 1941, broadcast on television as Au théâtre ce soir: Histoire de rire,1982.
(With Royston Morley) Men of Darkness, (for television; adaptation of play Les nuits de la colère), 1948, broadcast as Les nuits de la colère 1973.
(With René Clair) La beauté du diable (title means "The Beauty of the Devil"), 1950.
Sens Interdit (for television), 1965.
De une på 80 (for television), 1970.
Soldat et la sorcière (for television), 1971.
Poof (for television), 1973.
Au théâtre ce soir: L'archipel Lenoir (for television), 1977.
La desconocida de Arrás, Estudio 1, Televisión Española, 1978.
L'inconnu d'Arras (for television; based on the play of the same title), 1980.
Théâtre, eight volumes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1943-66.
Pourquoi pas moi? suivi de Poof (title means "Why Not Me? Followed by Poof"), Bordas (Paris, France), 1948.
A Pied, au-dessus des nuages (poetry), Seghers (Paris, France), 1956.
(With Max Jacob) Lettres au Salacrou, août 1923- janvier 1926 (correspondence), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1957.
Histoire de cirque (title means "History of the Circus"), [Paris, France], 1960.
Les Idées de la nuit (essays; title means "The Ideas of the Night"), Fayard (Paris, France), 1960.
Impromptu délibéré: Entretiens avec Paul-Louis Mignon (interview), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1966.
Dans la salle des pas perdus (autobiography), two volumes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1974.
Armand Salacrou was a prolific French playwright and screenplay writer whose theatrical career spanned the 1920s through the 1960s. He not only managed to write many pieces for the stage, and is credited with inventing the flashback—but he also transformed his father's pharmaceutical company into a major player in French business, making some of its products household names in France. He also worked in advertising before World War II, where he achieved considerable financial success.
In a career spanning almost half a century, Salacrou "wrote some thirty plays which, by their varied subject matter and great technical skill, entertained Parisian audiences, and which, by the constancy of their central themes, enabled Salacrou to explore his own philosophical and metaphysical preoccupations," commented a biographer in the International Dictionary of Theatre. Salacrou's best-known plays include Les nuits de la colère and La terre est ronde—the latter, as well as a few other plays by Salacrou, has been translated into English. Salacrou also collaborated on screenplays, and he managed to publish a two-volume autobiography, Dans la salle des pas perdus, before he died in 1989.
Born in Rouen in 1899, Salacrou began writing plays while still in his adolescence, and he had sold his firstshort story by 1916. He was a committed socialist in his youth and wrote for communist-leaning publications, but he later abandoned political activity as meaningless. Though Salacrou's first plays, such as Le casseur d'assiettes and Tour à terre, were not successful with audiences, they won him the support of two very talented directors: Lugné-Poe and Charles Dullin. These men urged him to continue writing, and Dullin even employed Salacrou as his secretary for a time. The playwright's big break came with 1931's Atlas-hôtel.In the words of Bettina L. Knapp in World Literature Today, it "features a protagonist who lives in his own world of fantasy." The man is trying to build a casino and hotel on Mt. Atlas but goes about it in entirely the wrong way. For example, he sets the table for guests before the construction is finished on the hotel building. "The play concludes with the hotel's financial collapse," reported Knapp.
L'inconnue d'Arras, which reached audiences in 1936, is the play for which Salacrou invented the flashback. As Juris Silenieks explained in Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures: "Three revolver shots are heard at the rise of the curtain. The hero, Ulysse, has just committed suicide, and the theatrical event is placed in that infinitesimal split second that it takes for the bullet to put out consciousness." Patrick McCarthy, reviewing the second volume of Salacrou's autobiography in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that "the bitter sense of failure that drives Ulysse to suicide in L'inconnue d'Arras was present in Salacrou's life." Indeed, many critics have remarked on the autobiographical nature of Salacrou's theatrical oeuvre. Colin Radford maintained in theInternational Dictionary of Theatre that "it is possible to relate the choice of subject in all his plays to various stages of his own life."
Radford felt, however, that Salacrou's celebrated La terre est ronde is an exception, one of the "rare excursions into the realm of history." The play centers on the historical figure of Girolamo Savonarola, a fifteenth-century Florentine mystic who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for heresy. Speaking of the theme of circularity in Salacrou's plays, Silenieks stated that in La terre est ronde "the entire theocratic experiment of Savonarola is viewed as just another cycle in the eternal recurrence of events that change nothing and lead nowhere." The critic went on to explain that Savonarola's "ambitions, his struggles, his suffering, the suffering he inflicted on others—all will vanish without a trace in the timelessness of the universe. There is just one certainty left—the certainty that the earth is round, that it revolves and moves in the infinity toward nothing."
Even though the events of Salacrou's 1946 play, Les nuits de la colère, are similarly tragic, involving the deaths of Resistance heroes and collaborators alike, a more hopeful outlook is presented. The hero, who is about to be executed, dictates a letter to his wife, expressing his satisfaction at having resisted the Nazi regime and hoping that his children will come to be proud of his acts against the Germans and the Vichy government. Rosemary P.-Z. Clark reported in War, Literature, and the Arts that Les nuits de la colèreproved an immediate hit with French audiences. She explained that "in Salacrou's drama of wartime resistance the characters found meaning in their lives even in their suffering, through their heroic deeds, and through their knowledge that somehow their actions would effect change." Similarly, Silenieks concluded of Les nuits de la colère that "the two final simultaneous scenes suggest … that man may redeem himself through his sincere efforts and gain his own peace and serenity through a duty well discharged." Salacrou himself had fought in World War II with the French military; he was captured by the Germans in June 1940 but managed to escape. After the Germans had conquered most of France, Salacrou worked with the storied French Resistance and its underground press. It is also notable that Salacrou's career as a playwright and dramatist was "interrupted only by World War II when, as a mark of respect for his Jewish friends, he refused to allow any of his plays to be performed," noted the International Dictionary of Theatreessayist.
Salacrou often used his Normandy homeland as a setting in his plays. Les fiancés du Havre, a three-act play originally produced in 1944 after the liberation of France, "is an intricate comedy (at least, superficially) with sparkling dialogue and immense verve; invariably, however, there is a serious undertow," commented the International Dictionary of Theatrereviewer. Boulevard Durand: Chronique d'un procès oublié, initially delayed in production because of political reasons, is based on a real-life event Salacrou remembered from his youth: the case of a trade unionist wrongfully condemned to death for a murder committed on the docks of Le Havre. "Taken together, these two plays alone provide a good illustration of Salacrou's range of interests, his technical skill, and the diversity of his talents," remarked the International Dictionary of Theatre biographer. The plays "reveal more than their author's technical virtuosity: they demonstrate two sides of a complex personality, striving constantly and imaginatively to find an appropriate response to the human predicament in what Salacrou, even before Albert Camus, saw as an absurd world."
Beauty and the Devil, an English version of Salacrou's film La beauté du diable, is a "venerable story re-told, but it is philosophy for sophisticates presented with vitality and movement and portrayed by a wholly professional cast," commented a New York Times critic. The film is heavily influenced by the story of Faust, a mortal man who made a deal with the Devil. The Faust of this film is eager to live on and continue his alchemical experiments, even though his work has deprived him of the joys of youth and love. Mephisto appears and offers Faust the depth of universal knowledge in exchange for his soul. Willing to let Faust consider the deal, the Devil grants Faust much of what his life had lacked—vibrant youth, the love of a beautiful woman named Marguerite, and an endless supply of riches. The temptations continue, and Faust's worldly successes mount. Despite visions of a terrible future provided by Mephisto, Faust resists, but finally enters into Mephisto's pact when the Devil destroys his power on earth. However, the irresistible power of love draws Faust and Marguerite together, and "Mephisto is the loser as the lovers retain their youth," theNew York Times critic noted. The movie stands as a "sweeping, lavishly mounted and often fascinating and imaginative restatement of the Faust legend that closely adheres to the tragi-comedy label the producers have bestowed upon it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Annual Obituary, 1989, St. James Press (Detroit, IL), 1990.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
International Dictionary of Theatre, Volume 2:Playwrights, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Looseley, David, A Search for Commitment: The Theatre of Armand Salacrou, University of Exeter (Exeter, England), 1985.
Salacrou, Armand, Dans la salle des pas perdus, two volumes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1974.
New York Times, October 11, 1949, "The Screen," review of Foolish Husbands; August 25, 1952, "The Screen in Review," review of Beauty and the Devil.
Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures, Issue 1, 1966, Juris Silenieks, "Circularity of Plot in Salacrou's Plays," p. 56.
Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 1974, "The Hard Sell," p. 643; September 17, 1976, Patrick McCarthy, "Angst and the Ad-Man," p. 1161.
War, Literature, and the Arts, fall-winter, 1994, Rosemary P.-Z. Clark, "Representations of the Resistance in World War II France," p. 71.
World Literature Today, spring, 1977, John J. Lakich, review of Dans la salle des pas perdus, p. 244; summer, 1979, Bettina L. Knapp, review ofTheatre II, p. 474.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (June 19, 2006), biography and credits of Armand Salacrou.
Le Havre Library Web site, http://ex.ville-lehavre.fr/ (June 19, 2006), biography of Armand Salacrou.