Jeanson, Henri

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Writer. Nationality: French. Born: Henri Jules Jeanson in Paris, 6 March 1900. Career: Actor, journalist, film critic, and playwright: plays produced include Toi que j'ai tant aimée, 1928, Amis comme avant, 1929, Aveux spontanés, 1930, Pas de taille (with C.-A. Puget) 1930, Tout va bien, 1931, Parole d'honneur, 1934; early 1930s—scenarist for Paramount di Joinville: 1932—first film script, for Le Jugement de minuit; 1950—directed the film Lady Paname; 1951—wrote libretto for musical work by Tailleferre, Il était un petit navire. Died: In Honfleur, 6 November 1970.

Films as Writer:


Le Jugement de minuit (Esway)


Les Aventures du roi Pausole (Granowsky); La Dame de chezMaxim's (A. Korda); Bach Millionnaire (Wulschleger); Mariage à responsabilité limitée (de Limut)


Sidonie Panache (Wulschleger)


Marchand d'amour (Gréville)


Mister Flow (Compliments of Mr. Flow) (Siodmak); Le Chemin de Rio (Siodmak)


Pépé le Moko (Duvivier); Un Carnet de bal (Duvivier); Le Mensonge de Nina Petrowna (The Lie of Nina Petrovna) (Tourjansky); Prison sans barreaux (Moguy); Les Rois du sport (Colombier)


Entrée des artistes (The Curtain Rises) (M. Allégret); Le Patriote (The Mad Emperor) (Tourneur); Hôtel du nord(Carné); Le Drame de Shanghaï (Pabst); Tarakanowa (Ozep)


La Nuit fantastique (L'Herbier)


L'Honorable Catherine L'Herbier)


Florence est folle (Lacombe)


Carmen (Christian-Jaque—produced 1943); Boule de suif (Angel and Sinner) (Christian-Jaque); Farandole (Zwoboda);Le Jugement dernier (Chanas)


Un Revenant (A Lover's Return) (Christian-Jaque)


Les Maudits (The Damned) (Clément); Carré de valets(Berthomieu); Copie conforme (Dréville); La Taverne du poisson couronné (Chanas)


Les Amoureux sont seuls au monde (Monelle) (Decoin); La Vie en rose (Loves of Colette) (Faurez); Aux yeux du souvenir (Souvenir) (Delannoy); Scandale (Le Hénaff)


Au royaume des cieux (The Sinners) (Duvivier); Entre onze heures et minuit (Decoin)


Lady Paname (+ d); Souvenirs perdus (Christian-Jaque); Meurtres (Three Sinners) (Pottier)


Le Garçon sauvage (Savage Triangle) (Delannoy); Fanfan la Tulipe (Fanfan the Tulip) (Christian-Jaque); Identité judicaire (Bromberger); Barbe-Bleue (Christian-Jaque); L'Homme de ma vie (Lefranc)


La Minute de verité (The Moment of Truth) (Delannoy); La Fête à Henriette (Holiday for Henrietta) (Duvivier)


"Lysistrata" ep. of Destinées (Daughters of Destiny) (Christian-Jaque)


Madame Du Barry (Christian-Jaque)


Nana (Christian-Jaque); Marguerite de la nuit (Autant-Lara)


Pot-Bouille (Duvivier)


Montparnasse 19 (Modigliani of Montparnasse) (Becker); Maxime (Verneuil); Marie-Octobre (Duvivier); Guinguette(Delannoy)


La Vache et le prisonnier (The Cow and I) (Verneuil)


Vive Henri IV, vive l'amour (Autant-Lara); Le Puits aux trois verités (Three Faces of Sin) (Villiers); Madame Sans-Gêne(Madame) (Christian-Jaque)


Le Crime ne paie pas (Crime Does Not Pay) (Oury); Le Diable et les dix commandements (The Devil and the Ten Commandments) (Duvivier)


La Glaive et la balance (Two Are Guilty) (Cayette); Les Bonnes Causes (Don't Tempt the Devil) (Christian-Jaque)


Le Repas des fauves (Christian-Jaque)


Le Majordôme (Delannoy)


Paris au mois d'août (Paris in the Month of August) (Granier-Deferre)

Film as Dialogue Supervisor:


Gargousse (Wulschleger)


By JEANSON: books—

With J. Galtier-Boissière, Scandales de la IVe (play), Paris, 1955.

With others, Radio-télé (play), Paris, 1963.

Mots, propos, aphorismes, Paris, 1971.

70 ans d'adolescence, edited by Joelle Jouillié and Pierre Serval, Paris, 1971.

With others, Pépé le Moko (script) in Avant-Scène (Paris), 1 June 1981.

By JEANSON: article—

Image et Son (Paris), March 1968.

On JEANSON: articles—

Cinémonde (Paris), 20 February 1953.

Cinémonde (Paris), 30 June 1959.

Skrien (Amsterdam), March 1979.

Positif (Paris), November 1993.

French Review, March 1996.

Positif (Paris), November 1996.

Sight and Sound (London), March 1999.

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Henri Jeanson is the author of some of the most famous, most quoted dialogues of French cinema. It is he who wrote the unforgettable exchanges between Arletty and Louis Jouvet in Carné's Hôtel du nord, concise and brilliantly witty, and those for Marc Allégret's Entrée des artistes, equally humorous as delivered by Jouvet in his characteristically dry tone of understatement.

Indeed, Jeanson's dialogues were most successful when specifically written for performers whom he knew well and whose talents he appreciated. This was how he preferred to work and was especially true for Louis Jouvet, for whom he wrote the dialogues for some 10 films (including Siodmak's Mister Flow, Duvivier's Un Carnet de bal, and Christian-Jaque's Un Revenant). But if the relationship of dialogue to the accent and presence of an actor or actress contributes to its success (one thinks not only of Jouvet, but of Arletty in Hôtel du nord squalling in her inimitable Parisian accent, "Atmosphère, atmosphère! Non, mais est-ce que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphère?"), it is also at the heart of the weakness of many of the films on which Jeanson worked. Entrée des artistes, for example, although studded with some brilliantly witty dialogue and an outstanding performance by Jouvet, lacks any real consistent depth, and the awkwardly presented and overstated moral conclusion shows the film up as little more than a vehicle for the talents of both Jouvet and Jeanson. Ultimately, Jeanson's preoccupation with writing for performers meant that he often failed to write for characters. Behind the dazzling dialogues there is often neither substance nor development. Jeanson's ability to tell a story falls short of his ability to be comic, and he is often guilty of allowing his taste for witty rhetoric to dominate the less ostentatious task of good narrative construction. Consequently, the films on which Jeanson worked are usually memorable for certain scenes or dialogues rather than any more profound moral or philosophical vision or poetry of the quality of the screenwriting of Jacques Prévert. In Entrée des artistes, for example, one remembers Jouvet's visit to the laundry run by the parents of one of his pupils, and some of the exchanges with these pupils. In Pépé le Moko, one remembers the death of the informer, Charpin, and the scene in which Jean Gabin and Mireille Balin reminisce and love each other through their memories of Paris. In Hôtel du nord, the shrill exasperation of Arletty rebounding against the placid resignation of Jouvet is one of the most quoted passages of French cinema of the 1930s. Jeanson's writing is best suited to the deliberately fragmented narrative of Un Carnet de bal, a film composed of seven sketches united by one common character.

Considering the true author of a film to be the dialogue writer, Jeanson staunchly opposed both the notion of filmmaking as team work and the director as "auteur," seeing the latter as little more than a functional artisan. This apparent lack of respect for directors (he once described Marcel Carné as just "one of Prévert's thousand and one little inventions") meant that Jeanson never established such long-lasting creative collaborations as those of Carné and Prévert or Autant-Lara with Aurenche and Bost. Rather, Jeanson worked for a variety of directors, often supplying the dialogues for scenarios written by other screenwriters. For Christian-Jaque, for example, Jeanson wrote the dialogues for Carmen for a scenario by Charles Spaak and Jacques Viot; those for Boule de suif for a scenario by Louis d'Hée; and those for René Clément's Les Maudits were written for a scenario by Jacques Companeez and Alexandroff. Having made something of a speciality out of supplying dialogues for scenarios prepared by others, Jeanson's work lacks any real thematic coherence, and he worked on films as different as L'Herbier's burlesque comedy L'Honorable Catherine, Clément's drama Les Maudits, and Duvivier's melodramatic romance set in a girl's boarding school, Au royaume des cieux. His best work, however, is for films in which he wrote the scenario himself, as in the case of Pépé le Moko and Un Revenant, or actively collaborated in its writing, as for Hôtel du nord (written with Jean Aurenche).

Apart from his writing for film, Jeanson wrote a number of plays and worked throughout his life as a journalist, writing polemical articles for newspapers such as Bonsoir, L'Oeuvre, L'Aurore, and Le Canard Enchainé. Like many of his films, Jeanson's journalism relied on his irrepressible wit, but its caustic irreverence often got him into trouble with those whom he delighted in attacking. He was an editor of the Ciné-Liberté journal in 1936 and worked alongside Jean Renoir on the fund-raising for La Marseillaise. He later considered Renoir to be guilty of political opportunism during the war and refers to him in his memoirs as "Jean Renoir, ou la grand désillusion." Perhaps symptomatic of his ability to offend everyone, Jeanson was both imprisoned by the Germans during World War II and then accused at the Liberation of "favouring enemy plans." After the war, his newspaper articles lost nothing of their ferocity. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he regularly selected the New Wave critics and filmmakers for attack. François Truffaut's own brand of iconoclastic yet incisive criticism made him a particularly frequent target for Jeanson. And it was precisely the generation of New Wave directors which revolted against and then swept aside the sort of dialogue-centered filmmaking which Jeanson had always advocated and had clearly shown in the one film that he directed himself, Lady Paname.

—Richard Alwyn