Partly due to the uneven quality of his work,Henri Decoin remained an overlooked director.Born in 1890,he was a sports correspondent ,a novelist ,Gallone's assistant ,and a screenwriter, As a director ,some of his Films Noirs are simply stellar and deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those of Clouzot and Duvivier .
His first efforts (1933-1941) were often vehicles for Danielle Darrieux, one of the greatest stars of the French cinema.They married in 1935 and divorced in 1941."Le Domino Vert" (1935) was a melodramatic detective story .In both "Abus De Confiance" and "Battements De Coeur" ,Darrieux played an orphan .The Cinderella syndrome was much better applied on "Premier Rendez-Vous" which made the actress the young girls' idol ."Premier Rendez-Vous " was more of the same ,but was another fine comedy of the occupation days.However ,in 1938 ,in"Retour A l'Aube " elements of thriller bursts into what was a charming dreamlike tale ;this was the key to Decoin's future as he would make his way through the forties.
1942 inaugurated the era of Decoin's Films Noirs :"Les Inconnus Dans La Maison" from Simenon was the story (imitated many times afterward)of an alcoholic lawyer who redeems himself ,a renaissance with a masterful Raimu."L'Homme De Londres " (Simenon again,later remade by Bela Tarr)depicted a working man's dilemma in the gloomy atmosphere of a harbor."La Fille Du Diable" (1945) and "Non Coupable" (1947)were the cream of Decoin's work:both Andrée Clément and Michel Simon reached peaks of cynicism and the atmosphere of those films was so black,so desperate ,that the viewer needed a breath of fresh air after watching them.With its four (or maybe five) suicides,its spoofs on marriage and religion,"Les Amants Du Pont Saint-Jean " was still Decoin's finest hour"."Les Amoureux Sont Seuls Au Monde " was more romantic,but a romantic tragedy :this time,another suicide might have seemed too much for the producers who reportedly asked for a happy end (today, only the sad ending is screened)."Entre Onze Heures Et Minuit" had a brilliant beginning (people,leaving a movie theater,complain about the implausibility of these dead ringers films,they actually meet three doubles who make them shiver.) ,but the rest of the movie was uneven mainly because highly talented Jouvet and Madeleine Robinson were not able to make up for a weak supporting cast.
The fifties were as uneven as ever.On the plus side:"La Verite Sur Bébé Donge"(1951)from Simenon saw Darrieux's return in her ex-husband 's world : all dressed in black(and beautiful), like a death angel, she visited her dying husband (Gabin)with a pallid face in a white room.Darrieux was also featured in "Bonnes A Tuer"(1954),a stifling thriller in which Larry (Michel Auclair)gathered the four women of his life,with a view of killing one of the them ,but which one?"Dortoir Des Grandes " ,in a girls boarding -school ,showed teenagers playing very strange games at night."Razzia Sur La Chnouff" ,dealing with drugs ,opted for a quasi-documentary style. The rest is less successful: his thrillers became more and more disappointing ("Le Feu Aux Poudres" " Tous Peuvent Me Tuer" "Pourquoi Viens-Tu Si Tard?").But the unfairly neglected "Malefices " (1961) from Boileau-Narcejac ,a story of black magic and Amour Fou on an island sometimes inaccessible ,nearly matched his best thrillers' level.Juliette Greco's beauty and mystery added to a deadly charm.
His "resistance " efforts ,both episodes of "La Chatte " ,seem obsolete today and are remembered only for Françoise Arnoul who turned a questioning at the Gestapo into an erotic extravaganza.Historic dramas "L"Affaire Des Poisons" and "Le Masque De Fer " were looked upon as failures ,particularly Dumas's famous story.His swansong "Nick Carter Va Tout Casser" (1964) was a vehicle for Eddie Constantine and paled into insignificance next to his finest thrillers.
He died in 1969; his son,Didier Decoin became a famous writer.