Tuesday, 20 January 2015


To François JAUBERT

Europe at the end of the 1920s. Charming and elegant, Arsène Lupin is a gentleman thief who steals without violence. He's a master of disguise who ridicules the authorities and the best sleuths, though himself likes detective work. Especially if a beautiful woman is involved. 

Arsène Lupin (1971-1974), starring Georges Descrières, is one of the most popular series in the History of French television. In december 2014, Koba Films released a four-disc DVD box set of its first season.

« Voler oui! Et encore, à condition de ne voler que des nantis, que des injustes ou des exploiteurs. Et d'ailleurs Lupin ne vole pas. Il rétablit l'équilibre.  »

Created by French writer Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941), Arsène Lupin appeared in 39 shorts stories and 17 novels between 1905 and 1939. Several actors portrayed him for the cinema, including Robert Lamoureux in 1957 and 1959. In 1960, Jean Gascon played Lupin in a 13 x 25 minute adaptation of the novel L'Aiguille creuse for Canadian TV. During the decade, writer and director Jacques Nahum tried to convince French state television about an Arsène Lupin series. Nahum, who adapted The Saint with the film Le Saint mène la danse (1960), actually had Simon Templar in mind but couldn't get the rights.

At the end of 1968, L'Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française commissioned Jacques Nahum's Mars International Productions and Pathé to produce Arsène Lupin with them. Stage and movie actor Georges Descrières (of the Comédie-Française) was chosen for the title role in 1969. Germany's WDR, Radio-Canada, Austria's ORF, Belgian TV, Dutch pubcaster NCRV, Italy's RAI and Swiss TV joined as co-producers. International funding ensured classy production values and allowed Lupin to travel in Europe with his chauffeur Grognard (French Canadian actor Yvon Bouchard) (1) for most of the thirteen 60-minute episodes. The writers loosely based their scripts on Leblanc's work to favour a lighter character.

1. Le Bouchon de cristal. Lupin must save his protégé Gilbert from the guillotine after a burglary at the home of the wealthy Daubrecq goes bad. An impeccable premiere, adapted by Jacques Nahum & René Wheeler and directed by Jean-Pierre Decourt. With Nadine Alari (Clarisse) and Daniel Gélin (Daubrecq).

2. Victor de la Brigade Mondaine. Adapted by Claude Brulé and directed by Jean-Pierre Decourt. The new préfet has a secret weapon against Arsène Lupin: Inspector Victor. This splendid job by Brulé (« Vous êtes vraiment sûr que vous êtes vous? ») introduces Lupin's nemesis Commissaire Guerchard (Roger Carel, brilliant) and Countess Natacha (Marthe Keller), Arsène's accomplice and love interest.

3. Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes. Someone murdered banker Raoul Dautrec but left his "Diamant Royal". A classic penned by Claude Brulé and directed by Decourt. Henri Virlojeux and Marc Dudicourt are Holmes/Watson parodies Herlock Sholmes (« Mon cher et fidèle ami. ») and Wilson (« Mon cher et grand ami. »)

4. L'arrestation d'Arsène Lupin. Lupin is finally caught. Unless... Another gem from Brulé and Decourt and an award-worthy performance of Roger Carel.

5. L'Agence Barnett. Adapted by Nahum & Wheeler and helmed by Jean-Pierre Decourt, this uneven episode mainly focuses on the tribulations of Inspector Béchoux (Jacques Balutin).

6. La demoiselle aux yeux verts. Adapted by Albert Simonin with husband and wife Rolf & Alexandra Becker (Dickie Dick Dickens) and directed by Dieter Lemmel. This forgettable Bavaria Atelier production for WDR feels more like a cross between The Saint and Bavaria's Graf Yoster gibt sich die Ehre (1967-1976) than like Lupin. With Kathrin Ackermann as Lady Dora Bakefield.

7. La chaîne brisée. Written by Jean Marcillac. Adapted by Jacques Armand and directed by Paul Cammermans. Arsène Lupin is in Holland for this suprisingly good tale of espionage.

8. La femme aux deux sourires. Adapted by Albert Simonin, Dussio Tessari, Adriano Baracco and director Marcello Baldi. Italian icon Raffaella Carrà plays Antonina in this deplorable farce produced by Ultra Film for RAI.

9. La chimère du calife. Adapted by Simonin and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Dieter Lemmel and produced by Bavaria. With Gunnar Möller and Bernd Schäfer as Fox and Robertson, pale substitutes for Sholmes and Wilson.

10. Une femme contre Arsène Lupin. Adapted by Jacques Armand. Directed by Tony Flaadt. Produced by Regusci Film for SSR. François Simon and Louis Arbessier cannot save this Swiss stopover from boredom.

11. Les anneaux de Cagliostro. A mildly amusing Austrian entry adapted by Georges Grammont and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Wolf Dietrich.

12. Les tableaux de Tornbüll. Written by J. Namus. Adapted by Georges Grammont and R. & A. Becker. Directed by Wolf Dietrich and produced by Bavaria. Kathrin Ackermann returns as Lady Bakefield in this laborious painting heist.

13. Le Sept de coeur. An excellent Holmesian conclusion from Radio Télévision Belge adapted by Nathan Grigorieff and directed by Jean-Louis Colmant. Raoul de Manez guest stars as Maurice Leblanc.

The ORTF 2nd channel aired Arsène Lupin from March to June 1971 and its reception prompted the commission of a second season (1973-1974). Repeats helped to establish Georges Descrières as the definitive Lupin for generations of viewers, although Leblanc's fans may disagree. Amongst familiar French faces of the era (Bernard Lavalette, Pierre Massimi, Monique Tarbès...) or abroad, the nonchalant charisma of Descrières and his disguises make the series a special treat. Arsène Lupin's popularity also owes to the music composed by Jean-Pierre Bourtayre. The theme, arranged by José Bartel, is on a Bondian title sequence designed by Jean Fouchet for Eurocitel.

L'Arsène, the sublime end title song, was composed by Bourtayre and Jacques Lanzmann for French hit singer Jacques Dutronc. Bonus material of the Koba Films box set includes a video of Dutronc singing another (very good) version of the song, a biography of Maurice Leblanc and a text on the life of Lupin.

(1) Yvon Bouchard is dubbed by Francis Lax in some episodes.


See also:

- Les nombreuses vies d'Arsène Lupin by André-François Ruaud (Moutons électriques, 2005).
- Génération télé by Thierry Wolf & Stéphane Lenoir (Les Belles lettres/F.G.L, 1994).

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