Modern Matinees

Lino Ventura

Sep 8–Oct 28, 2022


L’Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows). 1969. France. Directed and written by Jean-Pierre Melvillle, from the novel by Joseph Kessel. Courtesy of Rialto Pictures
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

A professional wrestler before Jacques Becker cast him as a supporting hood in Touchez-pas au grisbi (1954), Lino Ventura became one of France’s most popular stars of the 1960s and ’70s, balancing taciturn, tough-guy roles for directors such as Jean-Pierre Melville (Army of Shadows, 1969) and Claude Sautet (L’Arme a gauche, 1965) with comedies (most famously, Georges Lautner’s Les Tontons flinguers, 1963) that drew on his considerable gifts as a frustrated straight-man. Born in Italy and raised in a hardscrabble Paris neighborhood by a single mother, Ventura never took an acting lesson but brought an unshakeable authenticity to his performances, grounded in a strictly pre-Method reticence and interiority, multiplied by the imposing physicality of his athletic bulk, hooded eyes, and rasping voice.

Famously, Ventura never employed an agent, but insisted on auditioning writers and directors himself in his home office in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Cloud. Said to be reluctant to extend himself beyond his comfort zone in genre filmmaking, Ventura nevertheless contributed memorable work in naturalistic dramas, such as Francesco Rosi’s Illustrious Corpses (1976), and a range of adventure films like Henri Verneiuil’s Cent mille dollars au soleil (1964), in which he costars with his friendly rival, Jean-Paul Belmondo. This program includes a rare 35mm print of Ventura’s first starring vehicle, Le Gorille vous salue bien, from MoMA’s film archive.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film.

  • This film series is part of Modern Matinees.
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