Alain Delon: Exciting, seductive, sexy and French

MyFrenchLife™ – – Alain DelonIf beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ugliness must be too. 

A glance at a list of twentieth century movies, especially the early ones, makes it hard to describe the period as anything but the age of the ugly man.

Naturally there are numerous notable exceptions and very handsome stars were made famous by studios on both sides of the pond.

But these days, even the most popular early heart-throbs, including Bogart, Niven, Gabin, Lorre, Chaplin, Montand, Belmondo, and many, many more, can hardly be described as anything but ugly.

Enter Alain Delon. He appeared suddenly in the sixties and was soon the most recognisable Frenchman in the world – a position he shared with Charles de Gaulle, who, it must be said, he somewhat overshadowed in the glamour stakes.

Delon, the original bad boy?

Delon was born in Paris in 1935. His parents separated when he was very young and he had a troubled early life. Expelled from several schools due to his ‘difficult character’, at seventeen he enlisted in the French Navy

MyFrenchLife™ – – Alain Delon – Zizi petit show1969

He served as a Fusilier Marin in the war in Indochina, but he spent eleven months out of his four years of service in a military jail for being ‘undisciplined’.

Following a dishonourable discharge, he spent time working as, among other positions, a waiter, a butcher, a porter, a secretary and a sales assistant.

Delon’s movie career was kicked off by coincidence. He joined an actress friend on a trip to the Cannes Film Festival where he was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout.

He never looked back and went on to make his fortune playing hardboiled hoods and criminals in dozens of detective potboilers.

Delon was blunt about his own acting:

All my life, I’ve played at being Alain Delon. For the rest, I couldn’t give a damn.

Playing himself certainly provided ample material. There were affairs with a throng of beautiful women. Gangsters, crooks, racketeers, petty criminals and other shady characters were always part of his private life.

Delon’s ambiguous answer to a question about his sexual predilections fed rumours of gay relationships.

Sex, drugs and scandal

In 1968, Delon found himself involved in a murder, drug, pornography and sex scandal.

Whether this episode reflects life imitating art or art imitating life is a moot point. His bodyguard was beaten, shot, wrapped in a sack and dumped on a rubbish tip on the outskirts of Paris.

Delon was questioned by the police immediately after the murder. It was alleged that he’d had several meetings with French gangsters, several of whom died violently soon after they’d met.

The investigation that followed revealed a tangled web of serious crime with a cast that included celebrities, politicians, wealthy businessmen and society heavyweights.

Compromising nude photos, some of which included the wife of future President Pompidou, were circulating among the rich and famous.

But, after several months of media hysteria, Delon was cleared of all charges.

Delon’s place in film history

Alain Delon branded underpants, fragrances, and other advertising deals ranging from sunglasses to helicopters, made him immensely wealthy.

MyFrenchLife™ – – Alain Delon - Plein Soleil

In addition to the huge popular acclaim he received for his early gangster and crime movies, several of Delon’s films were also very positively received by the critics.

René Clément’s 1960 Plein Soleil, or Purple Noon, enjoys a cult following even today. La Piscine, directed by Jacques Derau in 1969, explored sexual jealousy and possessiveness which is often imitated.

In 1970 Delon made the Le Cercle Rouge, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, and remembered for its climactic heist sequence which lasts for half an hour without any dialogue.

In 1976, working with Joseph Losey, Delon was the titular character in Monsieur Klein, a film exploring life in Paris under the Nazi Occupation.

Apart from these high points, some critics claim that good movies starring Delon are quite hard to find. But when he retired from movie making, he had appeared in over 100 successful and invariably lucrative productions.

Often dubbed the male Brigitte Bardot, some critics have pointed out that Delon’s early films dwell unselfconsciously on the physical attraction of his body and face.

So, was his somewhat androgynous sexuality one of the ingredients for his amazing acting successes? Well, perhaps yes, because, on screen, Alain Delon is just plain bloody mesmerisingly beautiful.

Have a look for yourself.

Are you an Alain Delon fan? Which of his films did you enjoy the most? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

Image credits:
1. Alain Delon Rocco et ses frères by Luchino Visconti, Giuseppe Rotunno via Wikipedia
2. Alain Delon on Zizi Petit Show (1969) by John Irving via Flickr
3. Purple Noon poster via Wikipedia


About the Contributor

Ray Johnstone

Ray is an artist & writer. His favourite subjects are nudes and portraits. Art holidays for groups & families are catered for in their 800-year-old house La Petite Galerie in Gascony. They also take up to 6 walkers on the 'best bits' of the Pilgrims Route to Compostela. Check out Ray's 100+ articles - he has his own column called 'Perspectives'

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  1. Marc Ballantyne Apr 20, 2020 at 6:36 PM - Reply

    Hi Ray
    I’ve recently discovered M Delon through Plein Soleil and, having googled him since, I agree he is mesmerisingly beautiful. Almost unbearably so. I’m going to watch Rocco & His Brothers next. As a footnote I’d add that he has sired two gorgeous sons too, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t always follow!

    On your first point about 20th century Hollowood leading men, I’d put the young Gary Cooper up against the best looking men anywhere and of any era. Not the guant, grizzled Coop of High Noon but rather the stunning young man of the late 1920s and the 1930s, photographed by the likes of George Hurrell. Wow, he was a handsome man. And early period Errol Flynn, before the booze took hold, wasn’t bad looking either.

    Fast forward a few decades and I’ve recently discovered Tab Hunter in the 1950s. An amazingly ‘modern’ looking, sexy blond Californian surfer type. Beautiful face and body if that’s you bag.

    Best wishes

    • Shanie Apr 20, 2021 at 4:11 AM - Reply

      I had always thought that Alain Delon was the most handsome actor until I discovered the young Gary Cooper (the Cooper of the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s). No discussion about leading men of the Golden Age of Hollywood or 20th century Hollywood would be complete without Cooper. He had the complete package (Delon had a beautiful face, but wasn’t tall enough to be the leading man type by Hollywood standards). He had the beautiful face, the sparking blue eyes with incredible eyelashes (rivaling Elizabeth Taylor’s), the height, the face that matched the body, the screen presence, the shy but warm smile, and the legendary sartorial style (both on and off screen). When you watch the young Cooper’s movies now, you can’t help but notice his timeless male beauty, and how he stood out even in an era where there were plenty of handsome leading men. He was probably one of the first actors who looked like he could be a male model and looked great in everything–cowboy outfits, tailored suits, military uniforms, tuxedos, and period costumes.

      • Anahita Aug 27, 2022 at 2:28 PM - Reply

        I disagree, delon is tall, he’s above 6 feet , watch once a thiesf 1965.
        U just can’t simply compare delon with others , doesn’t matter cooper or anyone , cz delon’s incomparable , i don’t see even a small amount of beauty that alain has in cooper’s face .
        Alian is handsome, pretty, and has a unique smile , i love when he smiles …
        His jaw is perfect, and there’s a rebel and beauty in his eyes ( both of them togather)
        Honestly i don’t see any perfection in cooper but i see perfection in alain .
        And i beleive it’s wrong comparing alain with anyone
        He was a unique symbol of charisma and beauty .

  2. Matt Apr 20, 2021 at 6:17 AM - Reply

    Nice ode to Delon, who is certainly a complex individual. But I think the adjective “androgynous” is misplaced, IMO there is nothing androgynous about him, he is a guy.

    As to critics saying they can’t find great movies by him after the 3-4 you mention–how many of them have a single performance to their name on a par with “Red Circle” or “Purple Noon”? It’s rather like saying “Other than On the Waterfront and Godfather, Brando really hasn’t made many great films”.

    And what about “Leopard”, “Rocco and his Brothers”, and “Samurai”? There is a lot more to him than a handsome face and 3 good performances.

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