25 May 1903|
|Died||4 March 1975
Vence, Alpes-Maritimes, France
Charles Spaak (25 May 1903 – 4 March 1975) was a Belgian screenwriter who was noted particularly for his work in the French cinema during the 1930s. He was the son of the dramatist and poet Paul Spaak, the brother of the politician Paul-Henri Spaak, and the father of the actresses Catherine Spaak and Agnès Spaak.
Charles Spaak was born in Brussels in 1903 into a prominent Belgian family. In 1928 he moved to Paris and took a post as secretary to the film-maker Jacques Feyder, who then asked him to work on the adaptation of a stage play for his film Les Nouveaux Messieurs. He also worked as head of publicity for the production company Albatros. He went on to write the screenplays for Feyder's most important films of the 1930s: Le Grand Jeu, Pension Mimosas, and La Kermesse héroïque. Spaak was also in demand to work with other leading directors. During the 1930s he worked with Julien Duvivier on La Bandera (1935) and La Belle Équipe (1936), and with Jean Grémillon on La Petite Lise (1930) and Gueule d'amour (1937). He also collaborated with Jean Renoir on two of his major films, Les Bas Fonds (1936) and La Grande Illusion (1937).
Many of these films of the 1930s are marked by a concern for realistic detail with sharply written dialogue, often pessimistic in tone, and several of them provided leading roles which were played by Jean Gabin. He established himself, alongside Jacques Prévert and Henri Jeanson, as a leading screenwriter during one of the French cinema's richest periods.
During the German occupation of France, Spaak chose to return to Paris and found work on a number of the wartime productions that were made there, including further films with Duvivier and Grémillon. (In Bertrand Tavernier's film Laissez-passer (2001) which gives a detailed picture of how film-making continued in occupied Paris, Spaak is portrayed in 1943 when he was working on a film for the Continental-Films production company.)
After the war Spaak worked with new directors and in a wider range styles, and he formed a particular association with André Cayatte in a series of films set against a background of the French judicial system: Justice est faite (1950), Nous sommes tous les assassins (1951), Avant le deluge (1953), and Le Dossier noir (1955). He also undertook some of the literary adaptations which marked the 'quality cinema' of the 1950s, including Thérèse Raquin (1953) and Crime et Châtiment (1956).
In 1949 Spaak made his only venture into directing with Le Mystère Barton, but the film met with little success.
Charles Spaak continued working selectively on scenarios until the early 1970s, and he died in 1975 in Vence in the South of France.
Selective list of screenplays
Charles Spaak wrote or contributed to more than 100 film screenplays, including the following:
- 1929 Les Nouveaux Messieurs (d. Jacques Feyder)
- 1930 La Petite Lise (d. Jean Grémillon)
- 1931 Dainah la métisse (d. Jean Grémillon)
- 1933 Le Grand Jeu (d. Jacques Feyder)
- 1934 Pension Mimosas (d. Jacques Feyder)
- 1935 La Bandera (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1935 Les Beaux Jours (d. Marc Allégret)
- 1935 La Kermesse héroïque (d. Jacques Feyder)
- 1935 Veille d'armes (d. Marcel L'Herbier)
- 1936 Les Bas-fonds (d. Jean Renoir)
- 1936 La Belle Équipe (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1936 L'Homme du jour (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1936 Les Loups entre eux (d. Léon Mathot)
- 1936 La Porte du large (d. Marcel L'Herbier)
- 1937 Aloha, le chant des îles (d. Léon Mathot)
- 1937 L'Étrange Monsieur Victor (d. Jean Grémillon)
- 1937 La Grande Illusion (d. Jean Renoir)
- 1937 Gueule d'amour (d. Jean Grémillon)
- 1938 La Fin du jour (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1938 Le Récif de corail (d. Maurice Gleize)
- 1939 Le Dernier Tournant (d. Pierre Chenal)
- 1939 Remorques (d. Jean Grémillon) [uncredited]
- 1940 Untel père et fils (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1941 L'Assassinat du père Noël (d. Christian-Jaque)
- 1941 Péchés de jeunesse (d. Maurice Tourneur)
- 1942 Le Lit à colonnes (d. Roland Tual)
- 1943 Le Ciel est à vous (d. Jean Grémillon)
- 1944 Les Caves du Majestic (d. Richard Pottier)
- 1945 L'Affaire du collier de la reine (d. Marcel L'Herbier)
- 1946 Panique (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1949 Black Jack (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1950 Justice est faite (d. André Cayatte)
- 1952 Adorables créatures (d. Christian-Jaque)
- 1952 Le Banquet des fraudeurs (d. Henri Storck)
- 1952 Nous sommes tous des assassins (d. André Cayatte)
- 1953 Avant le déluge (d. André Cayatte)
- 1953 Thérèse Raquin (d. Marcel Carné)
- 1955 Le Dossier noir (d. André Cayatte)
- 1955 Scuola elementare (d. Alberto Lattuada)
- 1956 Crime et Châtiment (d. Georges Lampin)
- 1957 Quand la femme s'en mêle (d. Yves Allégret)
- 1961 Cartouche (d. Philippe de Broca)
- 1961 La Chambre ardente (d. Julien Duvivier)
- 1962 Germinal (d. Yves Allégret)
- 1962 Le Glaive et la Balance (d.André Cayatte)
- 1973 La Main à couper (d. Étienne Périer)
Spaak, Janine. Charles Spaak, mon mari. (Paris: Éditions France-Empire, ).
- Obituary in The Times (London), Thursday 6 March 1975, p. 16, col. F. The Cinémathèque française database entry for Spaak gives his date of death as 4 February 1975.
- Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire français; sous la direction de Christian-Marc Bosséno et Yannick Dehée. (Paris: Nouveau Monde, 2004) p.722.
- Dictionnaire du cinéma français; sous la direction de Jean-Loup Passek. (Paris: Larousse, 1987) p.391.
- The film was Les Caves du Majestic, directed by Richard Pottier. According to Bertrand Tavernier, in an interview included in the Artificial Eye DVD (2003) of Laissez-passer, statements in Spaak's memoirs provided the basis for the episode in which Spaak was imprisoned by the Nazi authorities but was then allowed more lenient conditions in return for continuing his work on the script. The supposed intervention of Dr Greven, director of Continental, was however a fictional surmise.
- Charles Spaak at Ciné-Ressources [in French].
- Charles Spaak commemorated at the Université Européenne d'Écriture [in French].
- Charles Spaak at IMDb.