A former criminal who at one time was sentenced to death, Giovanni often drew his inspiration from personal experiences or from real gangsters such as Abel "the mammoth" Davos in his 1960 film Classe tous risques. In his films as well as his novels, he often championed the underworld, as did Auguste Le Breton, while praising masculine friendships and advocating the confrontation of the individual against the world.
Originally Corsican, José Giovanni was well-educated, studying at the Collège Stanislas de Paris and Lycée Janson de Sailly. He worked at several professions (logger, miner, innkeeper) before becoming a writer and film-maker. Fascinated by climbing, he was also a mountain guide, and during the Second World War was a member of Jacques Faure's Jeunesse et Montagne (Youth and Mountain) group.
In 1945, after the Liberation, he became involved in the scene of the Quartier Pigalle, Paris, and was caught up in a racketeering venture organized by his maternal uncle with the help of his elder brother. The racket turned murderous; three people died. In 1948 Giovanni was sentenced to death (though he had himself killed no-one) along with an accomplice, Georges Accad. He however narrowly escaped the guillotine when he and Accad's sentences were commuted by President Vincent Auriol to twenty years of hard labour. He was released from prison in December 1956 and was rehabilitated in 1986 after a new trial.
He died from a brain haemorrhage.
He wrote his first novel, Le Trou (The Hole), when he was 33 years old. It tells the escape he attempted from prison with other inmates in 1947. His lawyer, and writer Roger Nimier read the book to Antoine Blondin and Albert Camus through whom it was published. His style, at times strange and intentionally clumsy, does not fail to surprise the reader with its findings and its strong images, sometimes to the limit of toleration. The novel was turned into a film.
- Classe tous risques, which was filmed by Claude Sautet.
- l'Excommunié, which Jean Becker adapted into the film Un nommé La Rocca, and was later remade by Giovanni as La Scoumoune, and starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and Claudia Cardinale.
- Le deuxieme souffle (Second Breath), filmed by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1966, with a new adaptation by Alain Corneau in 2007.
- 1957: Le Trou (The Hole)
- 1958: Le Deuxième Souffle (Second Breath)
- 1958: Classe tous risque (Consider All Risks)
- 1958: L'Excommunié
- 1959: Histoire de fou (History of Madness)
- 1962: Le Haut-Fer (High Fear)
- 1964: Ho!
- 1964: Meurtre au sommet n°866 (Murder on Summit 866')
- 1967: Les aventuriers (The Adventurers)
- 1983: Le Ruffian (The Ruffian)
- 1991: Le Musher
- 1995 : Mon père, il m'a sauvé la vie (My Father Saved My Life)
- La Mort du poisson rouge (The Death of the Goldfish)
- Chemins fauves (Favorite paths)
- Comme un vol de vautours (Like a Flight of Vultures)
- Le pardon du grand Nord (The Forgiveness of the Far North)
[FD] : film director, [Sc] : screenwriter, [DW] : dialogue writer, [Wr] : writer of the original novel
- 1960 : Le Trou, directed by Jacques Becker [Sc, Wr] starring Raymond Meunier, Michel Constantin
- 1960 : Classe tous risques [Sc, DW, Wr] de Claude Sautet starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Lino Ventura
- 1961 : Un nommé La Rocca, directed by Jean Becker [Di, Wr : L'Excommunié] starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierre Vaneck
- 1962 : Du rififi chez les femmes, directed by Alex Joffé [Sc] starring Nadja Tiller, Robert Hossein
- 1963 : Symphonie pour un massacre, directed by Jacques Deray [Sc] starring Charles Vanel, Michel Auclair
- 1963 : Rififi à Tokyo, directed by Jacques Deray [DW] starring Karl Boehm, Karlheinz Böhm
- 1965 : L'Homme de Marrakech, directed by Jacques Deray [Sc] starring Claudine Auger, Renato Baldini
- 1965 : Les Grandes Gueules, directed by Robert Enrico [DW] starring Bourvil, Lino Ventura
- 1966 : Avec la peau des autres, directed by Jacques Deray [Sc] starring Louis Arbessier, Karin Baal
- 1966 : Le Deuxième souffle, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville [Wr] starring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse
- 1967 : Les Aventuriers, directed by Robert Enrico [Sc, DW, Wr] starring Lino Ventura, Alain Delon
- 1967 : La Loi du survivant [FD] starring Michel Constantin, Roger Blin
- 1968 : Le Rapace [FD, Sc] starring Lino Ventura, Xavier Marc
- 1968 : Ho !, directed by Robert Enrico [Sc] starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Joanna Shimkus
- 1969 : Le Clan des Siciliens, directed by Henri Verneuil [Sc] starring Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura
- 1970 : Dernier domicile connu [FD, Sc] starring Lino Ventura, Paul Crauchet
- 1971 : Un aller simple [FD, Sc] starring Jean-Claude Bouillon et Nicoletta
- 1971 : Où est passé Tom ? [FD, Sc] starring Rufus et Jean Gaven
- 1972 : La Scoumoune [FD, Sc, Wr : L'Excommunié] starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Aldo Bufi Landi
- 1973 : Deux Hommes dans la ville (Two Men in Town aka. Two Against the Law) [FD, Sc] starring Jean Gabin, Alain Delon
- 1975 : Le Gitan [FD, Sc] starring Alain Delon, Annie Girardot
- 1976 : Comme un boomerang [FD, Sc] starring Alain Delon, Carla Gravina
- 1979 : Les Égouts du paradis [FD, Sc] starring Jean-François Balmer, Francis Huster, basé sur les aventures d'Albert Spaggiari
- 1980 : Une robe noire pour un tueur [FD, Sc] starring Annie Girardot, Claude Brasseur
- 1983 : Le Ruffian [FD, Sc, Wr : Les Ruffians] starring Lino Ventura, Bernard Giraudeau
- 1985 : Les Loups entre eux [FD, Sc] starring Claude Brasseur, Niels Arestrup
- 1988 : Mon ami le traître [FD, Sc] starring André Dussollier, Jean-Pierre Bernard
- 1991 : L'Irlandaise (film TV) [FD] starring Michel Sardou, Lorraine Pilkington, Thérèse Liotard
- 2000 : Mon père, il m'a sauvé la vie [FD, Sc, Di] starring Bruno Cremer, Vincent Lecœur
- 2007 : Le Deuxième souffle, directed by Alain Corneau [Wr] starring Daniel Auteuil, Michel Blanc, Jacques Dutronc
- See french wikipedia
- This article incorporates information from the revision as of August 31, 2008 of the equivalent article on the French Wikipedia.