Lemmy Caution

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Lemmy Caution is a fictitious Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent—or in later stories a private detective—created by British writer Peter Cheyney (1896–1951), who published the first book about him in 1936. When This Man Is Dangerous was released, Cheyney was a policeman, but the novel's success enabled him to become a professional author.[1] Cheyney wrote 10 Lemmy Caution novels between 1936 and 1945. The Lemmy Caution radio series was broadcast in the 1940s in Australia and New Zealand.

Although Caution is an American character created by a British writer, he has yet to appear in an English-language film. However, he has appeared in around 15 European films, most of them French, from 1953 to 1991. In these films he was always played by the same actor, Eddie Constantine, who was indelibly associated with the role during his lifetime. The first seven of these, from 1953 to 1963, were straight detective films in the film noir style; later films tended to be experimental or comedic. Today the best-known of these films is the 1965 Jean-Luc Godard film Alphaville, which placed Caution in a dystopian science fiction setting.

Lemmy Caution novels[edit]

  • This Man Is Dangerous (1936)
  • Dames Don't Care (1937)
  • Poison Ivy (1937)
  • Can Ladies Kill? (1938)
  • Don't Get Me Wrong (1939)
  • You'd Be Surprised (1940)
  • Your Deal, My Lovely (1941)
  • Never a Dull Moment (1942)
  • You Can Always Duck (1943)
  • I'll Say She Does! (1945)

Film adaptations[edit]

After the Second World War, many French people had a strong attachment to American culture and American heroes. Against that background, Cheyney's books were promoted successfully all over France, and consequently the French film industry found them suitable material for a series of popular films.[2]

Bernard Borderie had the chance to produce the first French adaption. He was searching for somebody who had the looks of a gangster,[3] and picked Eddie Constantine,[4] who was already known as a singer.[5] So far he had merely played one supporting role in a film of the very same year,[6] and his lack of experience as an actor was rather obvious, even without comparing La môme vert-de-gris to his later films.[7] However, he came through as an actor.[8] Audiences liked his personality,[9] and that led to a whole series of films with "Lemmy Caution".[10]

Lemmy Caution was portrayed as a witty, crafty womanizer who never hesitated to do what he considered right.[11] When playing Lemmy Caution, Eddie Constantine often approached attractive women with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other.[12]

Lemmy Caution and Eddie Constantine were confused in the popular consciousness,[13] and Constantine could never remedy this mix-up.[14] Neither has it ever been reported that anybody tried to succeed Constantine as Lemmy Caution.

The film adaptions of Peter Cheyney's book showed Lemmy Caution as a strong and optimistic character who would win even when totally outnumbered,[15] so it came as a shock to many fans when they saw Eddie Constantine's portrayal of Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (1965). In this film he was a tired, elderly, and gloomy-looking man wearing the kind of trench-coat associated with Humphrey Bogart, spaced out and lost in a future world.[16]

Lemmy Caution returned later on several times in the 1980s as a cameo in German feature films like Udo Lindenberg's Panische Zeiten (de) (Panic Times).

In 1988 a French TV movie called Le retour de Lemmy Caution appeared,[17][18] with Lemmy Caution once again as the leading character, but this Lemmy was far away from that of Peter Cheyney.

Films featuring Lemmy Caution[edit]

Cameo appearances[edit]


  1. ^ "En 1936, alors qu’il a le grade de lieutenant, il publie " This man is dangerous " où il met en scène un inspecteur du FBI, dénommé Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  2. ^ "The films were adaptations of best selling thriller crime novels by Peter Cheyney and came at a time when American culture was well-received, if not adulated, by the French populace.". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  3. ^ "Bernard Borderie, réalisateur, recherche un type qui a "une gueule de gangster" pour incarner l’agent du F.B.I. Lemmy Caution à l'écran.". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  4. ^ "En 1953, Bernard Borderie lui confie le rôle de l’agent secret Lemmy Caution dans "La môme vert-de-gris", personnage crée par l’écrivain britannique Peter Cheyney.". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  5. ^ "Discovered by Edith Piaf, he became her protégé and close friend, and she helped him launch a career as a popular recording artist.". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  6. ^ "Il débute à l'écran en 1953 et s'impose dès son second film en personnifiant le désinvolte agent du FBI, Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  7. ^ "Constantine n’avait guère d’expérience d’acteur (un seul film à son actif) et on peut le dire : ça saute aux yeux !". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  8. ^ "His film career began in 1953, when he first took the role of tough American private eye Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  9. ^ "sa gouaille et son accent américain étant fort appréciés du public dans plusieurs pays d'Europe". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  10. ^ "Le succès est tel qu’il reprend le rôle de cet agent secret dans plusieurs films de série B". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  11. ^ "The part of the ladykiller endowed with wit, charme and above-average self-confidence appealed to the mass". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  12. ^ "Lemmy Caution, le dur à cuire, amateur de whisky, et cigarette et de jolies femmes.". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  13. ^ "Le public adopte définitivement le personnage de Cheney dans l'incarnation qu'en propose Eddie Constantine". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  14. ^ "Eddie Constantine reste marqué par Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  15. ^ "the nearly caricature-like brawls filled the young audience with enthusiasm". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  16. ^ "En 1965 le film Alphaville, dirigé par Jean-Luc Godard, détruit le mythe Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  17. ^ "Le retour de Lemmy Caution de Josée Dayan avec Eddie CONSTANTINE". Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  18. ^ "Le retour de Lemmy Caution". Retrieved 2011-09-14.