Simone Signoret was the first French actress to win an Oscar (in 1959, for her heartbreaking performance in “Room at the Top”) and one of the great European screen goddesses. Although born in Germany with Polish / Jewish lineage – her original name was Henriette Kaminker – she became one of the most celebrated French stars, with undisputed National Treasure status. Well-known as a political activist and writer, she translated Lillian Hellmann’s controversial play “The Little Foxes” as well as acting and directing. She rejected Hollywood roles in favour of mainly European productions on both stage and screen.
Coming to public attention in Max Ophuls’ “La Ronde” for her role as a prostitute, closely followed by the title role as a criminal’s lady love in Jaques Becker’s “Casque D’Or”, she often seemed to play bad girls, immoral characters or tarts with hearts. Her other famous roles include Therese Raquin, world-weary adultress Alice Aisgill in “Room at the Top” and a murderous lover in “Les Diaboliques”.
This typecasting continued even into her late 50s, well after her early beauty had faded but she still had an enduring sensual, earthy quality with her cigarette-husky voice and slanted green eyes.
She was considered such an icon of style and general coolth in her day that Nina Simone (also not her real name) called herself after Simone. She and her husband, the actor Yves Montand, were one of the starry couples of the 1950s, though famously coming unstuck for a while when Montand fell for Marilyn Monroe on the set of “Let’s Make Love”. However, they did stay married and are buried together in Pere Lachaise where their tomb is nearly as festooned with flowers as fellow residents Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
As with another French screen goddess of the time, Jeanne Moreau, there was an intelligence and a feistiness to Simone Signoret’s performances that transcended mere beauty or charm. She chose her roles carefully and never compromised. You can see this clearly in “Les Diaboliques” which we’re showing this week. She also wears dark glasses like a true movie star. Come and see what we mean, and if you’ve not seen the film before (or even if you have) be prepared to be on the edge of your seat….