Helmer-scribe Georges Lautner, a shining light of popular French cinema whose illustrious career took off in the 1960s with the crime comedy “Monsieur Gangster”(“Les tontons flingeurs”), died Nov. 22 in Paris after a long illness. He was 87.
His films were generally commercial hits in France, so outside the country he wasn’t as well known as the auteurs whose films traveled to arthouses in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“Monsieur Gangster,” released in 1963 by Gaumont, marked the first of many successful collaborations between Lautner and screenwriter Michel Audiard. The pair reteamed on a number of cult films, such as “The Professional,” “Le Pacha” and “The Great Spy Chase.”
An actors’ director, Lautner — who grew up as a cinephile thanks to his mother, the thesp Renee Saint-Cyr — cultivated close ties with Gaul’s acting legends, giving them some of their most memorable parts, for instance, Jean-Pierre Belmondo in “The Professional,” Bernard Blier and Lino Ventura in “Monsieur Gangster,” Jean Gabin in “Le Pacha” and Alain Delon in “Death of a Corrupt Man.”
French beauty Mireille Darc was Lautner’s muse. He directed her in more than 10 films, including “Galia” and “And God Created Woman.”
The French biz responded to news of his death with a raft of homages.
“(Lautner) was incredibly fun and humble. It was very difficult to have him talk seriously about his work because he didn’t want to fall into self-congratulation and self-contemplation. He had that modesty, perhaps even this unconsciousness about the place he held,” said Thierry Fremaux, topper of Cannes Film Festival and director of Grand Lyon Film Festival, a classic film fest.
Added Fremaux, “(Lautner) directed many different films throughout his career but the ones that were really successful were the crime comedies which he may not have pioneered but elevated it to an unforgettable nobility.”
Known for weaving intrigue, action and comedy with iconic characters and sharp dialogue, Lautner has inspired a flurry of contempo filmmakers around the world. One of his most famous fans is Quentin Tarantino, who knows all his films, according to Fremaux.
“The critics didn’t spare (Lautner) but he didn’t mind because audiences hailed his films, which have become unforgettable, even cult for many,” said Alain Terzian, prexy of the French Academy of Arts and Sciences.
President François Hollande, meanwhile, paid tribute to Lautner, noting his “popular comedies have marked French cinema” and “enriched (the country’s) cultural patrimony.”
“Lautner’s films have lured over 60 million people to French theaters,” said Gaumont exec Ariane Toscan du Plantier, adding that the studio will release a numbered of limited DVD/Blu-ray editions of “Monsieur Gangster” on Nov. 27 to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary.
Lautner will be buried in the next few days in Nice.