Author and director Jose Giovanni died April 24 of a brain hemorrhage in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was 80.
A former Parisian death-row inmate, he became an author of classic French crime novels, a screenwriter and a director of hit films featuring such stars as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon.
At age 22, he was convicted, along with an older brother, in an extortion and murder plot masterminded by an uncle who was a leader in the Corsican underworld.
The brother escaped from prison only to be killed in a fight, and Giovanni was sentenced to death. Because of his father’s extensive but discreet help on Giovanni’s behalf, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was freed after serving eight years.
In 2001, the popular novelist and filmmaker capped his 20-film career by describing his father’s efforts to free him with “Mon Pere” (My Father). The film was later titled “Mon Pere, Il M’a Sauve la Vie” (“My Father Saved My Life). He directed the film and helped write the screenplay from his 1995 book “The Secret Gardens in My Father’s Heart.”
Once freed in the mid-1950s, Giovanni turned to writing novels, and a few years later began his film career with a screenplay for “Du Rififi Chez les Femmes” (The Riff Raff Girls).
Next he turned to his novel about his own 1947 attempted prison escape through Paris sewers to provide the basis of the 1960 movie “Le Trou” (The Hole). In 1969, he wrote Henri Verneuil’s “Le Clan des Siciliens” (The Sicilian Clan), which starred Delon, Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura.
He turned his novel “La Scoumoune” (The Hitman) into a 1972 melodrama starring Belmondo as a 1930s gangster.
The next year, Giovanni brought Gabin and Delon back together in “Deux Hommes Dans la Ville” (Two Men in Town), a bleak movie about an ex-bank robber whose past catches up with him when he is freed after a decade in prison.
Giovanni also acted in a handful of movies, including Laetitia Masson’s 2002 “La Repentie” (The Repentant). He won several awards in France for his crime novels and his 1995 autobiography.
Giovanni is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.