When I was a junior in high school, I saw The Swamp Thing (1982). Directed by Cleveland native Wes Craven, who would go on to fame and fortune as a purveyor of gory slasher flicks, the movie offered a gentler, more old-fashioned, monster-based brand of horror. I recall Adrienne Barbeau as the scantily-clad love interest. Akron native Ray Wise played the monstrous hero. But the one actor who grabbed my attention was Louis Jourdain as the “criminal mastermind,” Dr. Anton Arcane.
Jourdain was then in the “evil genius” phase of his career. In Octopussy, the sixteenth entry in the James Bond canon, he portrayed the suave backgammon-playing villain, Kamal Khan.
Even as a campy villain, Jourdain still had the sexy charisma of Gaston, the romantic hero of Lerner and Loewe’s sublime Gigi (1958; directed by Vincente Minnelli). No doubt he had it until the day he died, at age 93, on February 15, 2015.
As Gaston, Jourdain had to do a fair bit of singing, which he managed by adopting the Rex Harrison “spoken word” approach. I read somewhere that he struggled with his songs and that the title song had to be spliced together from many takes. No matter. It works beautifully. He fills “Gigi” with tenderness and a sense of wonder, and his delivery of “She Is Not Thinking Of Me” veers between wry amusement and outraged male vanity.
A friend who studies French film told me that Jourdain was never well known in France; he owed his career to Hollywood. Still, the Monsieur Louis Jourdain archive contains a wealth of articles in both English and French. Perhaps he represented a stereotype of the suave “French Lovair” for American consumption, and after Gigi he regretted that he was always viewed more as a dreamboat than a “serious actor.” But I am grateful that Jourdain’s extraordinary Beauty and talent were recognized in Hollywood. He worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly, Jennifer Jones, Shirley MacLaine and many other legends.
Delving into Jourdain’s catalogue, I discovered that he played Count Dracula for a BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. You can bet I’ll be tracking that one down!