In contrast to his idol and mentor Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura did not have to complete a trip through European vaudeville and music halls before he stepped in front of a film camera: the Italian actor is said to have been encouraged by Jean Gabin to step in front of a film camera for the first time. Gabin’s and Ventura’s childhoods were not entirely dissimilar: like Gabin, Ventura scraped by with odd jobs, working as a hotel boy, office worker or sales representative.
Lino Ventura got his first film role in Touchez pas au grisbi (1953), in which Jean Gabin played the lead. In the following years, Gabin took Lino Ventura, who was fifteen years younger, under his wing: It is often commented that Ventura played many of his roles in the fifties in Jean Gabin’s shadow; other opinions say that Gabin launched Ventura’s career with precisely these supporting roles. 

Icon of French cinema

Ventura played major roles for the first time in the sixties: In the crime thriller Classe Tous Risques (1960) Ventura shared the leading role with Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Although Lino Ventura came from Italy, he soon became an icon of French cinema: His roots lie in French cinema, where Jean Gabin nurtured the young Ventura. In Marie-Octobre (1959), Lino Ventura played one of his most famous roles:
The French chamber play film directed by Julien Duvivier revolved around the French resistance during World War II.
In 1961, Italian director Vittorio de Sica gave him one of the supporting roles in The Last Judgement [Il giudizio universale]: Now the Italian film also discovered Lino Ventura. 

Only slowly did he become a character actor. 


Before his career as an actor, Lino Ventura pursued an activity that had nothing at all to do with the screen: he discovered wrestling for himself at a young age. Shortly after the Second World War, he had to give up this sport because of an injury, and subsequently organised wrestling competitions instead. Lino Ventura pursued this activity, which gave him financial freedom, until the start of his acting career.
Because of his striking appearance and imposing stature, Ventura was mainly cast as a bodyguard and underworld figure at the beginning of his acting career. Only slowly did he become a character actor. 

Film noir

At first, Lino Ventura did not expect to have a successful career as an actor ahead of him: For the first few years, Ventura continued to organise sports competitions and only occasionally acted in films. But it soon became clear that Ventura was the ideal actor for the film noir genre: at the latest with his role in The Mask of the Gorilla [Le Gorille vous salue bien, 1958], Lino Ventura became a sought-after star of French cinema.
In the anti-war film Taxi for Tobruk [Un taxi pour Tobrouk, 1961], Lino Ventura starred alongside Hardy Krüger and Charles Aznavour. The film Taxi for Tobruk proved that Lino Ventura had finally made the leap to becoming a character actor at the beginning of the 1960s: the film shows the senselessness and desolation of war conflicts and demanded excellent acting skills from the actors, who had themselves experienced the Second World War. 

The Valachi Papers

In the fifties and sixties, Lino Ventura’s name was a household name, especially for French and Italian audiences: with his role of the Mafiosi Vito Genovese in the Mafia film The Valachi Papers [Carteggio Valachi, 1972] alongside Charles Bronson, the name Lino Ventura became a household name for international cinema audiences as well. The film was a perfect fit for the times: numerous mafia films were made in the seventies, The Godfather was made in the same year as The Valachi Papers. After almost two decades in show business, Lino Ventura thus also became known to younger audiences.
As a result of his role as a Mafiosi in the successful production around the Mafia boss Valachi, he was offered numerous other roles in Hollywood, which probably fell into a similar repertoire of roles: Like many other French actors of the 20th century, he always kept his distance from Hollywood and concentrated on French and Italian cinema. 

Lino Ventura was a man of stature.

The Threepenny Opera

In 1963, Lino Ventura ventured into German film: in the adaptation of the stage play The Threepenny Opera, Lino Ventura starred alongside Gert Fröbe, Curd Jürgens and Hildegard Knef. Wolfgang Staudte directed the film version of the Brecht play.
The French director Claude Pinoteau once said of Lino Ventura that he never played perverted or villainous characters. The roles he played always had to identify with him, not he with them. When he accepted a role, he was not satisfied with being handed a final script: he always discussed the role and the dialogue with the director and suggested changes. Ventura did not accept to read out prefabricated dialogues for him – if it was a big role, Ventura always wanted to have a say in its shaping.

Anyone who expected airs and graces from Lino Ventura was on the wrong track: For him, acting was something that anyone could learn and it never occurred to him to elevate himself to an artistic throne. This attitude always kept him down to earth and made it possible for him to do constant work as a performer.
It was not without reason that many of the French masters of directing such as Julien Duvivier and Jean-Pierre Melville particularly enjoyed working with him.
Throughout his career, Lino Ventura chose his roles very carefully: The roles he played often bore personality traits that could also be found in himself.  

Rejected role offers

Although Lino Ventura was Italian by birth, he became the embodiment of French cinema:
Despite numerous role offers from Hollywood in the seventies – including Three Days of the Condor (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Apocalypse Now (1979), all of which Ventura turned down – he remained in Europe.
In the course of his career, which spanned more than thirty years between 1954 and 1987, Lino Ventura appeared in 75 feature films. Born in Italy, he was a man of stature: his impressive stage presence and confident acting make him one of the reasons why classic French movies still enjoy great popularity today. 

Simon von Ludwig

Movie & TV at Der Bussard

Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig

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