Jean Marais (1913-98) was an icon of classic French cinema. The muse (and lover) of director Jean Cocteau, you may know him from the fantasy film Beauty and the Beast (1946) — which, don’t tell me I forgot to include it, it’s fantasy! He starred in numerous historical roles, including some hilarious-appearing swashbucklers. Let’s look at one of the French greats!
A big-screen version of the famous opera, with Marais as Don José.
The Royalists (1947)
Based on a Balzac novel, which is set in 1799 Brittany during the post-Revolutionary War uprising there. Marais plays the lead, the Marquis of Montauran.
Ruy Blas (1948)
Based on a Victor Hugo play, set in 1695 Spain, a slave (Marais) falls in love with the queen (Danielle Darrieux) and rises in status.
The Secret of Mayerling (1949)
As Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, who famously committed suicide along with his lover in 1889.
A “Don Juan” in 1810s France has his nose cut off and is forced to wear a mask. That’s all I’ve got!
Royal Affairs in Versailles (1954)
As French king Louis XV in this episodic meander through the history of the palace of Versailles.
As the marquis de Montholon in director Sacha Guitry’s epic take on the French emperor. Sadly, this is the only image I can find of Marais from the film!
The Count of Monte Cristo (1954)
A two-part film adaptation of the famous novel, with Marais as Edmond Dantès and the titular Comte de Monte-Cristo.
If Paris Were Told to Us (1956)
As Renaissance king François I in yet another episodic meander through French history.
King on Horseback (1958)
A swashbuckler set in the mid-18th century.
Captain Blood (1960)
Another swashbuckler (strap in, there’s going to be a lot of these), this one set in 1616.
The Battle of Austerlitz (1960)
A film focused on Napoleon’s 1805 victory against the Russian and Austrian armies. Marais plays Lazare Carnot, a French politician who initially supported Napoleon, but opposed his power grab of consul-for-life.
Captain Fracasse (1961)
Buckle your swashes! This time we’re in the 17th century.
Napoleon II l’Aiglon (1961)
A film about Napoleon’s son (who was briefly emperor in 1815 upon Napoleon’s abdication, but didn’t actually rule). Marais plays General de Montholon, a military general who supported Napoleon I.
Princess of Cleves (1961)
Set in the 1550s, the titular princess is married to an older man (Marais) but falls in love with a younger man.
The Miracle of the Wolves (1961)
Swashbuckling in the 15th century.
Romulus and the Sabines aka The Rape of the Sabine (1962)
The famous “rape of the Sabine women” from ancient Roman history. Marais plays the god Mars.
Pontius Pilate (1962)
As the Roman politician who condemned Jesus to death.
Seven Guys and a Gal (1967)
People, this looks so snark-worthy! Marais plays a general in the Napoleonic Wars. Bouffants abound.
Joseph Balsamo (1973)
As the famous mesmerist “Count Cagliostro,” the originally Italian adventurer who became famous in 1780s Europe.
What’s your favorite of Jean Marais’s frock flicks roles?
Very much appreciate this post. As a pedant, though, I’m compelled to point out that you don’t buckle a swash – you swash a buckler, i.e. clatter your sword on your own or the other guy’s shield in a swaggering way.
Ha! Be pedantic! :)
Thank you for this post !
My favorite movie is not listed, it’s Le Bossu, a swashbuckler that I lurved as a child but is probably very cringey if you watch it for the first time as an adult (Casual incest ! Terrible 18th century costumes ! Racial / cultural stereotypes ! Bad acting !)
Oh well …
ooo, thanks for the catch!
There is also the Bossu (Hunchback), one of his most famous movies in France! I watched it around 50 times when I was 10…
In French here
Regarding Ruy Blas. He is an Indentured Servant. He is not enslaved.
Ok, thanks! I was going with the French Wikipedia summary.
Thanks for the great profile on Jean Marais!
But I’m surprised you left out Jean Cocteau’s 1948 film version of his play “L’Aigle à deux têtes/The Eagle with Two Heads,” which was loosely inspired by the assassination of Elisabeth of Austria.
Marais plays a young anarchist poet who gets taken in by the reclusive widowed queen (Edwige Feuillère) because he looks just like her lost love. Even though he’s there to assassinate her, she welcomes this as a release from her torment, and calls him “Azrael,” her angel of death.
Marcel Escoffier’s costumes on that one were a mixed bag, even though beautiful in their own way.
Edwige Feuillère is another actress who needs an entry of her own. For instance, she played Duchess Sophie in Ophuls’ “From Mayerling to Sarajevo” opposite John Lodge as Franz Ferdinand. I always thought it odd because Edwige was a glamorous blonde, and the real Sophie was a brunette who, though very attractive (especially her eyes, which were well-known for their beauty) was not what some modern people might call a stunner. The clothes are very nice, though.
I watched many of these movies, on our first colour tv, when I was a kid, and loved them. Capitaine Fracasse was my favorite. (And Beauty and the Beast, the first one, Cocteau’s)
Jean Marais was obviously very handsome, aged beautifully. He had also a very recognizable voice, a great part of his charm.
I don’t care that it’s a fantasy–B and the B is a COSTUME fantasy; I love its production values, and I agree with you about Marais’s voice. (After his transformation, Garbo supposedly said she wanted her Beast back.)
Speaking of swashbuckler, what about french actor Gerard Barray ? : he is the guy with the facelifted lady on that picture, Marais’s enemy in Fracasse. He played musketeer, knight (le chevalier de Pardaillan), pirat (Surcouf). Many «sword and cape» movies, snark them!
More films to be added to my to watch list. My favourite is Beauty and the Beast but as you previously mentioned it’s a fantasy. Francis i would be my 2nd choice. I saw it too many years ago, and need to rewatch it. Imho, Francis I was even more interesting than his English counterpart, Henry VIII.
Peau D’Ane, or in the less lovely English title, Donkey Skin. A radiant Catherine Deneuve, dresses the colors of the sky, moon, & sun. Jean Marais as Papa & a Perrault story that has never been remotely PC. Delphine Seyrig as the good (FABULOUS) fairy, in platform shoes (& a “history with Papa”) in a helicopter. Il etait une fois….
Thank you for this post ! Love Jean Marais, one of my fav ones when I was a child. I may suggest another movie, where he had a minor character : he played the good priest Myriel, who helped Jean Valjean, in the French 1995 version of “Les Misérables” by Lelouch. It’s a peculiar version, focused on a reinterpretation of the story within the XXe century. But part of the XIXe century’s original story is illustrated via some scenes (and one of them concerns the character played by Marais).
One photo : https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMzdmZDUzZGMtZTE1Yy00OWRjLTljZjctNWZlODBjZjgzMzVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk2NTY0NQ@@.V1.jpg
He made so many Frock Flicks – it’s difficult to Research about all. I never liked his stiff Performance for example in the “Monte Cristo”-Adaption with him in the leading role (although Gérard Depardieu was not better some decades later with a fat Prisoner in a French prison ???…).
I prefer the “Joseph Balsamo”-miniseries even although I don’t know how different the French version is (Germany and France normaly made two different versions of such co-productions at this time).
However the audience had a different taste in the 1940s and 1950s and I see why Jean Marais was a very much beloved Actor. My mother loved his Performances too.
The other actor you presented is Gérard Barray. He was iconic for French swashbuckling of the 1960s too. In my opinion not so stiff like Marais. But I never saw him in a good production.
Jean Marais! His swashbucklers were my favourite when I was a teenager. Few of his films are still my comfort watch.
I would agree that one of the most famous swashbucklers is Le bossu, and I also love “Mysteries of Paris”, not the least that one of the main leads had gorgeous dresses! Not sure how accurate, but drop dead gorgeous.
Oooh…I’ve never seen any of these but I love the picks! IMO the yummiest pics are from Ruy Blas and Romulus and the Sabines. Also, I’m totally loving his robe in the pic from The Count of Monte Cristo.
Oh, how I loved the “Princesse de Cleves”!
What About The Eagle with Two Heads (1948)???
Also let me make a little request: this Ruy Blas picture made me think are you familiar with the great Danielle Darrieux?? she’s a french actress I adore she’s marvelous and had a brillant career that spanned over 70 years what means lots of period films would you consider her for a WCW? i came across her at frockflicks once on a Madame de Montespan post but i think she deserved a post of her own
I agree! Danielle Darrieux needs an entry of her own – she starred in some very notable Frock Flicks, especially “The Earrings of Madame de…”, “La Ronde” and “Pot-Bouille”, as well as “Ruy Blas”. She lived to be nearly 100, IIRC, and continued working up till nearly the end of her very long life.
We’ve done social media posts on her for her bday, and she’s definitely worthy of a WCW! (The only hitch is I don’t think I’ve seen any of her films – insert monkey shamefaced emoji)