The story of a meeting between two legends of cinema in the 1950s. Bourvil made his acting debut playing the peasant, a bit simpleton on the screen. At the same time, Louis de Funès already had a long filmography to his credit, working alongside filmmakers like Pierre Billon, Sacha Guitry, Maurice Labro and Henri Verneuil.
In 1954, it was on the set of the film Poisson d’Avril, directed by Gilles Grangier, that Bourvil and Louis de Funès played opposite each other for the first time. While the famous actor – born in 1914 – plays a fishing warden, the Norman artist inherits the leading role, that of mechanic Émilie Dupuy. However, this meeting already shows a big difference between the two actors according to the writer Bertrand Dicale.
“Certainly, the first is three years older than the second, but the distance between them is above all that between a star whose name alone allows a film to exist, and a supporting role who has to chain the contracts to support his family”, writes the biographer and journalist in his book Louis de Funès de A à Z, published by Grün editions in 2020. From this collaboration will be born a famous comic duo which will make millions of French people laugh over the years. years.
Also accomplices and complementary to each film, Bourvil and Louis de Funès form a duo which reaches the heights of the French box office. La Traversée de Paris in 1956 (4.8 million admissions), Le Corniaud in 1965 (11.7 million spectators) without forgetting La Grande Vadrouille in 1966 (their biggest success with 17.2 million fans), they broke all records at that time.
For the writer and journalist on Franceinfo, “it is true that de Funès owes a lot to Bourvil”. While the latter prefers to rest during his holidays rather than accept the role of Commissioner Juve in Fantômas, it is Louis de Funès who will take the role in his place in 1964. This does not prevent his accomplice from shining later solo in Le Cerveau opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1969.
Between laughter, career and success, Bourvil and Louis de Funès were at the peak of their popularity with the French. However, the two friends rub shoulders very little outside of filming. If we thought they were different when they first met, the actors share many points in common.
“There is a real community of soul and spirit between André Raimbourg, orphan of a father who died in the Great War and raised on a farm in the small village of Bourville in Normandy, and the child of a downgraded Spanish family from Courbevoie “, notes the biographer Bertrand Dicale in his book. We also learn that the two friends were not very fond of evenings with the cream of showbiz at the time. Rather preferring the simple pleasures of family life.
“Both flee worldliness, intrigue, intellectuals, the powerful, vanities”, specifies the journalist before continuing. “They love family life, gardening, good food and joyful wines”.
A flagship duo of French cinema, their difference in character could have created tension between the two actors and great epicureans. But, Bourvil had the secret to make his sometimes grumpy sidekick laugh on set. “The happy character of Bourvil works wonders on the set of La Grande Vadrouille”, explains the author Bertrand Dicale in his biography dedicated to Louis de Funès.
“When Louis de Funès arrives on the set with his face of the bad mornings, which keeps everyone away from him and a prelude to electric storms, we see his friend spinning around him singing the refrain of his song Les Abeilles (‘bzz bzz bzz, the bees’)”, hummed the artist according to the journalist.
Thanks to their complicity, Louis de Funès and Bourvil were to shoot together in La Folie des Grandeur s with the director Gérard Oury. But, the state of health of the merry Bourvil will prevent him from entertaining the gallery on the film sets. He died on September 23, 1970, killed by bone marrow cancer at the age of 53.