One of our regular readers is Mike Sheridan who sent a note a few weeks back about one of his favorite and, he feels, underrated stars — Simone Simon.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, assessing this shot (above) of the French actress posing with her auto.
If you’ve been tuned into our blog in recent months, you’ll know that we’ve run many photos of stars posing with their favorite cars — or at least what some studio press agent claimed were their favorites.
Many of the the period vehicles pictured are breathtaking. (Check out the ones we’ve run accompanying photos of Tyrone Power and Robert Montgomery.)
The studios believed in the Thirties and Forties that America’s love affair with the automobile could be profitably paired with publicity shots of the stars. Who knew (or cared) if the stars actually drove these gorgeous cars?
We suspect, for example, that Simon never, ever got behind the wheel of that looks to us to be a Forties model Plymouth. She looks splendid but we just can’t see enough of the car. And the setting — either a faux chateau on the studio backlot or the real thing in France — looks great.
French native Simon (born in 1911, died seven years ago in Paris at 94) was not only a superb actress, but was a distinctively attractive one. British writer-critic David Thomson notes that Simon’s small, pretty face, a little pinched round the nose and slanted in the eyes suggested a feline cast to her features. In any case, she was delicately gorgeous (as you can see).
Simon started making films in France in 1931, and embarked to Hollywood five years later. Of her French films, don’t miss 1938’s Le Bete Humaine directed by Jean Renoir, in which Simon plays a saucy mate to actor Jean Gabin.
In Twentieth Century Fox’s Seventh Heaven, directed by Henry King and released in 1938, Simon plays opposite the young James Stewart. It’s a pleasant matchup. She is best remembered for her starring roles in RKO producer Val Lewton’s first horror film, the 1942 classic Cat People, directed by the also underrated Jacques Tourneur, and in Robert Wise’s 1944 “sequel,” The Curse of the Cat People.
The first is about a woman of murky Balkan heritage (Simone) and a panther. The “sequel” is feline-less, focusing instead on a lonely little girl given to fantasy, the only child of doting parents. (Note: The “sequel’s” title is misleading. The picture is not what you might at first think, and has little to do with the subject of Cat People.)
In The Curse of the Cat People, Simon plays the apparition of a deceased wife who becomes a playmate for the lonely girl. Both these very different movies are gems — the “sequel” is unexpectedly moving — not to be missed.
Simone’s notable Forties movie also include director William Dieterle’s All That Money Can Buy, John Auer’s Tahiti Honey and most especially, Robert Wise’s Mademoiselle Fifi, a 1944 period costume drama in which Simon convincingly portrays a feisty laundress not above stabbing a hapless aristocrat to deflect unwanted romantic overtures.
Simone returned to France after the war, thus truncating what might have been an even more interesting Hollywood career.