Bruno Cremer: Actor who excelled in military, gangster and detective roles

The French actor Bruno Crémer had what people across the Channel call une gueule – a memorable, rough-hewn, angular face – and he excelled in a succession of military, gangster and detective roles.

Most famously, he played Maigret on French television for 15 years, and managed a different take on the Parisian police inspector created by Georges Simenon.

"I tried to erase the old-fashioned, pipe-and-slippers, paternalistic aspect of the character," he said. "I thought he lacked a sense of humour so I brought a bit of mystery, a certain distance and irony to the part. My only regret is failing to convince the producers to have him forego the pipe for a cigar." The chain-smoking actor portrayed Maigret for 54 episodes between 1991 and 2005. However, while French television still buys and screens dubbed versions of whodunnit series like Midsomer Murders, UK-based channels gave up on Maigret after making their own versions starring Rupert Davies in the 1960s and Michael Gambon in the early '90s.

English-speaking audiences are therefore more likely to remember Crémer for his appearance alongside Roy Scheider in Sorcerer, William Friedkin's ill-fated 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's gripping action drama The Wages of Fear. Notable for its use of an electronic soundtrack by the German band Tangerine Dream and its $20m budget, Sorcerer proved a costly flop for the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist and effectively ended Crémer's international career, even if he also appeared in Money, the thriller directed by Steven Hilliard Stern in 1991.

Crémer was the youngest of three children born to a Flemish music-loving mother and a businessman from Lille who had taken up Belgian nationality so he could join up at the start of the First World War. The scar on his upper lip, which toughened up his looks, was the result of a bicycle accident in 1936, when he was seven.

He got the acting bug early. "I was 12," he recalled in his memoir Un Certain Jeune Homme. "Acting was the exit door that saved my life. Otherwise, I don't know what I would have done."

Crémer failed his baccalauréat, but studied drama at the Paris Conservatoire in the early 1950s alongside Annie Girardot, one of his co-stars in The Bonnot Gang, the 1968 Philippe Fourastié film about the notorious anarchist bank robber, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo also joined him among the all-star cast of René Clément's libération epic Is Paris Burning? in 1966 and Philippe Labro's thriller L'Alpagueur (Hunter Will Get You) a decade later. Another Conservatoire contemporary, Jean Rochefort, appeared with him in André Farwagi's crime film The Time to Die in 1970.

Crémer first made his name in the theatre, as Saint Just in Jean Anouilh's Poor Bitos in 1956 and Thomas Becket in the world premiere of Anouilh's Becket ou L'Honneur de Dieu in 1959, and occasionally returned to the stage over the next five decades. In 1965, Pierre Schoendoerffer cast him in The 317th Platoon, the powerful film adaptation of his novel about the end of France's disastrous colonial war in Indochina. As Sergeant Willsdorf, the Second World War veteran with more survival skills than his nominal superior, Second Lieutenant Torres – played by Jacques Perrin – Crémer was mesmerising, though he became typecast as a result.

"I was the only actor willing to go along with the idea of filming in the Cambodian jungle. That doesn't necessarily make me a dog of war," he reflected. "I loved the character but it seemed to narrow the range of opportunities that came my way."

He nevertheless appeared as an army captain who is court-martialled, stripped of his rank and turns heister in Schoendoerffer's Objective 500 Million in 1966, and a colonel in Là-Haut, Un Roi Au-Dessus Des Nuages ("Above the Clouds") by the same director, in 2003. "An actor should only show himself behind a mask. Otherwise, he loses some of his mystery," said Crémer, who admired Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum, and had something of the latter's presence and simmering sense of menace.

He worked with many of France's leading directors, including Bertrand Blier, Yves Boisset and Claude Sautet. In 1967, he was a Resistance leader with a dilemma in Un Homme De Trop ("Shock Troops") by Costa-Gavras, who also directed him in the Vichy-era drama Special Section in 1974.

Crémer demonstrated his considerable range as the prison priest in Luchino Visconti's 1967 adaptation of the Albert Camus novel The Stranger, starring Marcello Mastroianni. In 1989, he was impressive as the philosophy teacher who should know better, but falls in love with a 16-year-old played by Vanessa Paradis in Jean-Claude Brisseau's Noce Blanche, another variation on the Lolita obsession which lurks within the French psyche. In 2000, he was especially affecting in François Ozon's Under the Sand as the "phantom" husband whose death Charlotte Rampling refuses to acknowledge.

Maigret had been portrayed by 15 different actors, including such monstres sacrés as Harry Baur, Pierre Renoir and Jean Gabin, as well as the more avuncular Jean Richard, by the time Crémer was cast. He became synonymous with the part, and earned plaudits from Georges Simenon's son Pierre. The throat cancer Crémer was diagnosed with became so pronounced that Vincent Grass overdubbed his voice in the last Maigret episode.

A private man who hated interviews, Crémer lived in hotels for 15 years between his marriages. Claude Lelouch, who directed him in The Good and the Bad in 1976, said, "Bruno Crémer was the perfect actor. He always struck the right tone, he was at the top. On a film set, he was a team-player, marvellous with his own performance but also fantastic with other people around him. He was very generous."

Bruno Crémer, actor: born Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, France 6 October 1929; twice married (one son with first wife, two daughters with second wife); died Paris 7 August 2010.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel