Obituary:Alex D'Arcy

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The Independent Online
Alex D'Arcy, a film actor for more than six decades, is best remembered as Armand Duvalle - not Marguerite Gautier's young lover in Dumas's Camille, but Irene Dunne's singing teacher in Leo McCarey's sparkle screwball comedy The Awful Truth (1937). D'Arcy's first scene was pivotal to the plot; when he brought Irene home, his worldly French accent and gigolo moustache made the story that they'd been out all night because the car had broken down on the way back from his music students' junior prom rather difficult for her husband, played by Cary Grant, to swallow.

D'Arcy was tall and well built, with striking brown eyes, but was never leading man material. Somehow he was a little too elegant, his smile a little too charming for Hollywood's idea of a hero. The mischief in his eyes and the slightly quizzical tricks he played with his expres-sive voice seemed to qualify him for less trustworthy types.

Although he invariably play-ed Gallic parts, D'Arcy was actually Egyptian. He originally intended to be a lawyer, but abandoned his legal studies when offered a role in The Garden of Allah (1927), a silent directed by Rex Ingram at his own studio in Nice. A contract with British International Pictures brought D'Arcy to England, where he appeared in several films, the first being Champagne (1928), later described by its director, Alfred Hitchcock, as "probably the lowest ebb in my output". D'Arcy made far better films in France, including two classics: Rene Clair's A nous la liberte (1931) and Jacques Feyder's La Kermesse heroique (1935).

Less than classic was D'Arcy's first Hollywood film, Stolen Holiday (1937), but that same year he appeared in Ronald Colman's definitive Prisoner of Zenda and The Awful Truth. Film jobs were soon plentiful, if not particularly varied; he was a fortune-hunting baron in Topper Takes a Trip (1938), another baron in City of Chance (1940) and a prince in Blond from Singapore (1941).

After military service during the Second World War, D'Arcy braved the Broadway stage in a revival of Lehar's The Land of Smiles (1946), but its star, Richard Tauber, had persistent vocal problems, and the opere- tta closed after 36 performances.

D'Arcy's best film role since The Awful Truth was as a desperately macho ladies' man in Fox's How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). His witty performance earned him a contract with Fox, for whom he played a Czech lion-tamer in Man on a Tightrope (1953), a drunken actor in Vicki (1953), a French crook in Soldier of Fortune (1955) and an Italian gangster in The St Valentine's Day Massacre (1967).

I met Alex D'Arcy when he came to England to play a rakish hotelier in a short-lived television series called Hotel Riviera (1957). Over an amiable lunch at Wembley studios, I asked him what his all-time unfavourite role was. He leaned forward and whispered, "My current one - but it is nice to be back in London!"

Dick Vosburgh

Alexandre Saruff (Alex D'Arcy), actor: born Cairo 10 August 1908; married 1940 Arleen Whelan (marriage dissolved; one daughter); died West Hollywood 20 April 1996.