One of the most underestimated starlet of the 50s and 60s, Dany Carrel was a welcome breath of sexy exoticism in that period’s French cinema. With sometimes gamine looks and a pair of incredible oriental eyes, Dany played more often than not good-willed flirtatious girls in many European melodramas and comedies, alongside top directors and stars. She always was one of my favorite and it’s a shame that not much is available online concerning her. So let’s try to correct that unfortunate mistake, shall we?
Born on September 20, 1932 (or is it 1935?), in Tourane, Annam, French Indochina (now Da Nang, Vietnam), Yvonne Suzanne Chazelles du Chaxel was the child of French customs agent Aimé and native cutie Kam. It would be many years later that our actress would learn of her heritage. The truth is that Aimé had a legitimate wife back in Europe and still produced two children with Kam (Yvonne and her sister Alice). He died soon after, as Yvonne was shipped to France to meet a godmother that placed her in a religious institution right away. Dany Carrel eventually wrote an autobiographical novel in the early ’90s, but I can’t get my hands on it! Let’s just say that her exotic look was probably what gave her entry in the world of moviemaking, after some theater studies.
Let’s jump now to 1953, her movie debut (after a couple of television appearances). The project is Dortoir des grandes (or Inside a Girls’ Dormitory in the USA). The director, Henri Decoin, proposes to the young comedienne a change of name, suggesting Carrel as a medical book written by a doctor named Alexis Carrel was lying on his desk! Talk about scientific reasoning! Young Yvonne, tired of being nicknamed Vovonne ou Vonette, chose herself the Dany part, a diminutive that couldn’t be played with or distorted. The cast of that first film was imposing for a French debutante: Jean Marais, Françoise Arnoul, Jeanne Moreau and Louis de Funès.
For the next few years, Dany Carrel could be seen in minor melodramas and light comedies, often playing saucy girls from the working-class neighborhood, but never with a really mean streak. She co-starred with such acting giants as Jean Gabin or Gérard Philippe… and even Brigitte Bardot in Les grandes manœuvres. Quickly, she got main female starring roles in lower-budgeted pictures, but was a big revelation to the public for Portes des Lilas, a romantic tale of the lower classes. A flirtatious, sexy pixie was a good way to describe Dany’s characters at the time and this is the way she’s still mainly perceived to this day.
Sometimes tricked by wanna-be bad boys, Dany retained her intelligence and never played dumb. She began a phase of international projects, mainly staying in Europe, but getting involved in Italian orBritish productions. Fans of horror movies fondly remember her for two 1960 titles, Mill of the Stone Women and The Hands of Orlac.
A Franco-Italian co-production, Mill of the Stone Women remains a worthy discovery, with effective macabre touches. Playing our main heroine Liselotte Carnin, Dany also gets to reveal a bit more of herself, as a perky nipple gets our attention when she’s tied down on a table and menaced by the mad doctor. The latter wants to make a blood transfusion to his sick daughter, resulting in many strange female wax figures popping up mysteriously in his museum. Dany makes for a very believable damsel in distress, even when co-starring with sexy Scilla Gabel. Let’s note that Dany appeared nude a couple of times on screen, as European cinema was not as constipated about naked flesh than the North American censorship of these years. For the times, nude usually meant a sideway glimpse at a naked breast…
Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee got to meet Dany for The Hands of Orlac, which was simultaneously filmed in its French version, Les main d’Orlac. Playing Eurasian Li-Lang, assistant to Lee’s knife-thrower, she once again mixed sexiness and innocence to great appeal. Not nearly as successful as Milll of the Stone Women, let’s admit that Dany’ presence makes the whole show. Honestly, now, did you notice her skimpy stage costume?
For some reasons, Dany was not a favorite of the French New Wave directors, like Truffaut, Godard, etc., probably because she was collaborating in too many “popular” films for their tastes. But that snobism didn’t stop her in finding worthwhile work. For the first half of the sixties, she was seen in more gangster pictures, with serious or comedic plots. She began co-starring with the great comedy geniuses of that ear, mainly Jean Lefebvre, Jean Carmet, Jean Rochefort… Still looking like a saucy teenager in her late thirties, Dany began to slow down on movie roles. She got a good supporting part in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La prisonnière, playing a nude model sweating it out when only wearing a see-through raincoat under harsh lights for a fetish photo session. Very inticing!
After 1972’s Trois milliards sans ascenseur, an heist movie, Dany mainly concentrated her career on television roles (films and mini-series), with a couple of big screen comedies in the early eighties. She was last seen in 1987 for an episode of the series Les enquêtes Caméléon. In 1994, she supervised the TV adaptation of her book L’annamite, recalling her youth (she even appeared as herself). Actress Gaëlle Le Fur played the Yvonne/Dany role. The same year, she could also be seen in the play Laisse parler ta mère.
One of a kind in the looks department in French cinema of the fifties and part of the list of actress who began to push the boundaries of frank eroticism on the big screen, Dany Carrel is often remembered for her bob haircut of dark reddish hair, exquisite cheekbones and friendly manners, always being able to save a movie from tedium from her mere presence. You can’t measure how important it was for me to make her a guest at this website.
1953 Dortoir des grandes; Maternité clandestine 1954 La patrouille des sables; Desert Fighters 1955 Des gens sans importance; La cage aux souris; Les chiffonniers d’Emmaüs; Les grandes manœuvres; La môme Pigalle 1956 Indiscrètes; Les possédées; Club de femmes 1957 Élisa; Que les hommes sont bêtes; Ce soir les souris dansent; Escapade; Porte des Lilas; Pot-Bouille 1958 Femmes d’un été; Le piège; La moucharde 1959 Les naufrageurs; Ce corps tant désiré; Les dragueurs; Sans tambour ni trompette 1960 Quai du Point-du-Jour; The Enemy General; Mill of the Stone Women; The Hands of Orlac 1962 Règlements de comptes; Les ennemis; Carillons sans joie 1963 Le commissaire mène l’enquête; Le bluffeur; Le cave est piégé 1964 L’enfer; Du grabuge chez les veuves; Une souris chez les hommes 1965 Piège pour Cendrillon 1966 Le chien fou 1967 Un idiot à Paris 1968 La petite vertu; Le pacha; La prisonnière 1969 Delphine; Clérambard 1972 Les portes de feu; Trois milliards sans ascenseur 1981 Faut s’les faire!… Ces légionnaires; Le bahut va craquer