Bourvil: return to the secrets of his friendship with Louis de Funès

The story of a meeting between two cinema legends in the 1950s. Bourvil made his acting debut playing the peasant, a bit simpleton on screen. At the same time, Louis de Funès already had a long filmography to his credit, working alongside filmmakers such as Pierre Billon, Sacha Guitry, Maurice Labro and Henri Verneuil.

In 1954, it was on the set of the film April Fooldirected by Gilles Grangier, that Bourvil and Louis de Funès play 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 testifies to a great 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 must chain the contracts to support his family”, writes the biographer and journalist in his book Louis de Funès from A to Zpublished by Grün editions in 2020. From this collaboration will be born a famous comic duo that will make millions of French people laugh over the years.

Also accomplices and complementary to each film, Bourvil and Louis de Funès form a duo that reached the heights of the French box office. The Crossing of Paris in 1956 (4.8 million admissions), 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 France info, “it is true that de Funès owes a lot to Bourvil”. While the latter prefers to rest during his vacation rather than accept the role of Commissioner Juve in Fantômas, it is Louis de Funès who will win the role in his place in 1964. This does not prevent his accomplice from shining later solo in The Brain against Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1969.

The common points that united Bourvil and Louis de Funès

Between laughter, career and success, Bourvil and Louis de Funès were at the height of their popularity with the French. However, the two friends rub shoulders very little outside of filming. If we thought them 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”.

Bourvil’s trick to make Louis de Funès laugh while filming

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 from bad mornings, which drives everyone away from him and preludes electrical storms, we see his friend spinning around him singing the chorus of his song Les Abeilles (‘bzz bzz bzz, the bees’)”, hummed the artist according to the journalist.

Strengthened by their complicity, Louis de Funès and Bourvil were to shoot together in Delusions of Grandeur s with director Gérard Oury. But, the state of health of the happy 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.

Bourvil: return to the secrets of his friendship with Louis de Funès