Thursday, September 5, 2013

Early Spaak - L'hiver (1959), Le Trou (1960) and Il carro armato dell'8 settembre (1960)

Going forward, my plan is to start at the beginning of Catherine's film career and work forward through each of her films in a manner similar to the recent in-depth look at The Empty Canvas.  From time to time, I may make a side-post or two on some other aspect of her career.  To start this journey through Catherine's film career, it seems appropriate to take a brief look at her background and how she came to be an actress.  Because it's not easy to get a lot of biographical information about her from English-language sources, here are some key facts about her early life that are available:
  • Catherine was born April 3, 1945 in France.
  • Her father was acclaimed screen-writer Charles Spaak, her uncle was noted Belgium political leader Paul-Henri Spaak, and her paternal grandmother was Marie Janson Spaak, Belgium's first female member of Parliament.  In the early 1960's, Catherine stated that she had only met her famous uncle once, when she was 10 years old.
  • Here mother, Claudine, was briefly an actress and spent some time in a mental hospital.
  • She has one sibling, sister Agnes, born April 29, 1944.
  • Her father did not spend much time at home, because he found it difficult to write there.
  • Catherine and her sister were raised in a "nonconformist" environment, and Catherine never set foot in a church while growing up.
  • She wanted to be a ballerina and studied ballet until age 10, when she says that she grew too tall (in 1964, the Saturday Evening Post reported that she was 5'8" and 110 lbs.).
  • From around 1955 to 1959, Catherine and Agnes were sent to a boarding school outside of Paris, where Catherine was often lonely.
  • In the summer of 1955, Catherine visited her first movie set with her father, where she saw Gina Lollobrigida and was inspired to be an actress. She told her friends about her desire to be an actress, and they made fun of her by asking for her autograph.
  • Her parents were concerned that she should not enter the movie business so young.  Her father thought that she should finish school first.
Here are pictures of the family members discussed above, except that I have not yet found a picture of Catherine's mother:
Charles Spaak (and an unidentified female)

Paul-Henri Spaak

Marie Janson Spaak

Agnes Spaak

Catherine and Agnes (late 1950's or early 1960's)

Here is a picture of Catherine with her family in 1960:

I have been able to find very little information on Catherine's first film credit, L'hiver.  IMDB merely indicates that it is a 13-minute French short from 1959 that was directed by Jacques Gautier.  The 1964 Saturday Evening Post article on Catherine refers to L'hiver as "a 1959 semidocumentary called Winter," which was filmed in the summer of 1959 and for which she was paid nothing.  I have also read that she accompanied a friend to try out for a part, but Catherine herself wound up being in the film.  If anyone has ever seen this film or has any other information about it, please let us know.

In a 2002 interview, Catherine stated that Gerard Philipe was one of her idols as a girl and that she was lucky enough to have been a student of his for a year.  Presumably, that year would have been 1959, since Gerard, a well-regarded French actor, died from liver cancer in 1959.

At some point in late 1959 or early 1960, Catherine filmed a brief, uncredited role in the well-regarded French prison break film, Le Trou, directed by Jacques Becker and starring Michel Constantin and Philippe Leory, with whom Catherine would later work in three other films.  Le Trou (also known as The Hole and The Night Watch) was released in France on March 18, 1960 and was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May of that year. Rather than delve into this film at great length, I should merely point out that Catherine has a small part in which she comes to the prison to visit one of the prisoners.  She appears on-screen at around the 94 minute mark for about 90 seconds.  Here are some images of Catherine from her brief appearance in the film:

Here is a Spanish poster for the film:
A Danish program for the film courtesy of at:

Catherine's brief appearance in Le Trou caught the eye of a Paris TV reporter, and that is when she got her big break.  Sophia Loren happened to see the reporter's interview with Catherine on TV, and immediately thought that she looked perfect for the lead in a film, I dolci inganni, which was being cast by her producer-husband Carlo Ponti in Rome.  According to the Saturday Evening Post, upon getting the call from Sophia about Catherine, Carlo responded "I did not know that [Charles Spaak's] little Cathy was an actress."  Catherine got the part, which we will explore further in a future post.

In 1960 Catherine's parents announced that they were going to divorce.  During that summer, 15-year-old Catherine packed and left for Rome on her own to be in the movies.  She did not speak Italian, was often lonely, and survived off of $8/day to cover her expenses.  The January 27, 1961 edition of Time Magazine notes that the Paris roster of models for the agency of former model, Dorian Leigh (elder sister of actress Suzy Parker), includes "nieces of Dean Acheson and Paul-Henri Spaak."  It is not clear whether this is referring to Catherine, Agnes, or both.  Whether they were done in Paris or in Rome, the early modeling pictures shown on the May 3, 2011 blog post were probably done in 1960 around the time that Catherine left for Rome to be in the movies.  It is not clear whether they may have been done through work with Dorian Leigh's agency.  Here are some additional modeling-type photos that appear to be from that era:

It seems that, at some point between appearing in Le Trou and her lead role in I dolci inganni, Catherine appeared in a supporting role in the Italian war film Il carro armato dell'8 settembre, which was directed by Gianni Puccini and starred Gabriele Ferzetti and Elsa Martinelli.  Pier Paolo Pasolini is credited as one of the screenplay's writers.  This Italian film premiered in Italy on September 24, 1960 (which was three weeks before the premiere of I dolci inganni in Italy on October 15, 1960).  Catherine played an unspecified role per IMDB.  An Italian film site describes the plot of the film as follows (per Google translate and a little help from me):

"An Italian tank, on patrol along the Tyrrhenian coast, is surprised by the events of September 8. Of the four members of the crew only Corporal Charles Pollini, a young farmer with a simple soul and solid principles, stays at his post and decides to bring the armored vehicle to the barracks.  In implementing his purpose, Pollini becomes the protagonist of a series of comic adventures, which are sometimes sentimental, sometimes dramatic. First he offers to help some girls whose car is faulty, then he discovers that the occupants are some prostitutes. Then, he meets a passionate war widow, witnesses the suicide of Colonel who is commander of the barracks, and finally has a love affair with a teenager . Reaching home, the good corporal would like to turn the tank into a tractor, but the Germans arrive and insist that the old war tool will be used to engage in a final battle."

Italian Wikipedia provides the following synopsis (per Google translate and a little help from me):

"Italy has signed the armistice, and in the general confusion that follows, a corporal decides to return a tank from the coast to the barracks. The journey, though short, allowed him to meet a series of characters that represent various facets of Italy in those days."
I am not aware of this film having ever been released on home video.  If anyone has ever seen this film or has any other information about it, please let us know.  It has 10 votes and a 7.0 rating on IMDB.

Here is a very small image from this film, which shows Catherine:

Here is a larger image from the film:

Here is an Italian one panel poster for the film courtesy of at:

Here is an Argentinian poster:

An Italian locandina poster (with Catherine's name spelled with a "K"):
A couple of Italian fotobustas, neither of which features Catherine:

An Italian advertisement:

Here are some photos of Catherine in 1960, or thereabout:

Here is a postcard, unknown date or origin, but the picture looks to be early 1960's:

Here is a picture of unknown origin and date, but it appears to be from the early 1960's:

Catherine also began to appear on a few magazine covers by the middle of 1960:

Here is a cover and article on Catherine in the June 5, 1960 edition of Cine Tele-Revue:

Here is a picture of Catherine and Agnes from the September 1960 edition of Gioia (go-kart riding in Cannes):

And another picture of Catherine in a 1960 edition of Gioia:

A picture of Catherine with a group of young ladies in the December 13, 1960 edition of Cinemonde:

1 comment:

  1. Como comprar o filme:
    . il carro armato dell´8 setembre