Cécile Aubry, the leading lady in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1949 drama Manon and Tyrone Power’s romantic interest in the 1950 period adventure The Black Rose, died of lung cancer on July 19 in Dourdan, outside of Paris. She was 81.
Born Anne-José Madeleine Henriette Bénard (or Anne José Bénard according to some sources) into a wealthy Parisian family on Aug. 3, 1928, Aubry’s film debut took place in Clouzot’s updating of Abbé Prévost’s 18th-century novel Manon Lescaut.
In the film, the then 20-year-old actress plays Manon, who flees her French village after locals accuse her of having collaborated with the Nazis. Rescued by a Resistance activist (Serge Reggiani), Manon ends up in Paris where a life of degradation and marital discord awaits her.
“To achieve what he wanted,” Aubry later remarked, “Clouzot pushed the actors to the limit, especially the women. But he also declared that he needed to be in love with the leading women he directed. The shoot was very long and very difficult, seven months. Clouzot sacrificed everything and everyone to his creation.”
Perhaps it was worth it. Manon won both the Golden Lion at the 1949 Venice Film Festival and the French Film Critics’ Union Award.
Directed by Henry Hathaway for 20th Century Fox, The Black Rose turned out to be Aubry’s sole Hollywood effort. Set in East Asia and co-starring Orson Welles as the local villain, the costumer belonged to a batch of subpar Power vehicles Fox was cranking out near the end of the star’s contract with the studio.
Another notable Aubry effort was Christian-Jaque’s Barbe-Bleu / Bluebeard (1951), with Pierre Brasseur (French version) and Hans Albers (German version) in the title role(s). According to Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, in the film(s) Aubry performs “a silhouetted striptease that left little to the imagination.”
Aubry was married to Si Brahim El Glaoui, the oldest son of the pasha of Marrakech, whom she met while filming The Black Rose in Morocco. The couple had a son, Mehdi El Glaoui.
The young El Glaoui later starred in a French television miniseries written by the now-divorced Aubry, Belle et Sébastien (1965), which was based on one of her own children’s books. Popular the world over, the series revolved around the adventures of an orphan boy and his dog. (It was later to inspire the name of the Scottish rock band Belle and Sebastian.)
All in all, Cécile Aubry appeared in a mere eight movies over the course of eleven years. Her last vehicle was Georges Péclet’s long forgotten L’espionne sera à Nouméa (1960).
Aubry’s quote: The Guardian.