Mustachioed, serious-countenanced, bald with a remaining crown of hair, with an imposing round figure, André Alerme became for two decades the quintessential dignitary of French cinema. Indeed, between 1930 and 1950, the popular character actor divided his performances between the Army, the Church and the Nobility. In the seventy-odd films he was in, he was in turns, captain (once in the army, the other time in the navy), the commander of a dragoon company, a colonel ; a baron (twice), a viscount, a count, a marquis, the King’s tax collector and even, in the forgettable Aloha, le chant des îles (1937) , a Scottish lord (not his best role!) ; a priest, and even Saint Peter! He could also easily portray officials or people with an influential role in society : a doctor (twice), a politician, managers of various kinds, industrialists (he was already one in his first and only silent Amour et carburateur (1925), mayors, a financier, a couturier… His roundness could have suggested gentleness, but it is rather Monsieur Prudhomme, Henry Monnier’s famous caricature character, that producers saw in him, the prototype of the plump, conformist, sententious, selfish bourgeois. For most of the characters played by Alerme are either unpleasant or ridiculous or both. The role epitomizing this type of character was the unforgettable pompous but cowardly mayor of a Flemish city in Jacques Feyder’s classic Carnival in Flanders (1935). Alerme, although nearly always very good, has never been better than in this unparalleled masterpiece.
André Alerme had been born in Dieppe in 1877 and started studying medicine and sculpture, but irresistibly attracted by theater, he soon appeared on the Paris theater scene. It did not take long before he met with success in plays by Henri Bernstein, Alfred Savoir, ‘Edouard Bourdet’, Jean Anouilh, Marcel Achard and many others. His passage from the boards to the studio spotlights was marked by the role of Georges Samoy he played in Sacha Guitry’s Le blanc et le noir (1931) and reprised in Robert Florey’s film version. Combining stage and cinema work in the early thirties, André Alerme tended to privilege the seventh art after 1936. Most of the films he participated in were just commercial but a few remain, signed by Jacques Feyder, Julien Duvivier, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Abel Gance, Claude Autant-Lara, Edmond T. Gréville. A great actor, Alerme will forever remain Joseph Prudhomme, complete with pomp and wicked foolishness.