In the immediate response to his passing, journalists and Twitter mavens (perhaps becoming more indistinguishable at the second hand keeps "ticking" around what is now a virtual clock...) made almost no mention of Hossein's contributions to (French) film noir, which is a lamentable oversight that we still hope to correct over the next several years (more details concerning this will be forthcoming).
The truth of the matter is that Hossein's interest in colliding a certain charged form of stage drama with the lurid (and often also lachrymose) story content within noir, often with notably unsettling effect. Beginning with his work at the Theatre de Grand Guignol and his association with the singular crime novelist (later also screenwriter and director) Frédèric Dard, Hossein "flipped the script" in terms of what we might call "noir expectation" with his initial foray into crime film, the simultaneously riotous and deadpan LES SALAUDS VONT EN ENFER aka THE WICKED GO TO HELL (1955-56), which he'd originally staged as a play at the Grand Guignol. The film version was a sensational showcase for the alluring Marina Vlady, whom Hossein had just married, and it began a ten-year run of film productions where he was saturated within the world of film noir, and where he created a series of differing tonalities within the films he starred in and/or directed:
LES SALAUDS VONT EN ENFER**†
CRIME ET CHATIMENT†
PARDONNEZ NOS OFFENSES*
TOI LE VENIN**†
DES FEMMES DISPARAISSENT†
LA NUIT DES ESPIONS**†
DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES FEMMES aka RIFF-RAFF GIRLS
LE JEU DE LA VÉRITÉ**†
CHAIR DE POULE†
LES GRANDS CHEMINS
LA MORT D'UN TUEUR**†
LES YEUX CERNES**
BANCO A BANGKOK POUR O.S.S. 117
LE VAMPIRE DE DUSSELDORF**†
**films starring & directed by Hossein
† films screened in FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festivals
Hossein remained busy outside of noir in the sixties, playing opposite Michele Mercier in the long-running Angelique series, making his second "western" (CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES, which still has some cult status in the USA), and directing two additional "dark" films, I KILLED RASPUTIN (1967) and POINT DE CHUTE (1970) before his conversion to Catholicism caused him to re-orient his career back to the world of theatre: the "noir edge" that had informed his work faded away even as his career remained successful.
But the films in the 1955-65 period, which languished for decades, finally began to re-emerge in France during the 2010s, and the slowly developing momentum that made many of them available in improved prints made it possible for us to showcase him in 2014 at the first FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festival, where his double-sided efforts (director and lead actor) in TOI LE VENIN and his astringent, bedevilled escaped convict in Julien Duvivier's masterful CHAIR DE POULE (the crown jewel in French noir's appropriation of "hack Cain-Chandler imitator" James Hadley Chase) registered strongly among the throngs who attended. After LES SALAUDS screened to great effect in FRENCH 2, we pulled out all the stops and gave him an entire day where five films of his were showcased for FRENCH 3--to the delight of audiences and critics alike.
And attendees in both SF and LA were taken with LE MONTE-CHARGE, the perfect Christmas noir, which we hope to show at the end of this just-begun year of 2021--hopefully on December 30th, which would be Robert Hossein's 94th birthday.
We thank you and salute you, M. Hossein, in hopes that the world will soon take more note of your seminal achievements as the catalyst of a crescendo in French noir covering the years 1955-66 where he and others injected fresh blood into a genre that had thrown in with the gangster/heist paradigm and sought a strange uniformity in the sullen, virtually wordless anti-hero. Hossein and others (Molinaro, Deray, Lautner etal) provided a new variety of characters and situations that was a breath of fresh air for noir. Merci beaucoup and rest in peace!