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Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Le Berlitz" à Paris: Train d' Enfer!

After leaving her native country Austria in the mid 60's, Marisa Mell was not sure where her movie home would be for the foreseeable future: would it be Germany, France, England, Spain or Italy? As a starlet still finding her way in the movie business, she had not much to say about accepting a role or not. She was just glad that a major part was offered to her, that it brought in the much needed money to pay the expenses of building a movie career, had a decent director and movie partner, who was not yet at the end of his career, with an acceptable story as a bonus, but that was not a necessity. So it wasn't strange that in the early years of her career, she worked in all the before mentioned countries as an aspiring actress, with even a short stop in South-Africa. Her first movie in France in 1965 was called "Train d'enfer", an agent movie with adventurous elements, directed by Gilles Grangier, most famous as a director at that time for working with Jean Gabin, the ultimate French character actor, regarded by his public as God on Earth. Her partner for this movie was also French actor Jean Marais, who was still en vogue after a stellar career in the 50's, as the hero in many pirate and musketeer movies, but who was also starting to feel his age at 52. He would make in that same period one last impression on his audience as Fantomas in the movie trilogy of the same name with the ultimate French comedian actor Louis de Funès.

The movie "Train d'Enfer" had its première on November 10th 1965 at cinema "Le Berlitz" in Paris, France, situated at 33, Boulevard des Italiens. Le Berlitz was regarded as an important first showing cinema with only "A"-graded movies shown in first run. Almost all famous French movies from that era got their première at Le Berlitz, like movies with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot in "La Femme et le Pantin" in 1959 or Louis de Funès in "La Grande Vadrouille" in 1966.

Every movie producer can tell you that the venue where your movie is shown on its opening night is a major part of getting the necessary box office or not. So opening in Le Berlitz in Paris was a major coup for Marisa Mell as the next step in her movie career that had all the elements of making it big first in Europe and then probably Hollywood. Looking at the numbers from the box office, the movie was not a major runaway success but did quite well when going to the movies was one of the most, if not the most popular spare time activities: 1.346.579 visitors in the whole of France, 92.304 visitors for cinema's with an exclusive screening, 228.099 visitors during the non exclusive screenings and 39.672 visitors in the first week in Paris

Le Berlitz was build on a historical site in Paris. The original site was a garden belonging to the Duke de Richelieu where, between 1758-1760, the Pavilion de Hanovre was build, along the Rue Neuve Saint-Augustin, which later became the Boulevard des Italiens.

But progress could not be stopped in Paris in 1932, so the venue had to make place for a more commercial building then keeping a historical one, because of its historic value, the French government decided to tear down the building stone by stone, and rebuild it again in the Parc de Sceaux, but only to the first floor, the second floor was deleted.

With the historical building removed, there was enough room to build a commercial office building with shops on the ground floor and a cinema with 200 seats for news reels. The building got the name "Palais Berlitz", after the language school located in the offices above the cinema. In the early 50's, the ground floor and underground were rebuild as a cinema with 1500 seats and a restaurant. It became one of the most important first run movie theaters in Paris. The design featured a huge curved lobby with stained glass windows leading to the big auditorium which had club armchairs. Due to two large columns in the auditorium space, the size of the screen was limited.

In the 1980's Gaumont took over the building and devided Le Berlitz, including the restaurant, into six small screens. Sadly the place lost its original design and was not very attractive, so the building was again completely rebuild in the 1990's with only the facade remaining. The design is much nicer now with six cinema's with at total seating capacity of 1137 seats. 

And so once again a bright landmark of Paris Nightlife disappeared forever. What a marvelous and magical time it must have been to walk through the streets of Paris at night in the Boulevard des Italiens, seeing from far already the brightly lit marquis of the cinema announcing the next-must-see movie "Train d'enfer" with enormous cut out boards of Marisa Mell and Jean Marais, against a back ground of painted action scenes of the movie and their names in bright red.

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