Patent of corso. The man who made fun of himself
He was neither handsome nor handsome, and his face was as devastated as a moonscape. He also did not believe the characters he played on the screen, always in crappy movies, that is, with a low budget; of what we now call series B. I saw it many times in the cinema, when I was young, in those happy days of double bills in which one swallowed everything. I liked that guy who punched with a smile and always seemed to make fun of his own character. And now, over time, I understand why. They were such bad movies that it ended up turning them into works of art. I only remember having such a good time watching the Mexican movies about the wrestler Santo, the Silver Masked Man. Or with that crappy masterpiece –Charros against gangstersI seem to remember what it was called – in which a band of mariachis dressed as such faced another Chicago-style band, and killed each other with machine guns while pedestrians walked through the streets and cars circulated normally, and when leaning on a wall it moved because it was a cardboard set.
In the Eddie Constantine movies it didn’t go that far, but almost. He embodied tough guys, undercover agents and noir detectives, and for me the image of him is especially linked to one of them, FBI agent Lemmy Caution, based on Peter Cheyney’s novels. Friend Constantine –if you don’t know him, look for his image on the internet and see the face he had– played Lemmy Caution in several movies. They were all infamous; but one of them Lemmy vs. Alphaville, was directed by Jean-Luc Godard. As a cinematographic narrative, Godard’s is an insufferable futuristic pain in the ass; but it has virtues that made it a cult work of its time, with extraordinary success and notable later influence, to the point that its traces can be traced even in the magnificent bladerunnerby Ridley Scott.
In any case, leaving aside Alphaville, the other movies in which Eddie Constantine played Lemmy Caution are, as I say, deliciously bad. It is no longer that they touch nonsense, but rather that they gladly incur it. And the point lies precisely in that, because these are not Super Agent 86-type parodies of a genre that barely existed at the time – in fact, the cinematographic James Bond, OSS 117, Harry Palmer, Derek Flint and Matt Helm, among others, were inspired by in a certain way in him–, but of films shot seriously, acted seriously, but in which all the time we intuit the protagonist, who never stops being Lemmy Constantine or Eddie Caution, making fun of himself while acting almost winking at him to the viewer. It’s like a parody prequel before the parodies were produced, or the exposure of a character who in his very essence is lying about himself: a kind of don’t believe what you’re seeing, and enjoy it. That’s why, accomplice, you forgive him everything: that he smiles while punching and receiving punches, that he behaves like a scoundrel, that he gets drunk with bravado or that in almost all movies he slaps a woman, or more than one, after telling them how response to whether you have a fire to light their cigarette: «I have traveled nine thousand kilometers to give it to you».
I have almost all the novels of Lemmy Caution, inherited from the library of a grandmother who was a voracious reader of that crime literature that now the cheesy have taken to calling noir. Sometimes I reread them, enjoying them as if it were the first time, and I usually combine reading it with one of the movies. Unfortunately I have almost all of them in French, because I think that, except Alphaville, none of the others are easily found dubbed or subtitled. I know it can be seen on YouTube fake passport dubbed into Italian (lemmy pour les dames), and on Netflix Federal agent in Rome (You pigez?) and Incognito, subtitled in Spanish. Perhaps searching better will find more. The fact is that, if only to see his face, I recommend anyone who doesn’t know him to take a look at some of the fascinating nonsense that Eddie Constantine shot playing Lemmy Caution. At least once, if you can, hear him say, with his scarred tough-guy grin, serious but with a gleam of incredulous teasing in his eyes, things like “It’s always like that, you never understand anything. And one night, you die without understanding anything». Or that other phrase, my favorite of his, that you only really enjoy seeing the face with which he says it: «I’m afraid of death. But for a humble secret agent, death is as commonplace as whiskey. And I’ve been drinking all my life.”