Alain Delon is still seen as one of those unforgettable symbols of European cinema in the 1960s and the ’70s, often idolised as an object of desire and compared to his female counterparts such as Brigitte Bardot. Although those years have retreated into the archives of memory, the image of him as an uber-cool French icon is simply unforgettable.
In the beginning, Delon was scouted by an employee working for famous producer David O. Selznick and was ready to move to Hollywood but he listened to Yves Allégret and stayed in France. This decision led to his collaboration with some of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, ranging from Michelangelo Antonioni to Jean-Luc Godard.
“I had incredible luck,” Delon reflected. “I’ve been happy all my life; I filmed with the best. I did what I wanted, with who I wanted, when I wanted. I dwell on the past more than I think about the future, yes, because my past was extraordinary. Today just doesn’t compare. A life like I had doesn’t come around twice. That’s why when it comes to retirement, I have no regrets.”
Check out some of the most memorable acting performances by Alain Delon in the cinematic masterpieces that aren’t just the highlights of his career but also of 20th-century cinema in general.
See the full list below.
Alain Delon’s six definitive films:
Purple Noon (René Clément, 1960)
Now remembered as Alain Delon’s first major project, Purple Noon is a brilliant thriller that borrowed inspiration from the famous Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. Although the 1999 adaptation starring Matt Damon is naturally more famous, René Clément’s interpretation is more masterful.
Delon features as the effortlessly charming con artist Tom Ripley, a criminal who would go to any lengths to maintain his lifestyle. Many talented actors have taken this role and some cite Damon’s work as the definitive Tom Ripley but Delon’s unique take on the fascinating character is practically immortalised in the minds of those who have had the joy of experiencing it.
Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960)
One of Delon’s breakthrough performances which propelled him into proper stardom, Luchino Visconti’s 1960 crime drama chronicles the condition of Southern immigrants who moved to northern Italy for a better life. Delon stars as Rocco in an incredibly powerful film about the sociopolitical climate of that time.
The film received glowing reviews at the time of its release and won several awards but its greatest achievement is standing the test of time. Even after all these years, Rocco and His Brothers is an essential part of the body of works of both Luchino Visconti and Alain Delon.
L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
A seminal masterpiece made by a true pioneer of European cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni‘s 1962 drama stars Delon and the iconic Monica Vitti. Antonioni conducts an examination of humanity’s fundamental existential despair by telling a story about a young translator (Vitti) who falls in love with a mesmerising stockbroker (Delon).
Antonioni’s 1962 masterpiece ended up winning the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Martin Scorsese has listed L’Eclisse as one of the films that had a profound impact on him, stating that it was a “step forward in storytelling… felt less like a story and more like a poem.”
Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
One of the finest neo-noir films ever made, Jean-Pierre Melville constructs a memorable examination of a life of crime that is laced with philosophical subtext. Alain Delon stars as an assassin who is pursued by the police as well as the organisation that hired him.
Le Samouraï isn’t just Melville’s best work but it is also the crowning jewel of Delon’s oeuvre. It solidified his image in the mainstream consciousness as a dreamy spectre haunting an urban landscape which is completely devoid of morality.
The Red Circle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
Another gem by Melville which features stellar acting work by Delon, The Red Circle is an enigmatic crime thriller is one of the most unconventional heist films ever made. Almost like a deconstruction of the genre, The Red Circle is a meticulously crafted masterpiece that curates an incredible experience for the audience.
While explaining the film’s title, Melville came up with this epigraph: “Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: ‘When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle.'”
Monsieur Klein (Joseph Losey, 1976)
A mystery drama that was produced by Delon himself, Monsieur Klein stars Delon as the titular figure of an apathetic art dealer who exploits persecuted Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany. However, things get complicated when the fascist authorities start suspecting that he is Jewish as well.
A brilliant film which indulges in poignant political commentary, Delon’s work in Monsieur Klein earned him the César Award for Best Actor. It almost won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes but was beaten to it by another masterpiece that came out in the same year – Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.