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Movie Poster of the Week: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville” and the films of Lemmy Caution

A look at the many-splendored posters for Godard's _Alphaville_ and the career of Lemmy Caution.
Alphaville poster

Though you have to look twice to find the original title, this stunning Danish poster is unmistakeably for Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. With its combination of sci-fi settings and two poster-genic stars, Alphaville may have inspired more great and varied posters than most other films. The most famous of course is Jean Mascii’s greyscale masterpiece. Illustrator of some 1500 posters from the early 50s through to the late 80s, Mascii (1926-2003) was an old school artist who fit right into the new world of the Nouvelle Vague with his photorealist illustration of Eddie Constantine and Anna Karina (you can see the poster in detail at the bottom of this article).

Alphaville poster

Other fabulous Alphaville posters include the Japanese...

Alphaville poster

...the Italian, titled Agent Lemmy Caution: Missione Alphaville...

Alphaville poster

...the German, titled Lemmy Caution against Alpha 60...

Alphaville poster

...the Bass-influenced American one-sheet...

Alphaville poster

...and the Belgian poster...

Alphaville poster

The Danish poster, which we started with, trumpets the film as “Lemmy’s Strange Adventure” (the French title is actually translated as Alphaville: a strange adventure of Lemmy Caution) which got me thinking about Eddie Constantine and the character of Lemmy Caution. Though I was vaguely aware that Caution, as played by Constantine, had been a character in previous films, I had never seen any of them nor ever really heard anything about them. Had Godard invented them?

It turns out that Lemmy Caution was a fictitious FBI agent created by British writer, and former policeman, Peter Cheyney. Cheyney wrote ten Caution novels between 1936 and 1945. The books became very popular in post-WWII France, where there was a new appetite for all things American, and the French film industry took notice. Lemmy Caution was first incarnated by Dutch actor John van Dreelen in Henri Verneuil’s 1952 all-star detective omnibus Brelen d’as (Full House).

But the following year, producer Bernard Borderie hired American cabaret singer Eddie Constantine to star in the first full Lemmy Caution vehicle La môme vert de gris (Poison Ivy). Constantine, who was born in L.A. to Russian and Polish parents, had moved to Paris to pursue a singing career and had been discovered by Edith Piaf who cast him in a musical. Prior to playing Lemmy Caution he had appeared in only one other film, but playing Caution—in at least seven films over ten years—made him a huge star in Europe in the late 50s and early 60s. (Notably only the American and Japanese posters for Alphaville make no mention of the name Lemmy Caution.)

Thanks mostly to the invaluable UK Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Cold War spy film archive I was able to find a number of wonderful posters for Constantine’s Lemmy Caution films which demonstrate his name-above-the-title star power.

As you can see from the posters, Constantine’s Lemmy Caution was a no-nonsense, happy-go-lucky womanizer, and the Danish distributor was obviously promoting Alphaville in that vein, as very much a Lemmy Caution vehicle. But in Godard’s 1965 take on the character, only two years after the previous Caution outing, he had become a rather downbeat, world-weary soul. Ironically, Alphaville would be the one Constantine-Caution film that has survived in the public memory. Though he would reprise the character on German TV in the 1980s, and once again for Godard in Allemagne 90 neuf zero in 1991, at the age of 73, Alphaville was really Lemmy Caution’s last hurrah.

I wish he had made more films like this.
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I’ve never seen Eddie Constantine smile so much as in those middle section posters. lol.
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Interesting. I’ve also often wondered about the Caution cycle of films but never bothered to investigate them. They’ve completely slipped through the cracks of film history.
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Some Persian samples: http://notesoncinematograph.blogspot.com/2012/03/eddie-constantine-in-iran.html
FBI En Europa is great. The biggest Lemmy looks like Jack Lemmon and I can’t tell the figures in the foreground are fighting or dancing. It’s good that FBI sucht Lemmy shows that the best way to engage in gunplay is to hide behind a glass of scotch and get some much needed cover from the bottle.

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