In 1965 Ursula Andress starred alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo in Up to His Ears, a follow-up to Belmondo’s film That Man from Rio a year earlier. When the pair first met they were very distant, the director Philippe de Broca recalled how they wouldn’t speak to one another but within a short space of time they had begun an intense but discreet affair which would last until 1972.
The film, also known in French as Les Tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine was loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1879 novel Tribulations of a Chinaman in China. Belmondo stars as a bored and unhappy millionaire who, by the opening scenes is on his ninth attempt at suicide of the week! As he cruises around the Orient with his fiancé, his lawyer arrives to inform him that his entire wealth has been lost on the stock market resulting in his future mother-in-law cancelling the engagement. Determined to kill himself he is persuaded by his best friend (Mr Goh) to take out a two million dollar, thirty day insurance policy of which half would go to his fiancé and the other half to Goh. Despite a suicide clause Goh promises Belmondo to kill him within the month and in the meantime to amuse himself in Hong Kong.
Wracked with nerves about a painful death, Belmondo finds himself running from the pursuit of two men in trenchcoats he believes are sent to kill him, taking refuge in a strip club he sets eyes on the beautiful Andress. A dinner date later and Belmondo sees the light for a brighter future and is determined to cancel the pact with Goh. But in a further twist he discovers Goh has passed the deal onto an unknown third party and Goh’s whereabouts are equally unknown. What follows is a farcical attempt to locate Goh and get the deal called off, including a lengthy trip to Tibet via Hong Kong and back again.
The chemistry between Belmondo and Andress is clear to see, after the film was made she moved to Paris to live with Belmondo following her break-up with the director John Derek who later married Bo Derek of the film 10 fame. By the time of the film both actors were at the peak of their powers, Andress had shot to worldwide recognition as the first Bond girl, Honey Ryder in Dr No (1962) and her infamous white bikini made her the first choice for similar roles as well as Playboy who would feature here many times throughout the decade. Her role alongside Connery prompted many to believe they too had an affair although Andress always insisted they were and remain good friends.
Belmondo and Andress’s affair, though well publicised during its tenure managed to retain its sense of class. How much, I wonder, do stars of this internet age wish for the relative quiet Belmondo and Andress enjoyed? With the online newspapers producing endless photographs regardless of quality and the individuals themselves posting updates or leaking gossip it has all become cheap and frankly, boring. How does Kardashian/West compare to Taylor/Burton for example or does anyone of the millennial generation care? The likes of Belmondo and Andress gave us the occasional chic photo at a restaurant in Cannes or Paris but that was sufficient, they left us to imagine the rest and I like that.