Cary Grant with Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock on the set of To Catch a Thief. © Hotel InterContinental Carlton

As Nice prepares to celebrate the centenary of its “Little Hollywood”, we look back on the Victorine Studios’ tumultuous history…

Jet-set glamour and tragedy with a soupçon of scandal, La Victorine’s tangled history is worthy of the twistiest thrillers ever produced within its legendary studios.

And in its centenary year, we would be remiss not to indulge in a little action replay of the rise, demise and rebirth of the Riviera’s “Little Hollywood”. La Victorine’s rollercoaster journey began in 1919, when director Louis Nalpas set his sights on building film studios in the seaside resort of Nice only to run out of funds and part with the fledgling enterprise.

“Les Bijoutiers au Clair de Lune” starring Brigitte Bardot and Stephen Boyd

In 1925, along came flamboyant filmmaker Rex Ingram, who transformed La Victorine into the industry’s most coveted studios – and quite the hit factory. It was at the Victorine that a bright-eyed and beehived Brigitte Bardot took her first tentative steps into the limelight, while a constellation of stars and icons graced its hallowed halls over the decades – among them Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Paul Newman and Robert De Niro and directors François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Demy. Not even three devastating fires, ownership changeovers and a world war could knock the seemingly indestructible Victorine off its glitzy pedestal.

That is, until the 1970s ushered in the fraught reign of Nice’s notorious mayor, Jacques Médecin, and with him the (near) demise of the Riviera’s cult studios. The crooked official presided over such blatant corruption (and mismanagement) at the Victorine and indeed on the Côte d’Azur that Graham Greene, then a resident of nearby Antibes, helped spark a criminal investigation that saw him put behind bars. Conditions at the studio were reportedly so poor on the set of Sean Connery’s final outing as James Bond, Never Say Never Again, that the director threatened to pull the plug.

Jacques Demy’s “La Baie des Anges”

Various investors set out in vain to resurrect the flailing Victorine, including Michael Douglas; until it finally flickered back to life in the late 1990s under the stewardship of Euro Media. Since then, more than 20 blockbusters and numerous series have been shot at the studios.

To mark the Victorine’s milestone centenary – and close the door on its tempestuous past at long last – Nice will hold a bumper year of celebrations charting its epic rebirth. The annual carnival, biennale, jazz and literature festivals, will all be cinema-themed for the occasion. For more information visit www.nicetourisme.com.

From France Today magazine

The iconic Victorine Studios
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