Lithe, debonair and exceedingly handsome, with a tide of dark, wavy hair, Louis Jourdan became Hollywood’s ideal of Gallic charm and seduction in the late 1940s and 1950s. His peak came in the Oscar-winning musical “Gigi” (1958), which cemented him in the popular imagination as a debonair playboy.
After a long career slide, he reemerged in the 1980s as a suave villain, notably as the Bond nemesis in “Octopussy” (1983).
Mr. Jourdan, who died Feb. 14 at 93, arrived in the United States after World War II as the promised heir to Charles Boyer, the French-born romantic idol who was transitioning into character roles.
For his English-language debut, Mr. Jourdan won favorable reviews playing a mysterious young valet in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case” (1947). He brought a sinister edge to a Viennese pianist who romances and wrongs Joan Fontaine in “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948) and was the aristocratic lover to Jennifer Jones in a sumptuous production of “Madame Bovary” (1949), based on the Gustave Flaubert novel.
He showed he could play ungallant well, and did so again opposite Doris Day as her psychopathic husband in “Julie” (1956). He had to fight hard for such parts. “Any actor who comes here with an accent is automatically put in roles as a lover,” he once quipped. “I didn’t want to be perpetually cooing in a lady’s ear.”
Meatier roles were infrequent. His résumé was littered with lackluster adventure stories such as “Bird of Paradise” (1951) with Debra Paget and “Decameron Nights” (1953) with Fontaine. He also was an Italian prince who woos Maggie McNamara in “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954) and as a handsome tutor to the royal Grace Kelly in “The Swan” (1956).
He took a leave from movies to assert himself on Broadway in a 1954 production of André Gide’s novel “The Immoralist,” playing a gay archeologist who gets married partly in an attempt to repress his desires. Geraldine Page played the wife for whom he cannot summon much passion, and the unknown James Dean portrayed as a houseboy who arouses his lust.
Mr. Jourdan won critical praise for bringing “stature and sincerity” to a conflicted role, theater critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times. But the play, adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, closed after 86 performances. The next year, Mr. Jourdan starred on Broadway as a magician in “Tonight in Samarkand,” a short-lived drama set in a traveling circus in France.
Against his own protests that he could not sing, Mr. Jourdan was cast as the Parisian ladies man and bon vivant in the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical, “Gigi.” He said he also felt the role was another in a line of handsome blanks.
Mr. Jourdan acquitted himself well, singing the title song and later a duet with co-star Leslie Caron, who plays his eventual love interest, on “The Night They Invented Champagne.” However, he was overshadowed by the musical star Maurice Chevalier’s performance as the boulevardier who croons “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”
“It was a wonderful story for Leslie and Maurice Chevalier, but I played a colorless leading man,” Mr. Jourdan once said. “You’ll note that none of the actors was nominated for Academy Awards.” (Its nine Oscars included best picture and, for Vincente Minnelli, best director.)
Mr. Jourdan, playing a judge in 1890s Paris, teamed again with Chevalier in “Can-Can” (1960), a musical with a blissful Cole Porter score. His subsequent projects — he was a gigolo in the all-star portmanteau “The V.I.P.s” (1963) and a dress designer in the Ann-Margret comedy “Made in Paris” (1966) — demanded little.
As his career dimmed as a leading man, Mr. Jourdan felt liberated from typecasting. He went on to play unsavory characters, including the lawyer De Villefort in a 1975 British TV production of “The Count of Monte-Cristo” with Richard Chamberlain in the heroic role. Two years later, he was the title bloodsucker in “Count Dracula,” another British TV movie.
In the James Bond movie “Octopussy,” which starred Roger Moore as the British spy, Mr. Jourdan played a menacing Afghan prince. Writing in The Washington Post, movie critic Gary Arnold called him “probably the most elegant and adroit star yet recruited to portray a villain in the series.”
Mr. Jourdan was born Louis Robert Gendre in Marseille on June 19, 1921. He grew up in the South of France, where his father ran seaside hotels favored by visiting artists and entertainers.
Intrigued by a career in show business, he pursued drama studies in Paris before his physical grace brought him to the attention of film director Marc Allégret, who subsequently put him in several movies.
Despite ample publicity, including a series of striking photos by Raymond Voinquel of Mr. Jourdan’s chiseled features, his career was largely interrupted by World War II.
Under the Nazi occupation of France, he spent time in forced labor, digging ditches and building roads. He refused to work in German propaganda films and, after his father’s arrest by the Gestapo, he worked for the resistance, printing leaflets for the underground. Soon after the war, a talent scout for Hollywood producer David O. Selznick lured him to California.
Mr. Jourdan’s wife of more than 60 years, Berthe Frédérique, known as Quique, died last year. Their only child, Louis Henry Jourdan, died in 1981 from what was ruled a drug overdose. He had no immediate survivors.
He died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. His biographer, Olivier Minne, announced the death but did not cite a specific cause.
In 1985, Mr. Jourdan toured nationally in a popular but critically drubbed stage version of “Gigi,” this time as the aging roué portrayed onscreen by Chevalier. His other movies included “Swamp Thing” (1982) and “The Return of Swamp Thing” (1989) as well as “Year of the Comet” (1992).
Mr. Jourdan was not inclined toward nostalgia about his Hollywood career. He was a self-described introvert and intellectual who much preferred the company of close friends and his shelves of classical music.
“I never see my movies,” he told People in 1985. “When they’re on television I click them away. Hollywood created an image and I long ago reconciled myself with it. I was the French cliché.”