Remembering actor Emad Hamdi: Jeune premier

Ashraf Gharib, Wednesday 27 Nov 2019

Egyptian actor Emad Hamdi was born on 24 November 1909 and died on 28 January 1984

emad hamdi
Egyptian actor Emad Hamdi

You will not find throughout the history of Egyptian cinema an actor who remained the jeune premier for close to 20 years except actor Emad Hamdi.

Cineastes were adamant to cast him in this role for a long time, not acknowledging the ageing process, only relying on his big fan base and the idealistic character that was linked to him.

Hamdi was born on 24 November 1909 in Sohag governorate, Upper Egypt, along with his identical twin brother Abdel-Rahman. The family quickly moved to Cairo and resided in Shubra, where Emad later graduated from the High School of Commerce. Although he didn’t show any artistic interests in his early childhood, he joined the acting group in high school.

He then started frequenting Emad El-Deen Street, which was known as the Entertainment Street in Egypt. Fascinated by famous comedian Naguib El-Rihani, he would regularly attend his plays as well as Youssef Wahbi's and Aziz Eid's. At that moment, he realised that he was moving in a path that had never crossed his mind.

After graduation, he opened a small company which he was obliged to close shortly after following its commercial failure. Emad then worked different kinds of jobs while acting with some theatrical companies, until he began to work at Studio Misr, the most important cinematic monument in Egypt at the time. However, he didn’t work in the studio as an actor, but as an accountant, then production manager, and finally the studio’s distribution manager.

In 1945, in the last throes of World War II, Egyptian cinema was shedding its skin, inviting new capital and welcoming fresh faces. A number of actors emerged and shaped the film acting map in Egypt and the Arab world, such as Mohsen Sarhan, Farid Shawqi, Kamal El-Shennawi, Shokry Sarhan and Rushdy Abaza, and before all of them was Emad Hamdi.

During this period, progressive director Kamel El-Telmissany was looking for a new face with purely Egyptian features to play the leading role in The Black Market (1945), produced by Studio Misr.

Coincidentally, he saw the face of the studio’s accountant and was attracted to his Egyptian countenance and handsomeness, which met the age’s standards. Immediately, he chose him for the role. However, the film was a big commercial failure and probably would have ended this young actor’s career.

In the subsequent year, director Salah Abu-Seif chose him to play the leading role in Always in My Heart, with female lead Aqeela Rateb. Then came his big break in Darkness Fell (1948, Henri Barakat); putting Hamdi in the jeune premier lineup, a position he retained for almost two decades.

Emad Hamdi began his cinematic career when he was 36 years old while his peers’ ages ranged between the twenties and the early thirties. Despite this fact, cineastes did not care and kept casting him in the jeune premier roles. Perhaps his appearance evoked a younger vibe, but Hamdi had to present a jeune premier different from his peers, whether playing a university student or an ordinary employee.

He had to wrap his performance in the wise, solemn men’s shroud. Hamdi established a screen persona of the paragon of virtue who does not deviate from the right course, such as in Lady of the House (1949, Ahmed Kamel Morsi), The Hawk (1950, Salah Abu-Seif), Slaves of Money (1953, Fateen Abdel-Wahab) and Life or Death (1954, Kamal El-Sheikh).

Moreover, what helped Hamdi become sure-footed in portraying the jeune premier was his successful collaboration with the lady of the Arab screen Faten Hamama. This duo acted in a number of films, most of which were of a romantic nature, such as I will never cry (1957, Hassan Al-Imam), Sleepless (1957), Don’t put out the Sun (1961, both by Salah Abu-Seif and both adapted from novelist Ihsan Abdel-Quddous’ eponymous novels). Undoubtedly, their magnum opus was Among the Ruins (1959, Ezz-Eldin Zulfikar) adapted from Youssef El-Sibai’s eponymous novel.

Director Ezz Eldin Zulfikar chose Hamdi as the leading man in romantic and social films like Loyalty (1953) and I am Departing this Life (1955) and other films, and cast him in action films such as Night Train (1953) and Farewell Dance (1954). Although cinemagoers accepted Hamdi in these roles, he did not prefer playing them and favoured the solemn, cultured and upright youth who believes in values and principles.

After years, Hamdi realised that he should not accept roles except those that were suitable for his age. So, he decided to stop playing the jeune premier when he was in his mid-fifties. Perhaps his important role, playing the famous singer Abdel-Halim Hafez’s father in Sins (1962, Hassan Al-Imam), made him feel that this move was in the right direction. He followed it by another important role, albeit in the social comedy mould in Mother of the Bride (1963, Atef Salem).

His subsequent roles continued in this direction, such as in films like Sonia and the Madman (1977, Hossam El-Din Mostafa) and Bamba Kasher (1974, Hassan Al-Imam). It is noteworthy to mention his unforgettable roles in this period in both Chitchat on the Nile (1971, Hussein Kamal) adapted from Naguib Mafouz’s eponymous novel, and The Guilty (1976, Saeed Marzouk). For the latter, he was awarded the international best actor prize in the first edition of the Cairo International Film Festival.

In his final years, Hamdi moved to TV series without totally abandoning cinema and was in a number of important series, until he was beset with senility. His last film was The Bus Driver (1982, Atef El-Tayeb) before he passed away on 28 January 1984 at the age of 75.

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