Beginning as an actor, he was assistant to Louis Feuillade and Marcel L'Herbier. As a director, he displayed a cyclical complacency, remaking several of his own films, including La Machine èi Refaire la Vie, a documentary on the movie process. During the 1930s he was very successful commercially: Poil de Carotte, Pépé le Moko, and Un Carnet de Bal are all blandly profident works. As war came nearer, Du vivier went to MGM to direct Luise Rainer in the inane Great Waltz.
By 1941, he was in Britain for Korda making Lydia—a virtual remake of Carnet de Bal; and he returned to Hollywood to make the episodic Tales of Manhattan and Flesh and Fantasy. The Imposter; starring Jean Cabin, was made in Algeria—the setting for his melancholy thriller, Pépé le Moka—while Anna Karenina, again for Korda, starred an uneasy Vivien Leigh. These excursions into a rather lusher romance than France offered did not encourage Duvivier's fancy. It was in his character to be discreet with luxury— a less cautious man would have made Leigh relax. Duvivier returned to France and found a national hero in Femandels Don Camillo. He went on, shy of the beauty of Danielle Darrieux in Marie-Octobre, of Françoise Amoul, Micheline Presle, and Darrieux in Le Diable et les Dix Commandements. It is hard to feel warmly toward a director reluctant to celebrate beautiful women.
Duvivier was a professional survivor in troubled times: a man who managed always to look spruce but seldom original or interesting. He never lost composure in a long, industrious career, but he never found much else.