Simenon remains one of the best known Belgian writers, but his signature
detective, French Police Commissaire Jules Maigret has been played by French,
British, Dutch, Italian, Armenian, Czech, Russian, and Japanese actors. British born Hollywood legend Charles
Laughton also picked up Maigret’s trademark pipe for a memorable one-off, The Man on the Eiffel Tower, directed by
the Burgess Meredith, which screens as part of Anthology Film Archives new
is post-war Paris, where expat Bill Kirby has a wife, a mistress, a rich but prickly
old aunt, and an aversion to work. After
he complains about the old dear’s longevity in a crowded café, a mystery man
slips him a note. His problem can be
solved for 100,000 Francs. He need only
mail her key to an anonymous postal drop—and so he does.
Maigret, the most suspicious aspect of the crime scene is how thoroughly it
implicates the Joseph Heurtin. The bespectacled knife-grinder simply does not
strike Maigret as a killer. Playing a
hunch, the Inspector allows Heurtin to escape, hoping he will lead the police
to the master criminal pulling his strings.
Maigret soon concludes the real murderer is the Czech Johann Radek, a
dissolute former medical student. However,
proving it will be a trickier matter.
Thus commences a game of cat and mouse that will indeed take both men to
the famous Parisian landmark.
AFA screenings will be in 35mm, which is good to know, since there are some
pretty scruffy prints of Eiffel in
circulation. Evidently, it was one of
the few films shot on a certain brand of color stock that has not aged
gracefully. Nonetheless, it is jolly
good little suspenser, as well as an evocative time-capsule of post-war Paris.
it is a shame Charles Laughton went one-and-done as Maigret, because he fits
the part like a comfortably rumpled suit.
It would make a good double feature with his classic performance as the
not-quite-as-crafty-as-he-thinks-he-is Sir Wilfrid in Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution. In addition to helming with economy and style
(reportedly with the occasional assist from his two big name co-stars), Burgess
Meredith is effectively squirrely as Heurtin, even foreshadowing hints of Henry
Bemis in the classic Twilight Zone episode
Time Enough at Last. Yet, perhaps the greatest revelation is
Franchot Tone’s diabolically manic Radek.
Indeed, Laughton’s shrewd persona, Simenon’s
clever plotting, and the still impressively dizzying climax promised by the
title are hard combination to beat. An all-around
entertaining classic, Eiffel does
right by the source novel, which was also the basis for an earlier French
adaptation duly included in Cine-Simenon as
well. Highly recommended regardless of
the condition of its surviving prints, The
Man on the Eiffel Tower screens this Friday (8/9) and Sunday the 18th
at the Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Burgess Meredith, Charles Laughton, Cine-Simenon, Franchot Tone, Georges Simenon