Simenon led a colorful life. There might
have been a few women and some fast living.
After the war, he also faced allegations of collaboration, but his
defenders always maintained he was too self-absorbed for such matters. Harry Baur was one of a multitude of actors to
play Simenon’s signature detective, whose wartime experience is tragically
above suspicion. Imprisoned and roughly interrogated
after ill-advisedly appearing in an early 1940’s German film, Baur either
succumbed to injuries sustained or was helped along the way shortly after his
release. His biographic details add further tragic context to Julien Duvivier’s
A Man’s Neck, which screens during
the Anthology Film Archives’ Cine-Simenon
Ferrière has a rich aunt, who refuses to die, but a mystery pen-pal offers to
help the old dear along for 100,000 francs.
The freelance killer also has a scapegoat lined up to take the fall: the
clueless Joseph Heurtin. Yes, this is
the Maigret case Burgess Meredith later adapted as The Man on the Eiffel Tower, but it is simultaneously similar and
different in intriguing ways.
it happens, both films also serve as time capsules of Paris, pre- and
post-war. Not surprisingly though, the
earlier French film is darker and somewhat franker than the RKO
production. The stories run along
parallel lines, but diverge on key points, such as the complicity of Ferrière’s
mistress in Duvivier’s film. Indeed, there
is little innocence per se in this distinctly dark crime drama.
Baur and Laughton look like world weary civil servants, but the latter could
not help playing the part with panache.
He was Charles Laughton, after all.
In contrast, Baur’s Maigret is a down-trodden bureaucrat often at risk
of fading into the background, until roused to outrage by the psychotic Radek. It is a close call, but in a head-to-head
match, Laughton probably takes it by a jowl.
Meredith’s Heurtin is a truly unique portrait of a man made vulnerable by his acutely
anti-social nature. Alexandre Rignault’s
Heurtin also quite effective, but we have seen such simple-minded hulks before
and since. However, Valéry Inkijinoff’s
frenzied and lusty Radek is something else entirely. Franchot Tone exceeds
expectations in Eiffel Tower, but the
Russian Inkijinoff is truly creepy.
fact, both are very good films. Duvivier
shows an eye for procedural detail, giving viewers an unromanticized look
inside the Paris gendarmerie. While more naturalistic and generally jaundiced
in his portrayal of human nature, Duvivier also shoehorns in small, elegantly
telling moments, as when Maigret and Radek take time out from their verbal
sparring to listen to his Chanson-singing neighbor.
is a lean, mean film noir that packs surprising
punch. It is a deeply flawed world, but not one in which moral judgments are
impossible. Recommended by itself or in
conjunction with Meredith’s Eiffel Tower (showing
separately), A Man’s Neck screens
this Saturday (8/10) and next Wednesday (8/14) as part of Cine-Simenon, now underway at Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Cine-Simenon, French Cinema, Georges Simenon, Harry Baur, Julien Duvivier