Monday, March 01, 2010


Bill is an American in Paris who hangs out at the famous café Les Deux Magots; he's waiting for his rich aunt to kick the bucket so he can come into some money to pay his wife to divorce him so he can marry his mistress. A Hitchcockian premise kicks in when a stranger who has overheard him talking of his problems writes him a letter, offering to help him out of his situation. Sure enough, that night, the aunt is murdered in her room, and Joseph, a near-sighted peddler (Burgess Meredith) who had tried to rob the aunt, is arrested. However, Inspector Maigret (Charles Laughton, at right) soon realizes that a manic-depressive odd duck named Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) who hangs out at the café is probably the mastermind behind the whole scheme. The rest of the film consists of the cat-and-mouse games the two play, with Maigret and the police following Radek all over Paris with two superb chase scenes: one over the rooftops of Paris and the climactic chase up the Eiffel Tower.

Georges Simenon wrote a number of novels featuring Inspector Maigret. Since I've read none of them, I can't tell if Laughton does justice to the character; he's good as usual, though he's also notably a bit low-key. Tone gives a very good performance as the mad but wily villain, alternating between mania and passivity. The rest of the actors, including Robert Hutton as Bill, and Patricia Roc and Jean Wallace as his wife and mistress, are not especially good, though there may be a reason for that: the film was shot entirely on location in Paris, and much of the dialogue has that echoey, distant quality of post-dubbed speech, which always affects performances negatively. Wilfrid Hyde-White has fun with his small role as a former teacher of Radek's. It's nice to see the real Paris, though the print on the DVD I saw (from Alpha) was terrible: faded color, murky dark tones, and lots of splices, scratches and cuts. This was directed by Burgess Meredith; supposedly he took over from the producer Irving Allen, with Laughton himself helping out. Interesting as a novelty, but I wouldn't suggest buying it until someone puts out a better copy--Kino Video announced a restored release some time ago but it's been delayed. [DVD]

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