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Dark Nights: Simenon and Cinema

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Man on the Eiffel Tower
Burgess Meredith (U.S., 1949)

Archival Print!

Sixteen years after Julien Duvivier’s film, Burgess Meredith directed the second adaptation of Simenon’s La tête d'un homme. “The City of Paris” is credited as one of the stars of this bizarrely menacing little film. Its bustling streets are the locus for a Cheshire-cat-and-mouse game between Simenon’s Inspector Maigret (Charles Laughton); his prey, a pathetic street vendor (Burgess Meredith); and his prey, Franchot Tone as a Nietzschean manipulator with a penchant for hanging his grand philosophies off the Eiffel Tower. Director Meredith recreates a Paris straight out of Les misérables for actor Meredith, then updates it with neorealist street scenes, a Wellesian tracking camera, and a trio of amoral American expatriates (a man, his wife, and his mistress, arm in arm); in this universe everyone has something to gain by murder, and a nearsighted little man is lost indeed. Enter Maigret—sly, a bit shy, always courteous, and bitterly moral as portrayed by Laughton—to torment his victim as he saves him from larger predators.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Harry Brown, based on the novel La tête d’un homme (A Battle of Nerves) by Georges Simenon. Photographed by Stanley Cortez. With Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Burgess Meredith, Robert Hutton. (97 mins, Color, 35mm, From UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute, National Film Preservation Foundation, and Euro London Films Ltd.)