Sunday, July 31, 2011

July in Paris - detection on film

Quai des Orfevres directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot is a real treat. Ambitious singer Jenny Lamour is not above being courted by a lecherous old sleaze if it will further her career. Her weak husband is consumed with jealousy and pursues them to a rendezvous, intent on killing the old man - only to find him already dead. Detective Antoine investigates the dance halls of 1940s Paris to track down the killer.

The story was ostensibly based on that by Belgian crime writer Steeman, but when the time came to write the script Clouzot couldn't get his hands on a copy of the book so he wrote what he could remember, which wasn't much. The film has a snappy script and wonderful pacing. It fairly zips along. It's also a little racy! Here's lots of lingerie on show and a strong lesbian character played by the beautiful and feminine Simone Renant. The film is a policier, a story of an investigation. And like much of the French detective literature I've read, it's less a who dunnit than an exploration of character. In the spirit of Simenon, Clouzot shows real compassion towards his flawed characters. They are weak, naive and conniving but are treated sympathy and humanity. Which is a little surprising as apparently the director was a real bully on set.

The film offers a fascinating glimpse of Paris dance halls - burlesque stars, singers, performing dogs - with weary coat check girls and harassed managers. The director describes the investigation as documentary - in which cases it provides a wonderful insight into police methods of the time. You can just imagine Maigret in such a setting. There are cynical crime reporters, tired homicide police, resigned prostitutes and defiant crooks. Fascinating.

The movie also features some of the best 1940s hairstyles ever!

The Man on the Eiffel Tower, however, is simply turgid. It had a troubled production and the lack of sure direction shows. It was also filmed using ANSCO Reversal film, a technique to rival Technicolor. Sadly, the film stock has deteriorated to a murky brown. Yucky. Laughton is a dreadful Maigret. Dismal. It's almost a cliche to say so, but if only Hitchcock had got his hands on it! There were some nice hats in it though.

I followed this with more Maigret - this time with Michael Gambon in the title role. I didn't mind this, though i've not seen many other Maigret's to compare - many of the others aren't available with English subtitles). He's certainly compassionate and I liked his relationship with his team. Madame Maigret, played by Barbara Flynn, really comes to life. The series was shot in Hungary, which is an adequate stand in for Paris, and is set post war but pre New Look (maybe 1948 before Dior's new fashion became widespread). I do suspect it's not period perfect. I'm halfway through the 12 part series and it's like a gentle Foyle's War.

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1 comment:

Caroline said...

I must watch Quai des Orfèvres, I have never seen it. I'm quite keen on seeing the hairstyles as well. I need a hair cut, maybe there is some inspiration to be found.
I also like these movies set in Parisian dance halls and the like.
I don't mind a who dunnit but prefer some interesting characters.