If you live in the UK and possess a television you can't have failed to notice that rubbery featured funny man Rowan Atkinson is going to have a second crack at the whip of playing Georges Simonen's celebrated detective Jules Maigret this Christmas, as the trailers have been shown in between a succession of z-list celebrities chewing their way through camel's anus (I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!) every night for the past fortnight. Unfortunately, Atkinson's previous stab was a very dull affair indeed so I can't seeing this Christmas present being a particularly treat, though I'm happy to be pleasantly surprised. Anyway, the constant plugging for it encouraged me to venture back in time to seek out other Maigret adaptations and this 1949 rarity has recently been screened on Talking Pictures TV.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower is an adaptation of Simenon's 5th Maigret novel which is largely known in the English language as either A Battle of Nerves or A Man's Head. The film is, barring a set-piece finale that the title alludes to, a fairly faithful account of the novel and the plot goes a little like this; the hapless, short sighted Joseph Heurtin (Burgess Meredith) stumbles one evening upon a vicious murder scene - the brutal stabbing of a wealthy American Mrs Henderson and her maid - and catches the murderer, Radek (Franchot Tone) in the act. Terrified and sworn to secrecy, Heurtin flees - but he leaves both his glasses and his bloody fingerprints and boot prints behind, making him prime suspect. Maigret (Charles Laughton) however, is not convinced. He believes that Heurtin has neither a motive for the killing nor the necessary callous nature. In his usual, inimitable way, Maigret engineers Heurtin's escape from custody - an unorthodox measure which he hopes will lead him to the real culprit.
One of the film's star Franchot Tone and legendary US movie producer Irving Allen set up this Franco-American co-production and shot on location in post-war Paris (the film even credits the French capital as a star of the film in its own right, receiving billing after Laughton, Tone and Meredith) Allen was originally slated to direct, but behind the scenes ructions between him and Laughton regarding his competency to direct such a film meant that Burgess Meredith took on the directing duties. It is said that Meredith directed all the scenes that he did not have to act in, with Laughton actually directing those whilst, for the instances in which Laughton and Meredith have scenes together, Tone was elected to direct. With those facts in mind, the shoot was clearly a real co-operative affair, but its perhaps inevitable that such practices behind the scenes would effect the film overall and its fair to say it never really comes together and is pretty much of curio value only now. Laughton delivers an interesting performance of Maigret though whilst he certainly fits the physicality of Simonen's detective better than the pipe-cleaner frame of Atkinson, he perhaps has a tendency to find the humour in the character a little too broadly to be an accurate portrayal. Tone and Meredith are equally enjoyable in their respective roles also.
For many years The Man on the Eiffel Tower was believed lost but it was eventually restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive using two worn projection prints. The print remains poor however on account of the film being shot on Ansco Reversal film, an early single strip colour process that no longer exists, which means the colours are rather washed out, but it is the only print available to watch.