Tag Archives: Jean Delannoy

Maigret et l’affaire St. Fiacre (Jean Delannoy, France, 1959)

maigret

 

Gabin returns as Maigret, this time in a nostalgic vein. The countess of St. Fiacre (Valentine Tessier) has received a death threats stating she will die on Ash Wednesday. She calls upon Maigret to return to the village where he grew up and help her with the case. Maigret had a crush on the Countess as a young boy, and the Countess, a warm-hearted woman, enjoyed being the object of it. Maigret ´s father had once managed the Chateau where he will now be a guest and indeed he´s got the Countess to thank for his education. There´s a real fondness and complicity on the ride from the train station to the Chateau between the characters and indeed the actors playing them. It´s lovely.

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The gathering of the suspects à la Poirot

The Countess dies as advertised, in Church, and during Mass no less. But who did it and how? There are lots of suspects: Lucien Sabatier ( Robert Hirsch), a young secretary and confidante gave her an injection the night before and he´s been trying to buy a flat in order to get married and needs money, the young Count (Michel Auclair) has been buying yachts and horses in Paris with money he doesn´t have and he´s being hounded for writing false checks; the village Doctor (Paul Frankeur) hasn´t been taking very good care of her. Many people have their reasons. At the end Maigret does a Poirot, gathers all the suspects for dinner at the Chateau, and reveals who the culprit is.

A slight but very satisfying film, well if unexcitingly directed by Delannoy. Much of the beginning is infused with nostalgia. We get a lovely feel for village life and how it´s changed. Structurally this is developed through a homology between the altar boy and Maigret who used to fulfil the same function in the same place when young. This is also developed by Maigret recognising all the villagers he once new and who tend to recognise him only once they clock his blue eyes (see below). The screenplay is very tightly structured so for example his visit to the Caretaker who has replaced his father in post takes place almost exactly half-way through the film. He also learns that the education of this caretaker´s son has been provided by the Countess, just as she had done for Maigret himself when he was young, and this other homology rhymes and differs with that of the altarboy. We will see that this young bank clerk is no angel. This is a tightly and well-structured film.

It is also a gently paced one, but the pace well seasoned by a sprinkling of suspicion over practically everyone. Everything is seen through corners, doorways and passageways (see above),  through the corner of an eye, generally Miagret´s. Thus the film shows clues as partial whilst making everything suspiciously interesting, particularly when the corpse is still upstairs, and parts of it remain visible in the corner of the shot during questioning.

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Maigret´s eye of course is observant. And Gabin´s eyes are not only blue, but completely transparent. A look, a shrug, a curt coded phrase. He doesn´t say much but he communicates everything. Perhaps Gabin is at his very greatest in these slight genre pieces where it´s his presence alone that warrants reasons for viewing.

Delannoy doesn´t dazzle visually. He tend towards triangular compositions and, with a few exceptions, one of which you can see below, keeps the symbolism largely at bay.

As you can see from the clip below, Delannoy does know how to film dynamically to keep the image interesting. Here Maigret moves through the newspaper printing presses though to the offices. It´s quite a lot of time to devote to the scene in terms of its import to the plotas a whole. And it´s clear that Delannoy is merely taking pleasure in showing us the workings of the newspaper. And I´m reproducing it here because it induced nostalgia in me. This is how many people even a village paper employed. Look at all the jobs in soldering, laying out the print, typesetting, printing and distribution. Not so long ago all papers functioned this way, and the larger ones, like the Montreal Star I visited as a child,  were an industrial marvel to behold.  Ahhh. It´s a minor, well-made film that incites all kinds of nostalgia. Gabin is perfect

 

I have written on two other Maigret/ Gabin films here:

-the previous one with Delannoy:

Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

And a later one directed by Gilles Grangier:

Maigret voit rouge (Gilles Grangier, France/Italy, 1963)

José Arroyo

Le gorille vous salue bien/ The Mask of the Gorilla (Bernard Borderie, France, 1958)

le gorille
Ventura gets no billing until the end of the film

Why would anyone want to see an unpretentious genre film – not particularly stylish; by no means the best example of its kind – like Le gorille vous salue bien?

Well, for one, it’s interesting to see what the French conceived of as their ‘no. 1 secret agent’; makes an interesting change in comparison to James Bond – friendly and street-smart gorilla instead of charming know-it-all gentleman with sardonic sense of humour and sadistic tendencies ; it’s interesting to see the care that the film takes with its beginning and ending, the one responding to the other as in classic cinema; it’s interesting also to see how the film carefully structures its narrative, balancing it with spectacle, leavening it with humour: its constantly engaged with a popular audience and might be part of the reason the film remains engaging: it’s interesting to compare the fight scenes (see below) to the ones we see now, how they seem slow and inexpert, with blows clearly faked, yet often shot in a combination of long-shot and with lengthier takes than we get now — Le gorille lets us see actions completed.

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Lino completes an action

It’s interesting to remember that this type of popular genre film (it was a considerable box office success) co-existed with New Wave Cinema and the previous kind, what François Truffaut would call the ‘cinéma de papa’, straddled both, would supersede them all and would make inroads into all Western European markets.

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Le Gorille in Germany

Fans of Hollywood gossip will be interested in seeing Bella Darvi, named by Darryl Zanuck in a burst of megamoguldom after himself and his wife (Darryl and Virgina, thus Darvi); its interesting to see how in their scenes together, the camera always favours her and leaves the gorilla in shadows. But to no avail; attractive as she is, she’s no star: Lino on the other hand…

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lighting and placement favour Bella Darvi

The main reason to see the film today is that Le gorille vous salue bien is the film that would make a star of Lino Ventura. The year of its release, he’d already appeared in three films in supporting roles, high profile ones such as in Maigret tend un piège, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud/ Lift to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958), Montparnasse 19/ Modigliani of Montparnasse (Jacques Becker, 1958) for top directors such as Delannoy, Malle, Becker. Here it’s only Borderie. But ‘Le gorille’ is star-making role. In the opening credits we’re teased by billing merely listing ‘Le gorille’; by the end of the movie, we know the gorilla is Lino Ventura and we want to see more of him. The success of this film would lead to many more Gorilla films but they’d have to settle for Roger Hanin in the title role: Ventura would go onto bigger and better things and would become one of the most popular and durable stars of French cinema.

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the making of a star

José Arroyo

Maigret voit rouge (Gilles Grangier, France/Italy, 1963)

maigret voit rouge

 

A minor Maigret. I’d thought Jean Delannoy’s direction of Maigret tend un piège (France/Italy, 1959) efficient but unexciting. But Gilles Grangier’s work here makes Delannoy seem Jean Renoir in comparison: Maigret voit rouge is visually uninteresting, the plot is recounted in great and very dull detail, often by Gabin, who seems tired, perhaps because he’s been asked to do what is usually relegated to supporting players. Too bad he didn’t feel insulted: it might have given a little fire to his performance. That said, he’s Gabin: he’s always watchable; and there’s Françoise Fabien in an early role as Lily, a gangster’s moll; Michel Constanstin looking like an even more threatening Jack Palance, as Cicero, the American killer; and the always droll Guy Decomble as Maigret’s sidekick, Inspecteur Lognon. The fight and chase scenes are not terrible either. It’s not nothing; but it’s not much.

The story begins with an unknown person being shot down by a passing car. Inspector Lognon is a witness. But when the police arrive, the body has disappeared. Lognon follows a lead to an American bar and gets badly beaten up on his way out. Inspector Maigret takes over the case, discovers that the bar is run by Pozzo (Vittorio Snipoli) an American of Sicilian origin and that Lily, the Belgian barmaid who works there, is involved with an American and has been hiding his mafiosi buddies. Maigret calls in the help of Harry McDonald (Paul Carpenter), an American diplomat who turns out to work for the BFI. All is not as it seems. Maigret will discover that what’s at stake is a key witness to a Mafia case in the US and he’s got to find him before the American gangsters do.

The film is most interesting when seen from an ideological perspective. Maigret voit rouge  is set during the height of the Twentieth Century’s American Empire, and at the very peak of it’s most glamorous moment, the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy’s Presidency. France seems in thrall to everything American (see images at the very bottom): Chicago, gangsters, bowling alleys, transistor radios, Rocky Graziano; jeans, t-shirts and talking as if one’s mouth is full, like Marlon Brando. But there’s always a twist. Here the transistor radio plays jazz. Moreover, though France has reason to be grateful to an America so recently France’s liberator, it’s not just going to roll over and let them take over the country. I wonder how audiences reacted to the clip above where the American says:

‘I warn you I’m going to have to call Washington.’

‘And I warn you that I’ve been obliged to inform the Ministry of the Interior.’

‘It will become a diplomatic incident.’

‘Better then a judiciary error.’

‘This affair is not what it seems. I belong to the FBI.’

‘And I to the PG, each to his business.’

‘But listen to me Jules.’

‘There’s no more Jules. If you want to discuss the affair get in touch with Inspecteur Maigret at Quaie des Orfèvres from 8 o’clock’.

 

I imagine audiences of the time in France applauded the exchange. Needless to say, there’s a reconciliation at the end with Maigret and McDonald, and thus France and the US, becoming friends once more. But this time on terms set by Maigret. It’s very vividly dramatised and the only element of the film I found fascinating. I’m not surprised that this, Gabin’s third outing as Maigret, was also his last.

José Arroyo

 

Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

 

 

I love the Maigret films; they offer the double satisfaction of thrilling you with some of the worst humanity has to offer – though usefully shown tastefully – and then restoring order; moreover, that rebalancing is itself done in an orderly and systematic manner; one we’ve learned to know and enjoy playing along with.

In this one, Gabin’s first outing in the role, (he would inhabit it twice more, reunited with director Jean Delannoy in Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre / Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case (1959) and Maigret voit rouge/ Maigret Sees Red, (Gilles Grangier, 1963), the first images we see are a knife being thrown right into the heart of Paris, then we’re shown the shadow of a pipe in close-up (see below). It seems to me that those images, which start the film, embody the appeal of this type of detective film: violence at the heart of a community and threatening to rip it apart and then the cozy comfort of a pipe, with its suggestions of pensiveness, its indication that brains will win over brawn, that reason will transform chaos into order, that homeliness will be restored. These films do not disown the animal, the emotional and sexual impulses, but they’re always the source of the crime. Intelligence and thought are the way to remove such unruly impulses from social structures: the films are a paean to reason. If Maigret sets his traps correctly, the killer will be caught.

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The murderer’s always hidden, filmed partially or from behind, or, like here, in shadows

Maigret tend un piège starts at Place des Vosges, in the Marais district. It’s set in the film’s present but it already has a nostalgic tone. The Place des Vosges has a butcher shop, ladies knit and chat with their neighbours outside their flats, everyone seems to know each other. Then, we’re introduced to a young woman returning from work, a violinist, husband at the café, child asleep upstairs. Of course, she’s murdered. Typically, we’re not shown who’s done it. We see only a gesture of gloved hands re-arranging a belt: a gesture that will prove telling. Then, again, in typical fashion, Maigret is called for (anonymously), we’re introduced to the basics of the case (a serial killer on the loose in the Marais, one who’s already committed four crimes, and is after the same type of woman), and then we’re introduced to the main character (Maigret is longing to retire, we’re made to think he’s alone but then a wife is introduced; he’s got a whole corner display case on top of a cabinet to hold his many pipes, they’ve built a house in the country in the village his wife’s from – this is a film that assumes Parisians have strong links to rural areas); lastly the suspects are introduced one by one, as one by one suspicion is removed until the real killer is found.

 

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A typical moment of humour: ‘Gorilla’ Lino Ventura gets thrown over the shoulder by a woman training to become one of Maigret’s traps

One of the wonderful things about the Simenon films, and true also of this adaptation is how tightly plotted they are. So here for example, the first suspect is Barbereau (Alfred Adam). He’s married to Louise (Jean Boitel) who had an affair with the previous owner of the butcher shop and is thus resented by his widow Adèle (Lucienne Bogaert), and the son Marcel (Jean Desailly). Marcel is married to Yvonne (Annie Girardot), just the type the serial killer’s been murdered. Marcel will be a suspect; Yvonne will be both a suspect and a potential victim. But who has access to Barbereau’s butcher shop? Everything is neatly tied together.

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Gabin’s every expression is a joy

The film offers many pleasures: the depiction of milieu, the tight plotting, the way the narrative is constantly interspersed by comic bits (I particularly love Guy Decomble, whom you might remember as the exasperated schoolteacher in Les quatre cent coups/ The Four Hundred Blows (François Truffaut, 1959),  ‘performing’ a phony suspect for the waiting press) , Lino Ventura as Maigret’s sidekick, Annie Girardot. But above all there’s Jean Gabin. I don’t know if it’s due to his training in the music hall but he makes everything interesting. He’s on, never overdoes it, but every little gesture, every response, even the act of listening is rendered worth watching. There’s a lovely moment, where he’s at home, tired and wiggles his pudgy middle-aged toes that I think his symptomatic. He conveys the character’s feeling but also gives the audience a flourish; he knows we’re watching and wants to give us something extra. It’s expressive and endearing.

Maigret tend un piège  is a well-paced film. Delannoy keeps the camera in constant motion in a way that is unobstrusive yet creates a flow. On the other hand, everything seems to be shot with the camera at eye-level, which I can’t quite figure out as I suspect some of the scenes might have been more dramatic with more variation in angles.

 

Spoilers Ahead

 

What bothers me most about the film is that what initially seems the casual sexism of the period turns into something more vicious by the end. There’s a scene when one of the suspects, a cabaret entertainer, is at home drinking tea and his girlfriend appears from the shower to show her breasts to the audience and one thinks ‘oh French cinema was so advanced!’ But later we learn how the killer is coded as being homosexual (he’s never had sex with his wife in all the years they’ve been married. It’s what drove her into the arms of the dancer and later to murder; moreover, it’s all the fault of his mother. If she hadn’t driven him to paint and play sonatas, he might have ended up a normal boy, who didn’t kill women because he couldn’t get it up for them. These films, striving, as they do to reassert social order are also quick at removing any kind of otherness. They’re inherently conservative. I don’t generally mind. But I did here.

 

José Arroyo