Pierre Renoir (as Inspector Maigret) solves the killing of a diamond merchant
In the film "Merci pour le Chocolat" that I reviewed yesterday, Isabelle Huppert brings home two videos for her son, and one of them is "La Nuit de Carrefour". That prompted me to view my unwatched copy. I was pleasantly surprised.
"Night at the Crossroads" is a very early film noir. For that reason alone, it has historical significance, but since it also a product of Jean Renoir's directing, that makes it all the more essential viewing.
Will you like it? Will you enjoy it? Here are some negatives that may stand in your way. The print I watched, which came from somewhere on the internet from some time ago, was merely average, but it had good clear subtitles that seemed well-translated based on my rudimentary French. Is there a restored print somewhere? So far, I haven't found one mentioned anywhere. Instead, the prints for sale on DVD seem to be like what I viewed. The movie itself is said to have some missing footage. Some dark scenes were too dark. I'll come to the positives shortly.
The story takes Inspector Maigret (Pierre Renoir) away from Paris to a crossroads where there is a gas station and auto repair shop and several dwellings. There has been a killing there. A diamond merchant was found slain in an automobile. Maigret investigates and interrogates. The basic plot is a murder mystery, with the detective unraveling the mystery in the final scenes.
Pierre Renoir makes a fine Maigret. One of his suspects is a Dane. He has a sister who attempts to seduce Maigret. She's played by Winna Winnafried. Certainly both her character and her portrayal are high spots of this picture.
Jean Renoir is an exceptional director in imbuing his films with evocative symbols, unusual interactions, unusual shots, moods, mystery, satire, and humor. He doesn't follow a set of rules. He's inventive and creative and takes chances in bringing his ideas to life on the screen and through the sound track. These strengths are the reason for watching this film and another basis for enjoying it. But this takes some patience because his work can be subtle and unconventional. This will not be to everyone's taste. Don't expect a conventional narrative.
Part of this is the way that Maigret operates, which is unlike conventional detectives in some respects. He basically observes everything involving the suspects, both in their deportment and their surroundings. He interrogates too, but that's not his only tool of discovery. He doesn't talk a great deal, and he doesn't reveal his deductions to the viewer. Events happen in this film that are not explained in detail as they occur. For example, a man appears at a window and places poisoned beer on the counter, which is later drunk by Winnafried. We watch more or less in real time, and we are in the dark as much as Maigret is. Some events happen off camera that are important, including the movements of the Dane and, I believe, a telegram. The absence of some footage may be responsible for some of this jumpiness in the film, but some is intentional.
By the end, I was thinking "This is a really good film," while during it I was not so sure, and part of that was due to a certain amount of discomfort with the film's pacing and cutting.
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