Buddha has the power to change the nature of a person into their opposite. He uses this power only when the world is in danger. When a villain obtains plans that could be used for peace or war, Buddha turns him into a good guy. Now what?
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In Paris, a down and out medical student Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) is paid by Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton) to murder his wealthy aunt. A knife grinder (Burgess Meredith) is suspected, but Radek keeps taunting the police until they realize that he is the killer. The police and Maigret (Charles Laughton) are led on chases through the streets and over the rooftops of Paris and finally up the girders of the Eiffel Tower.Written by
Herman Seifer <email@example.com>
There were various production problems on this picture, including Charles Laughton's threatening to walk off the picture if the original director, Irving Allen (who was also one of the film's producers) wasn't replaced (star Burgess Meredith eventually replaced him as director). Allen himself was very dissatisfied with the final results. After its initial run, he bought the film rights back from RKO and kept the prints out of circulation for a long time. Many believed that the film was lost, even Meredith. However, it has been released on VHS and DVD and can be relatively easily found at rental stores. See more »
When Maigret is reading the 'Letter to the Editor' about the escape, the position of his hands on the newspaper change between shots. See more »
I found this film a real mixed bag. Firstly there is the jaunting use of colour. It has been well documented that the negative is long lost and only two 35mm film prints of varying quality are known to have survived (the DVD is made from the best elements combined from both these prints). The film print is still quite scratched and dark in places and could probably do with a proper digital restoration but at least it is watchable, if not as easy on the eye as technicolor is.
I'm not going to go into plot details as others have already done that but I did find the film starts off quite well before the plot starts to sag quite badly in the middle and gets overly complicated, although it does pick up again towards the end when Maigret's plan starts to come together leading to the action packed finale. Also, despite receiving a major credit, Wilfrid Hyde White is in the film for one scene only so its more of a cameo than anything else.
I found the dialogue to be hugely artificial at times making it sound like bad acting rather than decent actors trying to say some rather wooden lines. Yet Maigret himself is quite wonderfully acted by Charles Laughton who plays the role just right. Whereas some of the other characters seem very contrived, Maigret has a wonderful sense of humanity and believability as a middle aged, rather rotund detective who is actually smarter than he lets on. In fact Laughton's interpretation is not a million miles away from Michael Gambon's portrayal for television 40 years later. His sense of calm and intelligence, patiently waiting for his arrogant suspect to make a mistake, is reminiscent of Peter Ustinov's unruffled Hercule Poirot.
A final word should go to the production values. Shot on the streets of Paris this film is an interesting view of how post war Paris looked, showing both the beauty of the city and the damage from the war that had finished 4 years earlier. Burgess Meredith was asked to take over directing the film three days into filming and to be fair he does a decent job, keeping the camera moving when it needs to and ensuring the audience know this is not filmed on a backlot in Hollywood. The sound is also beautifully clear too, a hard job when you consider the amount of location work involved.
All in all this film falls short of being a genuine classic due to a muddled and flabby script, bad dialogue (in places) and some overacting by some of the supporting cast. However its still has a lot going for it and is well worth a watch for Laughtons performance alone.
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