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Friday, January 1, 2016

LA TÊTE D’UN HOMME / A MAN’S NECK (1933)

You can feel French director Julien Duvivier breaking thru the last fetters of early Talkie technical limitations in this intensely visual policier, adapted from a Georges Simenon Inspector Maigret novel. As is often the case with Simenon, solving the crime is second to character & milieu, but Duvivier keeps all three balls in the air just the same while brilliantly capturing the seedy nightclubs, back-streets & garrets of Pre-War Paris with frightening, grease-stained verisimilitude. The murder plot starts when a broke middle-aged nephew casually mentions the fortune coming his way once a rich Aunt dies. He’d give ƒ100,000 to make it happen. And somebody secretly takes him up on the offer. The rest of the film covers everything post-murder: the fall guy, the investigation, police station rivalries, closing in on the real guilty parties. Loaded with great perfs, Harry Baur’s superb Maigret is something of a warm up for his Javert & Porfiry in famous (if overrated) French films of LES MISÉRABLES/’34 and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT/’35. And Russian/Siberian actor Valéry Inkjinoff is simply outstanding as the resentful, tubercular suspect. But it’s largely Duvivier who makes this a knock-out. Heck, even the credits swing into view with panache. Look for it in Criterion’s Eclipse set of four early ‘30s Duviviers.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Scrawled on the wall of a nightclub: ‘Don’t Shoot the Piano Player, He’s Playing the Best He Can.’ Did François Truffaut find the title for his 1960 film here? No Duvivier fan, Truffaut bunched him with other French 'quality cinema’ hacks. Yet it’s hard to imagine him not responding to Duvivier silents like POIL DE CAROTTE/’25 or AU BONHEUR DES DAMES/’30 . . . or to these early innovative Talkies. ALSO: Charles Laughton, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone & Robert Hutton in a post-War Paris English-language remake now out on KINO DVD:THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER/’49.

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