Wallace on Screen: The Krimis Films

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Speak to Germans of a certain age and the chances are that they will remember a series of films opening with a voiceover proclaiming ‘hier spricht Edgar Wallace’ (‘this is Edgar Wallace speaking’). A total of 32 films were made as part of a series that has become known as “Krimis” films. Still shown on television and available on DVD and Blu-ray the films have preserved Wallace’s reputation in Germany while he is largely forgotten in his homeland.

Not the first German adaptations of Wallace’s novels. Five German-language adaptations are known to have been produced between 1927 – 34 (there may have been others).  Why did a Danish-German production company decide to embark on a fresh series of screen adaptations? For a country seeking to banish its past and create a new inclusive sense of nationhood what appeal was there in seeing recreations of 1920s England culled from the work of an imperialist?

During his lifetime Germany was a strong market for Wallace.  German publishers were late in discovering Wallace’s commercial potential. The first translated novel was issued in 1925. Discovering the existence of a massive back catalogue of titles publisher Wilhelm Goldmann traveled to London and met with Wallace to secure the rights to issue translated editions of all title that had been published in the UK.

Prior to 1925, Wallace expressed amusement upon receipt of translated editions of his novels. Success in Germany made him more conscious of the dividends earned from overseas sales. For a man whose profligacy had brought him close to ruin the steady injection of revenue from a new market was most welcome.

In common with most authors of his generation, Wallace had written scathing commentary about Germans during World War I. In peacetime he became more amenable and is reported to have had a deep affection for Berlin. In this new market, he was soon to become a major celebrity. Reports of visits to Germany suggest that hundreds of people would turn up to catch a glimpse of him at train stations.

In the post-war era, sales of Wallace’s books in the UK declined while Germany remained a steady market. With sales in freefall, at least in the UK, the estate sold rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for film and the stage to Anglo-Amalgamated for the UK and Commonwealth and Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen for German-speaking territories.

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Wallace’s novels had been a publishing sensation when first published in Germany. Would German audiences who had grown accustomed to American crime thrillers be willing to view domestically filmed adaptations of English thriller novels?

Produced, at least initially, in tandem with the UK’s Anglo-Amalgamated series, the German adaptations retained the novels period settings. Running until 1972, early films in the series were relatively faithful adaptations of the source material. Later films would be more liberal in what elements would be retained and/or discarded.

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Production commenced with the adaptation Der Frosch mit der Maske (The Frog with the Mask). Early entries in the series were filmed in Danish studios. Later films were shot in facilities based in Hamburg and Berlin.

With box office returns healthier than expected it was clear to the producers and distributors that German audiences would be willing to see further installments. Production was ramped up for further entries in a domestically produced franchised that would ultimately comprise of 32 films.

Dismissed by critics, today the films have a cult following. Posts by fans in forums and Facebook groups discuss production details and celebrate deficiencies. In 2004 nearly two million German people saw a parody film, Der WIxxer, during its theatrical run.

For modern viewers, the presence of unconvincing sets and repeated stock footage may enhance the sense of guilty pleasure when watching a ‘Krimi’ film. What appeal did the films have for the first wave of ticket buying cinemagoers? The films blending of genres and increased self-reflexivity in later productions makes it difficult to classify the series. Incorporating themes and elements from film noir, horror, Golden Age detective fiction, comedy, German Expressionism, and the musical the majority of Krimi films forms conform to a narrative template. Critics and academics have noted repeated elements present in most Krimi films; masked killers, an investigator, comic sidekick, castles and/or mansions, and excessive use of fog.

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The imagined version of 1920s England seen throughout the series has puzzled critics attempting to identify why the films were initially popular. Aside from stock footage, location scenes were filmed in redressed German streets. The England represented in the films never existed.

Commentators have suggested various reasons for the films’ appeal including socially conservative ideology, audience enjoying the appeal of identifying the villain before the investigator and seeing foreign generic forms absorbed into a distinctly German cultural product.

 

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Wallace on Screen: The Edgar Wallace Mysteries

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Little read today, Edgar Wallace was a bestselling author during the first half of the twentieth century. Estimates suggest that in 1928 a quarter of all books sold in the UK were authored by Wallace.  In America, his books were reported to be selling 250,000 copies per year.  Germany was, and remains, a strong market for his novels. During his most commercially successful period, he was reported to have sold half a million books in West Germany.

In the post-war era sales of Wallace’s novels declined in the UK. ‘The King of Thrillers’ was regarded as old-fashioned by a generation of war-weary readers who had switched their allegiance to hard-boiled American crime fiction. Wallace’s imperialistic, and misogynistic narratives were out of place in an era that saw the British Empire’s dismantling.

All too aware of declining commercial prospects, Wallace’s estate sought to reinvigorate the back Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen acquired rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for German-speaking territoriescatalogue’s commercial appeal through the sale of options to adapt novels for stage and screen. In 1959 agreements were in place for two film series; Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen acquired rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for German-speaking territories, and Anglo-Amalgamated secured an agreement to film ninety books for English speaking territories.

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The 1960s cinemagoing experience differed significantly from its modern day counterpart. A pre-multiplex era may on cursory examination signal fewer films being made available to the ticket-buying public. This was an era when the number of cinemas was greater than today. Whereas today people go to see a single film, in the 1960s and earlier, audiences went to the cinema for an evenings entertainment. In addition to the main feature, cinemagoers viewed a supporting film (usually referred to as a B-movie).

To stimulate the UK’s film industry and protect it from being suffocated by American imports, the government legislated to increase the number of domestically produced films screened in cinemas. In order to meet quotas and qualify for any available subsidies, producers churned out B-movies secure in the knowledge that they would be able to secure some form of distribution for their product.  Disdained by the industry, largely forgotten, many British B-movies were locked away in vaults after their initial exhibition and never screened again.

In recent years seasons at the BFI, Talking Pictures broadcasts, DVD releases, and academic studies have brought renewed interest to the British B-movie, its stars, directors, production companies, and modes of distribution.

Despite the industry’s ambivalence about supporting features, evidence suggests they may have had a core group of dedicated fans. Cinemagoers deciding which “fleapit” to visit for their night of entertainment may have been swayed by the selection of advertised support features on offer. One series of films that received prominent front of house promotion The Edgar Wallace Mysteries.

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Cinema attendance in the UK peaked in 1947.  In the following years as attendance fell a number of cinemas were demolished or converted into bingo halls.  To protect the domestic industry the Harold Wilson’s government introduced a tax on cinema tickets, known as the Eady Levy. Funds raised were collected by HM Customs and Excise and passed onto the British Film Fund Agency. Revenue was distributed between British film-makers, the British Film Institute, the Children’s Film Foundation, the National Film Finance Corporation, and funds were to be allocated for filmmakers training.

The Eady Levy was a key piece of legislation at a time when doubts were being raised about the British film industry’s long-term viability. By the 1960s the Eady Levy was helping to sustain a culture of second feature filmmaking that included crime dramas, exploitation films, horror, travelogues, and sex comedies. At this time the UK film exhibition and distribution industries were dominated by two chains, the Rank Organisation and the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

In 1959 Producers Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy secured the rights to adapt Edgar Wallace’s novels. Cohen and Levy’s production company Anglo Amalgamated is today best known for being the initial producer of the Carry On franchise, and the controversial Michael Powell film Peeping Tom. Despite significant forays into mainstream production, the company’s bedrock was low budget crime B-movies. Owning its own studio, Merton Park, the company’s assembly line approach to production churned 130 films. With production costs subsidized by the Eady Levy revenue the producers realised they could generate extra funds by selling content to the then emerging international television market. To this end, they created several series that would be exhibited in UK cinemas as support features and then sold to overseas television networks. Among this batch of productions were Scotland Yard, The Scales of Justice, and The Edgar Wallace Mysteries.

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Initially exhibited at ABC cinemas, forty-seven films were produced as part of The Edgar Wallace Mysteries. Merton Park Studios was famed for its efficiency. Able to shoot an entire film in 8-10 days, reports suggest its directors were expected to achieve 10-14 camera setups a day. To minimise production costs and speed up the process Edgar Wallace’s novels were updated to take place in the then present day. Despite previously recorded declining sales of the novels, the films were well received by the public, exhibitors, and critics. A cover version of the series’ theme tune by pop group The Shadows reached number 5 in the hit parade. Following theatrical screenings in the UK and commonwealth, the entire package of films was sold to American television where it was screened as Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre.

Viewed today, the films’ use of suburban locations presents images of a country that was still recovering from World War II. Bomb damaged buildings are occasionally seen in the background of shots. The juxtaposition of 1920s thrillers and then contemporary locations creates a discontinuity which suggests that in the pre Swinging London era the nation was trapped by the legacy of its past and unsure about how to define itself in a post-colonial era.

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The “quota quickies”, an earlier form of British B-movie, tended to cast stage actors. Their theatrical performances were required to compensate for static camerawork. The Edgar Wallace Mysteries cast screen character actors. Part of the appeal of watching the series today is spotting actors who would later find acclaim for playing very different roles (Michael Caine, Harry H Corbett, John Thaw, William Hartnell, Wilfred Brambell, Bernard Lee, Paul Eddington).

B-movies are a part of British screen history that has been overlooked for far too long. Series like The Edgar Wallace Mysteries are invaluable documents worthy of greater analysis.

The Edgar Wallace Mysteries is available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: The Krull House by Georges Simenon (Trans by Howard Curtis)

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Considered by Simenon to be one of his most significant novels, The Krull House was written in 1938 and first published in the UK as part of the 1955 collection A Sense of Guilt.  Revisiting themes and incidents previously explored in the 1932 Maigret novel The Flemish House, the book is infused with many of the author’s recurrent preoccupations and draws heavily from Simenon’s experiences growing up in Liège.

As the events across the continent made war an inevitable reality Georges Simenon learned that he was to become a father for the first time. Contemplating raising a child in a conflict-ridden world may explain why Simenon’s non-Maigret output written during his wife’s pregnancy was divided into two strands; reflections on fatherhood (The Strangers in the House, The Family Lie), and narratives set in the author’s homeland (The Burgomaster of Furnes).  The Krull House, originally published in the UK as Chez Krull, draws heavily from incidents and people Simenon knew in Belgium and features a motif recurrent in many Maigret novels, the withdrawn and submissive father figure.

A small canal town is the setting for a complex and unsettling examination of interwar prejudices and mob justice. An ostracised family is visited by their German cousin, Hans. The Krulls are foreigners in a close-knit community. Cornelius Krull settled in the area after the cessation of World War One’s hostilities. He is seemingly ineffectual and resigned to spending his days hidden from view in the workroom. Viewed with suspicion and contempt by their neighbours, Cornelius’ family owns a grocery shop that is heavily reliant on canal workers for trade. A fragile peace in the community and at home is shattered when Hans arrives to stay with his family.

The visitation of the Krull’s cousin, Hans, reminds the community of their ‘otherness’. Simenon’s narrative suggests people of German descent living in France in the interwar period were routinely subjected to racial abuse.

When the corpse of a young girl is fished from the local canal suspicion instantly falls on the new arrival. The Krull’s are believed to be harbouring a murderer. An entire township decides to administer justice.

Injustice and mob rule is a theme which is present in several of Simenon’s ‘Roman Durs’, most notably in Mr. Hire’s Engagement and Black Rain.  In The Krull House, the family’s shop is besieged by an angry mob seeking vengeance. The author’s concerns about crowd justice and manhunts were sparked by an incident in 1919 when his newspaper editor instructed Simenon to report on a drunken brawl. A minor fight escalated into a witchhunt. One of the men fled from the scene and was chased onto the roof of a nearby hotel. Stumbling, the man clung onto the roof edge while a crowd shouted racist abuse and bayed for his death.

Variations of the incident recur throughout Simenon’s output possibly suggesting that the author was traumatized after witnessing a crowd being whipped into a state of hatred by gossip and lies. The Krull House’s representation of naked hatred is filled with chilling intensity.  In a powerful sequence, the crowd seeks to avenge the death of a local girl by attacking the two people they believe to be responsible, Hans and his deviant cousin.

While The Krull House is superficially very similar to the Maigret novel The Flemish House, it would be foolish to dismiss the novel as a redrafting of the earlier text. Freed from the confines of a police procedural, Simenon reshaped the story’s core elements into a dark and disturbing account of paranoia still has the power to unsettle readers. Written on the eve of war it was and remains a potent and all too timely warning about the dangers of unfounded suspicion and hatred in a small community.

The Krull House is published by Penguin.

Book Review:  Law and Order by Charlotte Brunsdon

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When is a series not a series? The 40th anniversary repeat screening of  Law and Order was a rare opportunity to view a pivotal moment in the development of British crime drama.  Press reports referred to the production as a missing link between The Sweeney and Life on Mars. Citations in screen history books and use of clips in “top 10” type programmes have given Law and Order an almost mythological status and yet for much of the past forty years, it has been inaccessible. BBC Four’s repeat transmission is listed as a “drama series.” Does this classification direct the viewer toward a specific reading? If Law and Order was billed as agitprop, plays, or a film in four parts would the audience construct a different interpretation?

First published in 2010, Charlotte Brunsdon’s analysis of the programmes situates them within debates concerning systemic judicial corruption and, retrospective readings of the 1970s as an era characterized by economic and social decline. Her study draws on archive research to illustrate the BBC and government’s response to complaints about perceived editorial bias.

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Broadcast in 1978, a year before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government took office, Law and Order was initially praised by reviewers. Over the four weeks of transmission, a backlash grew, which saw the corporation being criticised in the House of Lords and being prohibited from filming inside prisons. In the last year of Harold Callaghan’s Labour government, the BBC was attempting to negotiate a licence fee settlement in a hostile economic environment while awaiting the results of a commission determining the possibility of a fourth terrestrial channel.

Accused of not sufficiently labeling the programmes as fiction the broadcaster was under effectively under siege by an outgoing administration who felt the judicial system had been unjustly smeared, and an incoming government determined to reinforce the rule of law.

As the author notes prior to the release of a limited edition DVD in 2008 Law and Order had effectively vanished. Broadcast a few years before domestic VCRs became commonplace that it was unavailable for decades is not uncommon. Many dramas from that period are currently languishing in archive vaults and will continue to do until an enterprising DVD company determines that an audience exists for the product and negotiates rights to release it. In analyzing Law and Order’s significance the author may have placed too much emphasis on factors concerning its relative obscurity in comparison to ITV series from that period. The BBC’s agreement with actor’s union Equity allowed for one repeat transmission within a two-year timeframe. After the two year period had elapsed rights to broadcast had to be renegotiated and fresh payments issued. The costs associated with renegotiation are key factors in why so many hours of television made prior to 1978 was junked.

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Law and Order was originally broadcast as part of the Play for Today strand. Brunsdon highlights why labeling the drama as a “play” had significant implications for how the viewer may have interpreted screen events.  Produced a few years before the BBC decommissioned Play for Today, Law and Order deliberately blurred the line between drama and docu-drama. Using techniques associated with crime drama and fly-on-wall documentaries transmission the programmes creative team was able to convey unpalatable truths about cracks in the judicial system. The author’s contextualization draws attention to the fact that during the 1970s police officers were routinely engaged in corrupt practices.  This was an era when high profile miscarriages of justice fuelled calls for institutional reform.  Political figures interpreted the broadcast of Law and Order as a provocative act designed to undermine public faith in the judicial system.

Analysing individual episodes Brunsdon considers if producer Tony Garnett was attached to the project due to expectations he would deliver controversial drama that might trigger public debate. His last production for the BBC before leaving to work in America, Garnett’s distinguished track record included collaboration with Ken Loach. The author demonstrates that his earlier work (Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home) was typified by e use of real locations and unknown actors.  Acknowledging difficulties ascribing authorship in a collaborative medium, Brunsdon places emphasis on the role Garnett played in fostering an environment that enabled the writer, director, and actors to flourish creatively.

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Brunsdon’s monograph questions if the use of the serial-format may have contributed to the backlash. Dramas broadcast under the Play for Day banner were usually one-off productions. Exceptions such as Flipside for Dominick Hide and Another Flip for Dominick occurred due to strong public and critical response to the originating play. Law and Order’s episodic structure placed it in between the then familiar formats of one-off drama and continuing series. Fictional and observational formats were consciously combined to cause an uproar. Illustrating how the audience confused fictional and reality, actor Derek Martin was booed by a crowd at a football match shortly after the first episode’s transmission.

Charlotte Brunsdon’s study uses contemporary documentation to demonstrate how in a pre-multi channel era popular drama had the power to stimulate public debate about institutions.

Law and Order is published by BFI.

Radio 4’s Thinking Aloud discusses the plays impact and legacy

G.F. Newman’s novelisation is published by No Exit Press

Beyond Words Live French Literature Festival

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Institut français has announced the line-up of author events and films screenings for the 2018  Beyond Words Live French Literature Festival. The line-up features French writers joined by British and European authors.

Atiq Rahimi, Marie Darrieussecq, Laurent Gaudé, Eimear McBride, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Esther Kinsky are among the 40 writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists taking part in 30 events ranging from talks and panel discussions to performances and films.

Opening the festival on 14 May, a series of events with writers and journalists Eric Hazan, Lauren Elkin, Mitch Abidor and Paul Mason will commemorate the May ‘68 Paris uprisings.

Hugely popular in France, prize-winning writers Marie Darrieussecq (Medicis Prize), Laurent Gaudé (Goncourt Prize), Atiq Rahimi (Goncourt Prize and English PEN award), Miguel Bonnefoy (Prix du Jeune Ecrivain) will be making exceptional London appearances to talk about their recently translated novels (Being Here is Everything, Hell’s Gate, The Patience Stone, Black Sugar).

Throughout the festival, Women Writers and Rebel Ladies will be strongly represented: graphic novelists Pénélope Bagieu, Bryan and Mary Talbot will take part in a live drawing event around their books, Brazen and The Red Virgin on 15 May. On 21 May, singerFishbach will read extracts from Vernon Subutex, shortlisted for the2018 Man Booker International Prize, and perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

Special tributes will be paid to Gaston Leroux, on the occasion of his 150 birthday, and to the late Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens who published the likes of Georges Perec, Emmanuel Carrère and Marguerite Duras. The works of Marcel Proust and Roland Bartheswill also be celebrated.

There will be book signing sessions throughout the festival as well as a staged reading of Ian Soliane’s Bamako-Paris on 18 May and film adaptations including screenings of See You Up There (Pierre Lemaître), The Red Collar (Jean-Christophe Rufin) and Based on a True Story (Delphine de Vigan).

Further events with festival guests will take place in 6 other locations across the country: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Oxford and Liverpool.

The Institut français is pleased to announce the second edition of Beyond Words: a week-long Festival of French Literature, featuring a great line-up of French writers joined by British and European authors.

Atiq Rahimi, Marie Darrieussecq, Laurent Gaudé, Eimear McBride, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Esther Kinsky are among the 40 writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists taking part in 30 events ranging from talks and panel discussions to performances and films.

Opening the festival on 14 May, a series of events with writers and journalists Eric Hazan, Lauren Elkin, Mitch Abidor and Paul Mason will commemorate the May ‘68 Paris uprisings.

Hugely popular in France, prize-winning writers Marie Darrieussecq (Medicis Prize), Laurent Gaudé (Goncourt Prize), Atiq Rahimi (Goncourt Prize and English PEN award), Miguel Bonnefoy (Prix du Jeune Ecrivain) will be making exceptional London appearances to talk about their recently translated novels (Being Here is Everything, Hell’s Gate, The Patience Stone, Black Sugar).

Throughout the festival, Women Writers and Rebel Ladies will be strongly represented: graphic novelists Pénélope Bagieu, Bryan and Mary Talbot will take part in a live drawing event around their books, Brazen and The Red Virgin on 15 May. On 21 May, singer Fishbach will read extracts from Vernon Subutex, shortlisted for the2018 Man Booker International Prize, and perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

Special tributes will be paid to Gaston Leroux, on the occasion of his 150 birthday, and to the late Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens who published the likes of Georges Perec, Emmanuel Carrère and Marguerite Duras. The works of Marcel Proust and Roland Bartheswill also be celebrated.

There will be book signing sessions throughout the festival as well as a staged reading of Ian Soliane’s Bamako-Paris on 18 May and film adaptations including screenings of See You Up There (Pierre Lemaître), The Red Collar (Jean-Christophe Rufin) and Based on a True Story (Delphine de Vigan).

Further events with festival guests will take place in 6 other locations across the country: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Oxford and Liverpool.

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Programme

In May 1968, Parisian students marched down the street in protests that quickly spread throughout France. The country came to a near standstill. This exhibition of works by late French photographer Philippe Gras tells the story of May ’68, fifty years after the event. Juliette Desplat from the National Archives will give an introduction to the exhibition on 14 May.

Free access to the exhibition during La Médiathèque opening hours until 19 May

MAY MADE ME: MITCHELL ABIDOR & PAUL MASON

Talk

The mass protests that shook France in May 1968 were exciting, dangerous, creative and influential, changing European politics to this day. Mitchell Abidor, author of May Made Me(Pluto), will be discussing their legacy with Guardian journalist Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism. A Guide to Our Future (Allen Lane).

6.15pm, in English £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Mitchell Abidor, May Made Me (Pluto, May 2018)
Paul Mason, Postcapitalism. A Guide to Our Future (Allen Lane, June 2016)

A WALK THROUGH PARIS: ERIC HAZAN & LAUREN ELKIN

Talk

In A Walk Through Paris (Verso) essayist and publisher Eric Hazan takes us through the radical history of Paris, city of the May 1968 uprising, but also of Robespierre, the Commune and Jean-Paul Sartre. Drawing on his own life story and experiences during the Sixties, Eric Hazan will be in conversation with Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse. Women Walk the City.

7.15pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Eric Hazan, A Walk Through Paris, translated by David Fernbach (Verso, March 2018) Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse. Women Walk the City (Vintage, July 2017)

REDOUBTABLE

Film

dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2017, 107 mins

Paris 1967. Jean-Luc Godard, the most renowned filmmaker of his generation, is shooting La Chinoise with the woman he loves, Anne Wiazemsky. Happy, in love, magnetic, they marry. But the film’s reception unleashes in Jean-Luc a profound self-examination amplified by the events of May ’68.

8.30pm, in French with English subtitles £7

TUESDAY 15 MAY
TRANSLATING FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE WRITING

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Journalist and critic Boyd Tonkin, whose 100 Best Novels in Translation is forthcoming in June (Galileo), will kick off this inaugural event for the translation strand of the festival with a conversation with Lucie Campos (head of the Book Office at the Institut français) about French and Francophone titles old and new. Followed by a selection of pitches by emerging translators about the French language books they are most excited about this year, discussed by translator Ros Schwartz and editor Ellie Steel.

5pm, in English £5

REBEL LADIES WHO ROCKED THE WORLD: PÉNÉLOPE BAGIEU, BRYAN & MARY TALBOT, IKO CHÉRIE
Talk and Live Drawing

Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel Brazen (Penguin) presents a series of portraits of 30 incredible women such as Josephine Baker, Peggy Guggenheim or Tove Jansson. Penelope will be discussing these rebel ladies with Mary and Bryan Talbot, who revisit the life of anarchist and Communarde Louise Michel in the graphic novel The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape).
They will be joined by DJ and singer Iko Chérie for some Little Trouble Girls sets.

6.15pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Pénélope Bagieu, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World, translated by Montana Kane (Ebury, March 2018)
Mary & Bryan Talbot, Sally Heathcote, Suffragette (Jonathan Cape, May 2014)
Mary & Bryan Talbot, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape, May 2016)

EUROPEAN LITERARY SALON: CLAIRE-LOUISE BENNETT, ESTHER KINSKY & JAKUTA ALIKA V AZOVIC
Talk

French writer Jakuta Alikavazovic (L’Olivier), British writer Claire-Louise Bennett(Fitzcarraldo), German writer Esther Kinsky (Fitzcarraldo) and Music & Literature editor (and former Man Booker International judge) Daniel Medin will be discussing non-narrative fiction in European writing today and the importance of translation in a salon style event including readings and conversations.

6.45pm, in English, French and German £7, conc. £5

 

Related / Latest Publication:

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (Fitzcarraldo, October 2015)
Jakuta Alikavazovic, L’Avancée de la nuit (Editions de l’Olivier, August 2017) Esther Kinksy, River, translated by Iain Galbraith (Fitzcarraldo, January 2018) —

LAURENT GAUDÉ

Talk

Laurent Gaudé won the Goncourt prize in 2004 for The House of Scorta. His latest novel Hell’s Gate (Gallic, tr. Emily Boyce) is a thrilling story of love, loss, revenge and redemption in Naples and beyond, in which Gaudé questions the power of origins, death and family ties. In the presence of translator Adriana Hunter.

7.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Laurent Gaudé, Death of an Ancient King, translated by Adriana Hunter (4th Estate, 2004) Laurent Gaudé, Hell’s Gate, translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken (Gallic, April 2017)

THE PHANTOM ON FILM

Talk

Celebrating Gaston Leroux’s 150th birthday, Dr Cormac Newark (Guildhall School of Music &
Drama), Dr Annette Davison (University of Edinburgh) and Dr John Snelson (Royal Opera House) will explore the very many ways opera’s most famous off-shoot, The Phantom of the Opera, has inspired and infiltrated cultures around the world, offering a rich subject for re-interpretation in media ranging from ballet to musical theatre.

8pm, in English
£7, conc. £5
Double bill Talk + Screening of The Phantom of Paradise: £15, £13 conc. & members

Related / Latest Publication: Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, translated by Mireille Ribière (Penguin Classics, April 2012)

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Film

dir. Brian de Palma, 1974, 92 mins

Composer Winslow Leach hides his wounded face beneath a sinister silver mask and writes his music for the woman he loves. Betrayed by evil producer Swan, he decides to haunt his rock palace, the Paradise. Brian de Palma’s rock opera is a flamboyant horror comedy loosely adapted from Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.

The screening will be preceded by an introduction by Dr Annette Davison (University of Edinburgh)

8.50pm, in English
£9, conc. £7
Double bill: talk + screening The Phantom on Film: £15, £13 conc. & members

 

Related / Latest Publication: Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, translated by Mireille Ribière (Penguin Classics, April 2012)

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY
MIGUEL BONNEFOY & DANIEL HAHN

Talk

A new voice in literary fiction, Franco-Venezuelan author Miguel Bonnefoy made a breakthrough with his debut Octavio’s Journey. Compared to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, his second novel Black Sugar (Gallic) tells the tale of a family’s changing fortunes in Venezuela over the course of the 20th century. Chaired by Daniel Hahn.

6pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Miguel Bonnefoy, Black Sugar, translated by Emily Boyce (Gallic, March 2018)

WRITING FOR FREEDOM: PEN WRITER ATIQ RAHIMI

Talk

Writer and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi left Afghanistan for France in the 1980s, where he spent 18 years in exile. He won the 2008 Goncourt Prize for The Patience Stone (Penguin), his first book to be written directly in French, as a way to escape the “involuntary self-censorship” he feels when writing in Persian. The novel portrays a young woman’s attempt to keep her husband alive as she rages against men, war, culture, God. Atiq Rahimi has since continued to write about language, political violence, historical belonging and migration. In partnership with English PEN who have supported the English editions of Patience Stoneand A Curse on Dostoevsky.

6pm, in English £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Atiq Rahimi, The Patience Stone, translated by Polly McLean (Vintage, January 2011)

ROLAND BARTHES: TELEVISION DEGREE ZERO

Film

dir. Terry Braun, 1992, 120 mins

Television Degree Zero was a special edition of BBC’s The Late Show (1990): a pithy deconstruction of the legacy of one of France’s most influential intellectuals, Roland Barthes, whose essay The Death of the Author first appeared in France in 1968. The screening is preceded by a selection of interview clips with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous, as part of Radical Broadcasters Theory On TV.

The screening will be preceded by an introduction by Film Critic Brian Dillon

6.30pm, in English and French with English subtitles £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Tiphaine Samoyault, Barthes. A Biography, translated by Andrew Brown (Polity Press, January 2017)

MARIE DARRIEUSSECQ

Talk

In Being Here Is Everything (Semiotext(e)) Marie Darrieussecq traces the short, obscure, and prolific life of the German expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), who despite being a woman became one of her generation’s preeminent artists. In this exceptional London appearance, Marie Darrieussecq will also be talking about her other books, including Pig Tales (Faber).

Chaired by Lisa Allardice.

7pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales, translated by Linda Coverdale (Faber&Faber, June 2003)
Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here is Everything, translated by Penny Hueston (Semiotext(e), April 2018)

PUBLISHING À LA FRANÇAISE: FRÉDÉRIC BOYER, ATIQ RAHIMI & MARIE DARRIEUSSECQ
Talk and Screening

Talented French publisher and film director Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, founder of POL, died in January 2018. In a series of pop-up readings introduced by writer and translator Frédéric Boyer, two of Paul’s authors, Goncourt prize winner Atiq Rahimi and Medicis prize winner Marie Darrieussecq, will be joined by guests Catriona Seth, Adrian Rifkin, Christopher MacLehose, Dominic Glynn and Stefan Tobler will read from some of the best books he published: Georges Perec, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Louis Schefer, Olivier Cadiot, Emmanuelle Pagano, Emmanuel Carrère… Followed by an exceptional screening, in French, of Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens’ film Editeur.

8pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales, translated by Linda Coverdale (Faber&Faber, June 2003)
Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here is Everything, translated by Penny Hueston (Semiotext(e), April 2018) Atiq Rahimi, The Patience Stone, translated by Polly McLean (Vintage, January 2011)

THE RED COLLAR

Film

dir. Jean Becker, 2018, 83 mins

Adapted from The Red Collar by Prix Goncourt winner Jean-Christophe Rufin, Jean Becker’s WW1 drama tells the story of a war hero, held prisoner in an abandoned barracks under the crushing heat of summer, and awaiting his interrogation by a corrupt judge to the sound of his mangy dog barking night and day.

8.40pm, in French with English subtitles £11, conc. £9

Related / Latest Publication:

Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Red Collar, translated by Adriana Hunter (Europa Editions, July 2015)

Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Santiago Pilgrimage: Walking the Immortal Way, translated by Malcolm Imrie (MacLehose Press, April 2017)

THURSDAY 17 MAY
NOÉMI LEFEBVRE, EIMEAR MCBRIDE & FRESH FRENCH VOICES

Talk

Noémi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait (Les Fugitives) is a novel of angst and high farce, caught between contrary impulses to remember and to ignore. She will be in conversation with Baileys Prize for Women’s fiction winner Eimear McBride, whose latest novel is The Lesser Bohemians (Faber). Chaired by translator Sophie Lewis.

Following this dialogue, Noemi will be joined by two up and coming writers from Editions
Verticales: Pierre Senges, known for his radio adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, as well as for his quirky, poetic Lichtenberg Fragments (Dalkey Archive), and Quebec-born Hélène Frédérick. Conversations with the writers will be accompanied by a series of readings on realism, literary debt and new forms of writing, introduced by Emmanuel Bouju (IUF) and Jeanne Guyon (Verticales).

6.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Noémi Lefebvre, Blue Self-Portrait, translated by Sophie Lewis (Les Fugitives, June 2017)
Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians (Faber&Faber, September 2016)
Hélène Frédérick, Forêt Contraire (Verticales, February 2014)
Pierre Senges, Antonio de Guevara, The Major Refutation, translated by Jacob Siefring (Contra Mundum Press, December 2016)

Pierre Senges, Fragments of Lichtenberg, translated by Gregory Flanders (Dalkey Archive Press, January 2017)

SEE YOU UP THERE

Film

dir. Albert Dupontel, 2017, 115 mins

Winner of 5 Cesar Awards, Albert Dupontel’s crime epic is an adaptation from Pierre Lemaître’s Goncourt winning novel, Au revoir là-haut. In November 1918, Edouard Pericourt, a gifted artist, saves the life of Albert Maillard, a humble bookkeeper. The two men have nothing in common apart from their experience of war and their hatred for Lieutenant Pradelle. Introduced by translator Frank Wynne.

8.40pm, in French with English subtitles £11, conc. £9

Related / Latest Publication: Pierre Lemaître, The Great Swindle, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, November 2016)

FRIDAY 18 MAY

BAMAKO-PARIS

Staged Reading

 

Ibou, a Malian stowaway hanging on to the landing gear of an Airbus A320 heading for Paris, is talking to us about his future, his hopes, the mad idea that germinated in his mind. The idea of hanging on to a landing gear. The monologue is intersected by the post-mortem of his own body, sixteen hours later, the corpse lying on the autopsy table in a room of the Paris Forensic Medical Institute. A burning topic of our time, handled with a solemnity that doesn’t dismiss humour.

Staged reading of Ian Soliane’s play Bamako-Paris (translated by Felicity Davidson) as part of the Institut français’ Cross-Channel Theatre programme, directed by Kimberley Sykes, with Clifford Samuel as Ibou.

2pm, in English £7, conc. £5

PROUST IN JUST ONE HOUR

Performance

In a special live performance, Véronique Aubouy heroically attempts to sum up the whole story of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for her audience in just an hour. Fascinated by this extraordinary novel, one of France’s favourite books of all time, Véronique is able to bring to stage the complex world and characters’s of this intricate plot: whether you have read the book or not, prepare to spend an hour exploring its world. Introduced by Christopher Prendergast (King’s College Cambridge).

7.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Véronique Aubouy, Mathieu Riboulet, A la lecture (Grasset, September 2014)
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. Volume 1: The Way by Swann’s, translated by Lydia Davis, edited by Christopher Prendergast (Penguin, October 2003)

BEAUTY AND THE DOGS

Film

dir. Kaouther Ben Hania, 2017, 100 mins

During a student party, Mariam, a young Tunisian woman, meets the mysterious Youssef and leaves with him. A long night begins, during which she’ll have to fight for her rights and her dignity in the hands of a gang of dirty cops. Tunisian author and director Kaouther Ben Hania depicts an edifying portrait of her country poisoned by corruption and male chauvinism.

8.30pm, in Arabic with English subtitles £12, conc. £10

Related / Latest Publication: Meriem Ben Mohamed, La Belle et la Meute (Michel Lafon, October 2017) –
SATURDAY 19 MAY
CAFÉ PHILO

Talk

Led by Christian Michel, this special edition of the Café Philo will be the occasion to discuss the legacy of May 68 and its commemorations today, starting with the question: “Was the May 68 movement elitist, anti- populist and anti-democratic?”

 

10.30pm, in English £2

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Film

dir. Roman Polanski, 2017, 110 mins

Adapted from Delphine de Vigan’s award-winning novel by Roman Polanski and Olivier Assayas, Based on a True Story blurs the line between reality and fiction. Overwhelmed by the success of her latest novel, Delphine can’t find the strength to write. She gradually realises that the smart and intuitive Elle is not exactly the good friend she claims to be.

8.30pm, in French with English subtitles £12, conc. £10

Related / Latest Publication: Delphine de Vigan, Based on a True Story, translated by George Miller (Bloomsbury, September 2017)

SUNDAY 20 MAY

LES DEUX ANGLAISES ET LE CONTINENT

Film

dir. François Truffaut, 1971, 132 mins

Ten years after Jules et Jim, Truffaut turned his attention back to the love triangle and another novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. This time the setting is a Welsh coastal resort, and the protagonists a young French writer and two English sisters. One of Truffaut’s most personal and romantic films.

2pm, in French with English subtitles £9, conc. £7

Related / Latest Publication: Henri-Pierre Roché, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent (Gallimard, April 1956)

MONDAY 21 MAY 2018
CLOSING EVENT: FISHBACH AND VERNON SUBUTEX

Music and Readings

An exceptional Music Rendez-Vous with singer Fishbach, combining literary and musical variations around Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes (MacLehose). Awarded a Victoire de la musique in 2017, Fishbach will be on the cast of the new TV adaptation of the book. She will read extracts from Vernon Subutex and will perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

7pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, June 2017)

 

Maigret on Screen: The BBC Series

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Georges Simenon was a notorious publicity hound. Biographies are filled with accounts of stunts and statements designed to ensure newspapers ran a story. By the 1960s he was effectively creatively bankrupt. Way past his creative peak, the author was all too aware that the majority of his sizeable income was generated from the sale of film and TV rights.

The unveiling of a statue in the Dutch town Delfzijl offered one last moment of public glory for a writer who must have been aware that his books were delivering diminishing artistic returns. The town was reportedly the place where Simenon started writing the first Maigret novel although more recently published biographies have disputed this fact. To celebrate the region’s connection with a literary phenomenon a statue of Maigret was commissioned. At the unveiling Simenon once again demonstrated that he was a supreme self-publicist. Instead of standing alongside local dignitaries or noted literary figures he recognised the power of television and embraced a never again repeated opportunity to generate press coverage across the continent. At this time Simenon’s works were increasingly known via the television adaptations being beamed into people’s homes each week. Standing at the base of the statue in front of Europe’s media the author surrounded himself by actors who were portraying Maigret on television, Heinz Ruhmann, Jan Teulling, Gino Cervi, and Simenon’s personal favourite Rupert Davies.

In his memoirs, Simenon declared that Davies was best non-French Maigret. If we are to believe Simenon’s account, considering that he was an unreliable narrator, the BBC had previously attempted to acquire the rights to adapt the Maigret novels only to be rebuffed. Why did the author say yes to this request?

Contemporary records contradict information about the contract between Simenon and the BBC printed in biographies. According to Simenon the terms of the agreement stipulated the rights were sold for twelve years. The BBC was not allowed to export film prints to America in case it jeopardised attempts to launch a Hollywood series. The proposed American version never materialised. Sales reports contradict statements made by Simenon and conclusively prove that the BBC series was offered to American networks. The decision not to purchase is reported to have been due to network executives being uncomfortable with what they considered to regular displays of loose morality.

The series was aggressively marketed to overseas broadcasters and according to surviving records it was sold to Australia, Canada, Germany, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Kenya.

Simenon would later claim that his contract with the BBC contained a clause requiring the broadcaster to destroy all prints at the end of the twelve-year licence. Wiping TV was standard practice in an era before broadcasters recognised the value of exploiting their back catalogue. Simenon’s statement may have been made when no copies were known to exist. Today, only the pilot episode is believed to be lost. Dubbed versions of all surviving episodes are now available on German DVD.

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Ask viewers of a certain age who they most identify with as Maigret and the answer will invariably be Rupert Davies. Today forgotten except by Simenologists is the first BBC Maigret, Basil Sydney.

With the rights secured to adapt any Maigret novel of their choosing, the BBC elected to trial the series with a pilot that was broadcast as part of the Saturday Night Theatre strand. Despite a mixed critical response, viewing figures were strong enough to convince the BBC to commission a full season.

Viewers accustomed to seeing lavish location filming on ITC series produced for ITV may have been surprised when the previously predominantly studio-bound BBC drama department attempted to compete on an equal footing with its commercial rival. Two days of location filming in Montmartre were scheduled to ensure the adaptation was an authentic recreation of Simenon’s novel. As was standard practice back then, interior sequences were recorded “as live” in a BBC studio.

Actors from that period frequently talk about the experience of working in a TV series. Television drama was effectively filmed theatre. Actors would rehearse over several days in a youth club, church hall, or at the BBC’s facility known as the Acton Hilton. After four or five days of rehearsal, the cast would relocate to a studio and commit the production to tape. For a twenty-first century viewer looking at 1960s television drama, the number of mistakes immediately becomes apparent; fluffed lines, boom microphone shadows, camera equipment and production personnel suddenly appearing on screen. Editing technology was available albeit in the primitive form of a razor blade and adhesive tape. It was estimated that a tape could only withstand three edits before being considered permanently unusable and so consequently the transmitted programme contained many mistakes.

The prospect of working all year round under these conditions was a key factor in Basil Sydney’s decision to relinquish the role after a single episode.

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Tasked with finding a new actor to play Simenon’s detective, the producer remembered an actor who had appeared in 1950s series Sailor of Fortune alongside Lorne Greene the future star of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica. Unusually, Rupert Davies didn’t learn his craft at drama school or via being a member of a repertory company. During the war, he was captured by German forces and spent five years in Prisoner of War camps. Incarcerated in the notorious Stalag Luft III the future Maigret took up acting to alleviate boredom. After his release, Davies balanced a career on stage with character roles in the then-emerging medium of television. By the early 1960s after appearances in Emergency Ward 10 and Quatermass II he was a recogisable face to most viewers.

Already familiar with Simenon’s novels, Davies auditioned for the role and was subsequently flown out to Lausanne for a meeting with Maigret’s creator. Simenon famously gave the actor a novel inscribed with the dedication: ‘At last, I have found my perfect Maigret.’

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Over three years the BBC produced fifty-two episodes. The series reached a natural conclusion when the producers ran out of books to adapt. At its peak, the series was seen by 14 million viewers. Davies was voted British actor of the year in 1961 and also won the Pipe Smoker of the Year award.

In 1965 Rupert Davies returned to his most famous role in a stage production of Maigret and the Lady. The play opened in Manchester before transferring to the Strand Theatre, London. Reviews were mixed. Jeremy Kingston, a reviewer for Punch, wrote ‘The justification of all this is the opportunity to see Rupert Davies’ gruff avuncular figure and wrinkled dumpling face in the real. He doesn’t come on at the beginning and strike a match against a Watney’s wall, but when he does light up, curls of tobacco smoke (genuine Maigret pipe tobacco) waft across the footlights for all to share. It’s just a pity he and the rest of the cast weren’t given a better play.’ Play and Players reviewer Frank Cox was more positive and wrote that he had enjoyed a ‘satisfying evening.’

Maigret on Screen: The Man on the Eiffel Tower

Man-on-the-Eiffel-Tower

Simenon’s relationship with his most famous literary creation was filled with contradictions. Resentful at being primarily known as a crime writer he nonetheless enjoyed the royalty cheques that enabled him to travel widely and savour a comfortable lifestyle.

Despite his publicly proclaimed aversion at being solely identified as the author of the Maigret novels, he recognised that securing a film deal would be profile-boosting and offer the promise of long-term financial security. In interviews, Simenon would frequently claim not to have viewed the adaptations of his work before offering a detailed critique of the actors who had played Maigret. Simenon’s public stance of indifference is at odds with the actions of a man who acquired and destroyed prints of adaptations he thought had failed to convey the true essence of his novels. In interviews, he talked of drawing up contracts that specified the adaptation had to be destroyed after a set number of years.

By the late 1940s, the character of Maigret had already appeared on screen in productions starring Pierre Renoir, Abel Tarride, Harry Baur, Albert Prejan, and Maurice Manson. English-speaking audiences were introduced to the character with the release of an American adaptation of The Man on the Eiffel Tower.

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A versatile actor, Charles Laughton is perhaps best remembered for directing the Film Noir The Night of the Hunter. In the late 1940s he was one of British cinema’s most significant screen talents. Accustomed to playing a wide range of parts the acclaimed performer was the first actor to play Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Despite being no stranger to crime drama having also played a gangster in the mould of Al Capone in Edgar Wallace’s play On the Spot his casting as Maigret may have surprised audiences but it pleased Laughton’s bank manager.

When Laughton was initially approached to play the part producer Irving Allen was slated to direct the film. The Man on the Eiffel Tower had previously been filmed in 1933 as La Tête d’un Homme. Erroneously reported as the first English language adaptation of a Simenon novel, the 2013 discovery of previously lost quota quickie film Temptation Harbour based on the short story Newhaven-Dieppe starring Robert Newton and future Doctor Who William Hartnell has forced Simenologists to redraft the author’s screen history. Despite the relegation to second English language adaptation of a Simenon story The Man on the Eiffel Tower still holds the notable distinction of being the first American production based on the author’s work.

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Based on the ninth Maigret novel A Man’s Head the film was a joint American-French co-production. In addition to introducing a new audience to the work of Georges Simenon, the film showcased post-war Paris.

At the time of production Simenon was living in Arizona. Yet to achieve anything resembling mainstream success in America he had a dedicated cult readership. With an acclaimed and bankable star on board, the film may have offered the opportunity to attract a wider audience for his books. Surprisingly, considering the film’s importance in establishing the Maigret novels commercial viability in a previously indifferent territory, Simenon elected to be critical of the central star’s performance.

For several decades The Man on the Eiffel Tower was considered to be a lost film. Reports suggest that Simenon ordered the destruction of all prints. Little known among Laughton aficionados and Simenologists, a false perspective about the film and it’s perceived failings became accepted as fact. UCLA’s discovery of two projection prints enables the film to be studied for the first time since its original release. What was previously a minor entry in the history of post-war cinema takes on a fresh significance in terms of offering previously unknown evidence about the French film industry’s strategy for representing Paris within the context of genre cinema and for how approaches taken by the film have influenced subsequent English language adaptations of the Maigret novels.

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According to biographical accounts, Laughton was financially embarrassed when he was offered the opportunity to play Maigret. His acceptance in all likelihood probably was due to the need for an instant cash injection rather than a fondness for Simenon’s novel. Having agreed to play the part Laughton was thorough and diligent in his preparation. Intensely studying all available translated editions of the Maigret novels he soon gained a sense of the detective and his world. Determined to be truthful to Simenon’s creation, Laughton searched multiple Hollywood costumiers for clothing that would enable him to build an accurate and sympathetic character. Having constructed his version of Maigret before the cameras started rolling Laughton may have anticipated a stress-free shoot. According to contemporary press reports, it was a tortuous production.

Precisely who directed The Man on the Eiffel Tower is far from clear-cut. Producer Irving Allen was originally slated to direct the film. After three days of shooting, he was forced to resign the director’s chair when an enraged Laughton threatened to quit the production. To mollify the lead actor Allen agreed to his request that Burgess Meredith who had already been cast in a supporting role oversee the remainder of filming. More recently, reports have suggested Laughton directed several key sequences without credit. Scholars have also claimed that co-producer Franchot Tone directed scenes which featured Laughton and Meredith in the same frame.

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Promoted as the first American colour production to be filmed in Paris, the screenplay was adjusted to showcase the city’s most famous monument. Throughout filming production was held up due to a variety of unforeseen factors. Weather delayed filming, the co-producer and Laughton argued ferociously, and electrical problems led to frequent blackouts.

Praised by Renoir and warmly but not effusively reviewed by critics, the film fell into relative obscurity and for decades the only available information was found in biographies. UCLA’s discovery of two previously unknown prints has resulted in a reappraisal. Now seen not only in terms of its place within the canon of Simenon screen adaptations, critics have suggested that the film is a rare example of a colour film noir.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower is available to order from Amazon.