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.
Charles Laughton ... Inspector Jules Maigret
Franchot Tone ... Johann Radek
Burgess Meredith ... Joseph Heurtin
Robert Hutton ... Bill Kirby
Jean Wallace ... Edna Wallace
Patricia Roc ... Helen Kirby
Belita ... Gisella Heurtin
George Thorpe ... Comelieu
William Phipps ... Janvier
William Cottrell ... Moers
Chaz Chase ... Waiter
Wilfrid Hyde-White ... Professor Grollet
Director: Burgess Meredith / Irving Allen (uncredited) / Charles Laughton (uncredited)
Alarmingly shot in a process called Ansco Color (now decayed into a jaundiced sepia), The Man on the Eiffel Tower marks the first of two movies directed by Burgess Meredith. Unlike his co-star Charles Laughton, however, whose sole directorial effort Night of the Hunter showed style and assurance, Meredith lacks the rudimentary skills that would turn an actor into an auteur. Faced with a complex plot drawn from a Georges Simenon story, he failed to construct a coherent narrative skeleton; when different plot elements happen to mesh together they do so abruptly, jarringly. Instead, Meredith relies on a jumble of amateurish but flashy effects that illuminate nothing but themselves. It\'s a pretentious mess of a movie that should have been fun.
A rich American (Robert Hutton), torn between wife and mistress, hatches a scheme to kill off his wealthy aunt. He engages sociopath Franchot Tone to do the job, who in the process frames itinerant knife-sharpener Meredith for the murder. Hunting down the killer is Laughton as Inspector Maigret, taunted every step of the way by Tone.
The three veterans from ‘30s Hollywood had all seen better days (only Laughton would see them again). Tone looks seriously unwell (perhaps a touch of Ansco) and acts it. With a crop of carroty hair in need of harvesting, Meredith dithers around as if preoccupied with figuring out the next day\'s shooting schedule. And while Laughton delves deep into his larder of ham, he never fleshes out a memorable character for Maigret.
That leaves, as in Charpentier\'s opera Louise, the last character: The City of Paris (for so it\'s listed, ominously, in the credits). Like sightseers on a tour bus, we\'re trundled from Les Deux Magots to Place Pigalle to the erector-set edifice of the title itself. The movie\'s many and baffling chases – along the banks of the Seine, across rooftops, through mansions with no shortage of doors – lead nowhere but offer the glossy pleasures of a French travelogue. But the final scenes, filmed high in the dizzying geometry the Eiffel Tower, finally display some bravura. Pity they come too late, and after too much ill-directed footage, to matter.
This clever suspenser from the French Maigret novels is undone by first-time director Meredith. The plot revolves around the murder of a wealthy woman and her maid one dark Parisian night. A dandy living off his aunt wishes her dead in public and catches the ear of Radek, a desperate fellow who is very clever but also a bit loopy (cast Gary Oldman in the remake).
Radek engineers a fiendish scheme to implicate a simple tinker in the crime, collect his fee, and lead Inspector Maigret down the garden path. The details are delicious--if you can follow them--and the characters (the dandy, his wife, his mistress, the tinker and his wife, the inspector and his detectives, and the arrogant killer) are interesting enough for three movies. But Meredith allows the plot to get muddy and doesn\'t really pull the best performances out of his actors (including himself).
Radek\'s manipulation of the other characters is real genius (for example, he gets others to search for the murder weapon while the cops are tailing him). The Parisian setting is terrific, and the spectacular climax atop the Eiffel Tower is not to be missed, altho it\'s a bit contrived. The result is a decent film, but Hitchcock would have hit this one out of the park.
Note: The version I saw was from the 50 Mystery Classics DVD set. It\'s in color, but very faded. However, I actually found its desaturated look to be a pleasant medium between full color and black and white.
It is an odd film, and the elements that made it are rather disjointed, but THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER is actually quite rewarding in the long run. When it was made in 1950 it was rare for any of the novels of Georges Simenon to appear in American or British productions. In particular the novels of Inspector Maigret. Within a few years of this film, a second rare one (THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY) was made with Claude Rains and Herbert Lom, and it too was a good film but (like this) just did not win a large audience.
The interesting thing about Simenon\'s novels is that he concentrates on the characters, but he insists on making their behavior fit psychological patterns that rarely emerge in other popular detective novels up to his period of writing. Imagine Agatha Christie or Rex Stout making a novel turn on the psychological behavior of their villains. Dorothy Sayers did that occasionally (most notably in GAUDY NIGHT, where the villain hates female scholars for a deeply felt reason). But Christie\'s Poirot and Mrs. Marple studied clues to see what were the course of events in a murder case - they were not interested in the motivation of the killer\'s actions
In THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER, Franchot Tone\'s character dominates, although Laughton\'s Maigret is able to figure out how to handle him. Tone is a normal looking sociopath, who hears Robert Hutton lament his problems with gaining an inheritance that would settle his problems with his wife and mistress. Of course, Tone is aware that Hutton\'s position is a weak one, and he plans to do the crime but use it to blackmail Hutton for the lion share of the inheritance. The scheme does in Hutton\'s aunt and her servant, so that Hutton seems to be benefiting, but he is very skittish talking to Maigret and the other authorities, exciting their suspicions that he knows more than he is saying. When he is found dead they realize that he was very dangerous to the real killer.
Tone is not only willing to let Hutton look guilty (after he\'s squeezed money out of him for while). He is also willing to frame Burgess Meredith, who once had the temerity to be critical of Tone. He also has sadistic attitudes towards other figures who are not central to his scheme. He lures Hutton\'s wife (Patricia Roc) and his mistress (Jean Wallace) to the house where Hutton died, with the intentions of them meeting (they literally hate each other) so that they might kill each other off.
It is doubtful if Tone ever played such a totally dislike-able person as M. Radek. Besides his sheer violence and willingness to destroy anyone he wants for his pleasure, he is an absolute intellectual snob. But Laughton\'s Maigret figures out how to undercut him - you ignore his comments and ideas openly, and he becomes confused. His ego is not ready for that type of rejection, and Tone suddenly acts sluggishly and with uncertainty - as though he is on anesthesia and has not come out from under it.
In the end, Maigret shows that all the crimes Radek committed can be traced back to him. Radek knocks out the gendarme holding him, and he goes toward the Eiffel Tower, climbing higher and higher to avoid capture. And Maigret succeeds in forcing him down, when he tells him that he is not worthwhile risking their necks for. Maigret and the others leave Radek holding onto the side of the Eiffel Tower, and he suddenly realizes his danger. He follows them and is arrested.
His last moment in this film have a marvelous tag line. As he is led to the guillotine, Tone/Radek turns to Laughton/Maigret and sneers, \"I bet this is one place you will not follow me to Maigret.\" A great conclusion to an interesting psychological study of a criminal.
# Producer Irving Allen was the original director, but after only three days of shooting, Charles Laughton threatened to quit if Burgess Meredith did not take over. Laughton directed the scenes in which Meredith appeared.
# 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 recently released on VHS and can be relatively easily found at rental stores.