Maigret (1960): Season 1 Blu-ray Review: Scores Big for Solid Entertainment Value

Maigret, the French detective created by Belgian writer Georges Simenon, is one of my all-time fictional detectives. Second only, perhaps, to Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe. Maigret is highly intelligent, but he doesn’t have the almost supernatural deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes, nor the magical little grey cells of Poirot. But neither does he get as dirty and gritty as the hard-boiled detectives of Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Maigret is just a policeman doing his job. He does it really well, but he relies on his fellow officers, a good sense of how people react, and a lot of shoe leather

I am obviously not the only one who loves the character as the stories have been adapted to the stage and the screen (both big and small) numerous times from all over the world. For this very site, I have reviewed no fewer than three adaptations. In 1960, BBC Television got into the Maigret game with Rupert Davies playing the titular detective. It ran for four seasons. Kino Lorber is releasing the first season this week on Blu-ray with more seasons to follow in the months to come.

Davies is said to have never read any of the stories before taking the role and was only vaguely familiar with the character at all. Instead of doing his reading, he instead contacted Georges Simenon and had several meetings with the author to discuss the character. Simenon for his part is noted to have immediately taken to Davies and declared the actor to have truly embodied the role.

I’ll live in agreement with that assessment as the actor is quite good as Maigret. Here’s where I admit I’ve only read one of two of the stories but having seen numerous TV and cinematic portrayals of the character I feel I know him well enough. Davies plays Maigret like a copper who has seen it all, who is road weary but wizened by it. He’s gruff and tough when he needs to be. He’s not afraid to slap around a suspect or a witness, especially when he feels he’s holding back important information. But he can also be kind. He has a soft spot for the downtrodden, and at times can be lenient to criminals when he understands where they are coming from.

Though in the books Maigret is assisted by any number of policemen of various ranks, there are a few who show up regularly (sometimes referred to as “The Faithful Four”). They are Lucas, Janvier, Lapointe, and Torrence. For Season 1 of this television show, it is mainly Lucas (Ewan Solan) who is by his side. Lapointe (Neville Jason) shows up briefly for the first few episodes and then inexplicably disappears. Janvier’s name is mentioned a couple of times, usually as being on the other line of the telephone, but no actor shows up to play him. And Torrence is seen a bit throughout but not to any distinction.

Season 1 includes 13 episodes which run approximately 50 minutes each. Each episode is based upon a Maigret story by Simenon, though again I haven’t read most of them so I have no idea how closely the series follows the books. They were shot in black and white and have that 1960s BBC television feel to them. Admittedly, I mostly base that upon early Doctor Who stories which is about the only BBC show I’ve watched from that period. Like Doctor Who, these episodes are mostly shot with a low budget on a soundstage in England. Also like Doctor Who, the production tended to keep shooting when minor mistakes were made. There are numerous instances where a character will knock a prop over or flub a line and the camera keeps on rolling. Unlike Doctor Who, there aren’t any rubber monsters in Maigret.

What is not included is the original pilot episode which starred Basil Sydney as Maigret. Unfortunately, that episode has been completed lost.

The episodes all follow a similar structure. A cold open reveals a murder, or some characters scheming, or someone comes to visit Maigret. Whatever happens, it sets up the basic plot to follow. Then the opening credits roll (they are wonderful with a shot of what looks like an abstract color pattern but turns into a wall upon which Maigret scratches his match to light his pipe). Following the credits, there are some nice exterior shots of Maigret walking the streets of Paris, or whatever location the story takes place.

Quite a few of these episodes take place outside of Paris – Normandy, the Riviera, a small island, etc. Maigret’s fame has reached to all parts of France and so he is often sent for to solve crimes across the country. My favorite exotic location is London which within the story is exotic indeed, but of course, the series was actually shot in England so those location shots meant simply stepping outside their front door.

After the episode establishes the location of the story, Maigret gets down to business. He is a policeman who is not afraid to get his shoes dirty. Though he is essentially the boss, he prefers to go outside the office and interview witnesses and suspects himself. He’ll send his men (mostly Luca) to shadow someone or to make phone calls, or gather information from forensics, but Maigret gets to work. Once the mystery is solved, Maigret will state some wise bit of business and it is roll credits.

What I’m saying is that as a television series Maigret doesn’t break any new ground, not even for early 1960s television. It works like the vast majority of detective dramas have worked since the invention of the cathode ray tube. It might not get points for originality, but it does score big for solid entertainment value.

Kino Classics presents Maigret: Season 1 with a decent-looking new Blu-ray transfer. Because it was originally a BBC television series that ran in the early 1960s when television series were considered more or less disposable and little to no care was taken to preserve the film, the prints are not even close to pristine. But they have done a very good job cleaning things up. The only extra on the disks is a short feature detailing their efforts in this regard, and the picture quality is much improved from the original prints.

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Mat Brewster

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