The Man on the Eiffel Tower
Cast & Crew
In a Parisian café, American Bill Kirby, his wife Helen and his flashy lover, Edna Warren, discuss Bill's rich, elderly aunt, Juliet Henderson, who refuses to give her ne'er-do-well nephew any of her money prior to her death. Edna then coaxes Bill into revealing their affair to Helen, and the hurt but pragmatic Helen agrees to grant her husband a divorce on condition that she receive a handsome settlement. When Edna immediately insinuates that she will leave Bill unless he obtains some money, Bill jokingly suggests that he would pay one million francs to have his aunt killed. Moments later, Bill finds a note by his feet, in which the writer, "M. V.," obtusely accepts his recent "proposition." To decide how to respond to M. V.'s offer, the capricious Bill rolls a pair of dice, which come up "aces." That night, Joseph Huertin, a timid, nearsighted knife grinder whose beautiful wife Gisella berates him for being poor, breaks into the Henderson home intending to rob the place, but finds Bill's aunt and her maid stabbed to death in a bedroom. When a terrified Huertin trips while fleeing, his glasses fall off, and the women's attacker deliberately crushes the spectacles with his foot. Outside, the almost blind Huertin meets up with his coldblooded accomplice, Johann Radek, a man who had been eavesdropping on Bill's conversation at the café. Before leading him home, the self-assured Radek tells Huertin that, although he will be arrested for the murders, he, Radek, will get him out of jail. The next day, police inspector Maigret arrests Huertin, having found his glasses, and interrogates him at the jail. Sure that the knife grinder could not have made his way home unaided, Maigret tries to pry Radek's name out of Huertin, but fails. Hoping that Huertin will lead him to his accomplice, Maigret then allows him to escape from prison and has plainclothesmen Janvier and Dufour follow him to a cheap hotel. The next morning, however, an anonymous letter appears in the newspaper, claiming that the police freed Huertin out of desperation. When Janvier, anxious that Huertin not see the letter, inadvertently frightens him and then loses him, Maigret's methods are called into question by his superior, Comelieu. The unflappable Maigret, however, sends the original letter to a handwriting expert, who notices that it has coffee stains on it. Maigret then goes to the same café where Bill received his note, which is in the area where Huertin peddles his skills, and waits. Eventually, Maigret sees Huertin peering inside, furtively looking at Radek, who is eating yogurt and sipping coffee. The clever Radek deduces that Maigret is a policeman and, to scare off Huertin, gets himself arrested. At the police station, Maigret questions the Czech-born Radek, who reveals that, as a youth, he studied medicine while being supported by his now-deceased mother Elizabeth. Maigret then interviews one of Radek's professors and learns that Radek is a manic-depressive, brilliant but unbalanced. Radek, meanwhile, eludes the plainclothesmen who trail him after he is released and makes his way to his mother's house. After his very much alive mother agrees to shelter Huertin, Radek orders the fugitive to remain in her cellar. Maigret, meanwhile, secures the serial numbers from money that Bill receives at his hotel and later finds Radek at the café. The ever-cocky Radek is confident that the detective will be unable to link him with the murders and invites him to lunch at the Eiffel Tower. There an excited Radek teases Maigret by paying for the meal with Bill's money and calling the police investigation inept. Later, Radek contacts Bill and tells him that the police are reopening the case and will be searching for the murder weapon, a fingerprint-smudged knife that Radek claims he left somewhere in his aunt's house. Insisting that Bill will be implicated in the crime if the knife is found, Radek convinces the American to hunt for the weapon himself. When Maigret shows up later at the Henderson house, he finds Bill shot, an apparent suicide victim. Shortly after, the police track down Radek's mother and arrive at her house in time to save the suicidal Huertin from hanging. Unaware of Huertin's capture, Radek continues to goad Maigret, and while being followed openly by the detective, writes threatening letters to Edna and Helen, ordering both of them to go to the Henderson house to look for the knife. Radek's cat-and-mouse game finally ends at the Henderson house when Maigret has Huertin confront the psychopath and identify him as his double-crossing accomplice. Maigret also coyly reveals that the letters were intercepted and that both Edna and Helen, who Radek hoped would murder each other, are cooperating with the police. As he is being arrested, however, Radek escapes the house and runs to the Eiffel Tower, where he is pursued to the top by both a revenge-mad Huertin and the police. Unable to throw himself from the Tower, Radek gives himself up. Then, while the vindicated Huertin happily reunites with the remorseful Gisella, Radek faces execution at the guillotine.
M. Raymon Billancourt
Louis H. Sackin
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.
Georges Simenon's novelette was published in the United States in 1940 as A Battle of Nerves. Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: When filming began in Paris in September 1948, Franchot Tone and Irving Allen were co-producers, and Allen was the picture's director. By late September 1948, however, Tone dropped his producing duties and Burgess Meredith, who was already in the cast, replaced Allen as director. It is not known how much of the final film, if any, Allen directed. Meredith, who previously had directed many stage productions, made his screen directing debut with this film. According to a May 1948 Los Angeles Examiner item, producer James Nasser was to "team up" with Tone, Meredith and Allen to produce the story, but the exact nature of Nasser's participation in the final film, if any, has not been determined. It is possible that Nasser was connected to Gray Film, which is listed along with Tone and Allen in the onscreen production statement.
An August 1948 New York Times item announced that Safia Films, a French firm headed by André Sarrut, was to provide $200,000 in financing, and that a French version of the story was to be made. Peter Lorre was to star with Tone, and French actors Claude Dauphin and Victor Francen in both the English and French versions. No evidence that a French version was ever made has been found, however, and Safia Films's involvement in the final film has not been confirmed. The participation of Dauphin and Francen in the final film is doubtful. A January 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item claims that the film was produced with "blocked money" held in France and England by Columbia Pictures, and that Columbia was to be repaid in dollars through the "liquidation of the picture." During production, rumors about internal dissension among the filmmakers, including Charles Laughton, circulated in the local press. These rumors were denied by various members of the crew, however. Ed Gardner and Borrah Minevitch are listed as cast members in Hollywood Reporter production charts, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
The picture was the first American color film to be made entirely in Paris. According to Allen, the picture's $900,000 budget was 40 percent less than it would have been if it had been made in Hollywood. The privately owned Eiffel Tower was rented for filming for $100-per-day. Because of a French law that prohibited suicide jumps from the Tower, the story's ending was changed. United Artists and M-G-M were first approached to distribute the film, which was made before a distributor had been secured, but in April 1949, RKO agreed to release the picture. To advertise their film, Tone and Allen produced a 90-foot, 16mm television trailer, which was made by National Screen and concluded with a main title card that, according to Hollywood Reporter, was "long enough for the local announcer to give local theatre dates." Actress Jean Wallace was married to Tone at the time of production, but divorced him shortly afterward.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower was the first American feature film to be based on a Simenon work. Simenon's novel La tête d'un homme, was first filmed in France in 1933 under the same title, and was directed and written by Julian Duvivier. Many other films have been based on Simenon's "Inspector Maigret" stories, starting with Jean Renoir's 1932 French film La nuit du carrefour (Night at the Crossroads). Temptation Harbour, a 1947 British production directed by Lance Comfort, was the first English language "Maigret" film. Twentieth Century-Fox made two "Maigret" films in the 1950's: A Life in the Balance (1955), directed by Harry Horner and starring Ricardo Montalban, and The Bottom of the Bottle (1956), directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Van Johnson and Joseph Cotten.