Heavy Traffic : Georges Simenon – “Night at the Crossroads”

ABOVE: Don’t cross Maigret

In 1932, the great Jean Renoir made a movie out of George Simenon’s “La Nuit du Carrefour” (“Night at the Crossroads”), which I believe is the very first of many Maigret adaptations to come. It’s not one of Renoir’s grander films, (the pace is glacial, although the camera still moves in clever ways to establish our complicity in the events). Still, the “Cahiers du Cinema” crowd loved it as a precursor of films noir to come, and the femme fatale Else has much to do with it.

ABOVE: Inspector Maigret inspects. You can see why French movies of the 1930s were a little ahead of American movies of the 1930s.

Else, when we meet her, is a vampish Danish immigrant living in near-captivity with Carl, her possessive, aristocratic brother. Carl is suspected in a murder after a corpse is found on his garage, and so Maigret visits the secluded, ill-lit house Else and Carl share. The house is at the crossroads of a highways, and neighbors include an ex-boxer who runs a garage and an appallingly bourgeois insurance salesman. Are any of them involved? Or was the murderer the driver of one of hundreds of vehicles crossing by?

As usual, Simenon is so brisk that you have no time to be bothered by how simple the case is. This one has something that few other Maigret novels have: a heightened sense of humor. Maigret is not exactly Inspector Closeau when it comes to the yucks and giggles, but the final resolution scene here borders on the farcically funny.

Less funny are Simenon’s lazy, eye-brow-raising ethnic references: the instigating corpse belongs to a certain Isaac Goldberg, dubious Jewish jeweler; the Italian character is called Guido Ferrari, etc. Can’t wait for an American named John Smith to show up in the series.

RATING: COOL!

POST-SCRIPT:

A taste of the Renoir:

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