Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Burgess Meredith, Robert Hutton, Jean Wallace, Patricia Roc, Belita, George Thorpe, William Phipps, William Cottrell, Chaz Chase, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Written by: Harry Brown, based on a novel by Georges Simenon
Directed by: Burgess Meredith
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 97
Date: 12/12/1949

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Eiffel Class

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When the production threatened to fall apart, star Charles Laughton apparently lobbied for his co-star Burgess Meredith to take the helm; he did (he gets sole credit) and The Man on the Eiffel Tower somehow comes together as a fascinating, psychological noir package. Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton) can't wait for his elderly aunt to kick the bucket so he can get his inheritance (he's been living on credit for too long). He also has two girlfriends, Edna (Jean Wallace) and Helen (Patricia Roc), creating further difficulties. A man overhears his troubles in a bar and offers to do the murder for a fee. Unfortunately, a near-sighted knife sharpener (Meredith) stumbles upon the crime scene and takes the blame. Enter Inspector Maigret (Charles Laughton) to piece it all together. The very creepy Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) has something to do with it all and keeps presenting himself to the inspector, goading and pestering him, almost daring him to make an arrest. The movie credits "the city of Paris" in the opening titles, and that's the real reason to see the film. The various citywide chases have an uncanny realism and sense of place, very unusual for the time (The Third Man is another pretty good example). The quality of acting is variable; the scenery-chewer Laughton seems a bit low-key, and Meredith can't seem to balance the simple-mindedness of his character with genuine fear and anxiety. The other men are simply dull. But Tone's confrontations with Laughton have a strangely captivating, jittery quality that can put one on edge.

DVD Details: The film was shot in "Anscocolor," which is severely washed out in most public domain prints and DVDs. Fortunately, Kino will release a refurbished DVD edition in 2008, made from the best surviving materials, and the color has been (mostly) restored. (The DVD was scheduled for release September 16, 2008, but it was postponed. Check for more detials here.)

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