When I was much younger, certain authors - Spillane, Chandler, Hammett, and Cain to name but a few - got me hooked on mysteries. Not so much the contemporary, CSI-style evidence procedurals, but more so the old school stuff - true police procedurals that required a detective or a gumshoe who was a quick thinker set out to interview witnesses and suspects. Sure, evidence mattered, but what mattered most was the protagonist was hell bent on uncovering every deep and dark secret the subjects thought they could keep. With today's jet-set, short-attention-span audience, that kind of thing - the cop with a brain for deducing deliberate subterfuge - isn't en vogue. It's more than a bit passé, but I'll take a solid MAIGRET outing any day of the week over a team of scientists (who look like underwear models, by the way) traipsing around Las Vegas looking for hairs, fibers, semen, or whatever else substitutes for a good old-fashioned motive these days.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Jules Maigret - commissioner of Paris's "Brigade Criminelle" - is the literary creation of author Georges Simenon. Over the four decades between 1931 and 1972, Maigret was featured in no less than seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories (hat/tip: Wikipedia). This beloved, soft-spoken, pipe-smoking detective was of average build, giving him the appearance that he could be anyone you pass on a busy street, but he was singularly devoted to `tutoring' younger officers throughout the course of his many investigations. In the books, Maigret conducted inquiries largely in France, but he was occasionally called on to travel to other countries as an expert in criminal examinations. Also, he had a fondness for the finer things in life, such as quality food, conversation, and drink.
To be fair, Simenon's Maigret is a far cry from most of the seedier characters I referenced in my opening paragraph. This chief inspector is far more cultured, restrained, and quietly meditative than Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, or Philip Marlowe ever were. Still, he gets to the bottom of each and every mystery by going after his principle subjects until he discovers the motive behind their misdeeds.
With such a treasure trove of source material, it comes as no surprise that MAIGRET - as a French television series - has been around for several decades. Furthermore, the character has had interpretations filmed by other countries, including Great Britain, Italy, and even Japan. Actor Bruno Cremer had the distinction of playing the inspector in over 50 various adaptations, and he's the lead in the version I've explored below. For purposes of clarity, I'll give a rating and brief plot summary for each of the programs, along with a few notes regarding my critical assessment in conclusion.
Maigret and the Wine Merchant (4 out of 5): Chabut, a wealthy wine merchant, can't seem to keep his hands to himself. When the Parisian businessman turns up dead, Maigret is called in to investigate. What he uncovers is a complex web of adultery amongst the other men and women on his staff, along with a local hotel / brothel that might serve key to discovering what happened. In the end, the answer ends up being a bit more routine than anticipated.
Maigret and the Minister (3 out of 5): Late one evening, Maigret is called to the home of the Minister of Public Works home to conduct an investigation - earlier that evening, the minister had a report that was stolen from him, and the report could indict some high ranking officials as well as the developer behind a property where over 100 children were killed. Hoping to avert a scandal before it develops, Maigret responds to the call; too bad it all ends up feeling a bit predictable by the end.
Maigret and the Madman of St. Clothilde (5 out of 5): Maigret follows a man escaping off a night-time train and, for his troubles, ends up with a badly twisted ankle. Waking up in the hospital, he learns that the man may've been involved in the long-standing record of assaults on women. As he convalesces, Maigret investigates, and he uncovers the small town of St. Clothilde holds some very dark secrets amongst the rich and powerful. Excellent episode.
Maigret Goes to School (4 out of 5): In a letter, a young boy asked Maigret to come to his small village. The crime? The boy's father has been jailed for murder, and only the son believes he's innocent. As Maigret begins questioning the townsfolk, he learns that there are indeed many other suspects who were never vetted much less questioned, and it appears that the culprit remains at large. A elusive piece of eventually evidence is found, pushing Maigret to consider the unthinkable. Solid outing.
Felicie's House (4 out of 5): Maigret is called to investigate the death of an old man with a wooden leg, but he's surprised to make the acquaintance of his houseguest: a lithe young woman with an argumentative attitude. All signs indicate that she most likely had some involvement in the cripple's demise ... or is that just the fact that she's constantly grating on the commissioner's nerves? It's a dynamic episode that finally gives the inspector an intellectual equal to spare off with in some witty banter.
Maigret and the Princess (3 out of 5): It's an interesting diversion largely because - of this set - this is the only time Maigret crosses wits (of sorts) with royalty when he's called in to investigate a death linked to heads of state that appears to have neither a motive nor a means of having been logically committed. Personally, I preferred the stories of the inspector mixing with the commoners myself, and parts of this installment felt a bit contrived.
The entirety of this Set 7 features terrific location shooting along with some dynamic cinematography. For the most part, these stories move along at a brisk pace, though there are a few that require more exposition and set-up than others. All-in-all, these are excellent productions, so it's no wonder that audiences keep returning for more of the same. It would seem no expense has been spared in bringing this version of MAIGRET to life.
MAIGRET is produced by Antenne-2, Ceská Televize, Dune, EC Télévision, France 2 (FR2), and a whole host of other contributors (if you're that interested, head on over to IMDB.com to check it out). DVD distribution (stateside) for this set is being handled by MHz Networks. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a French-spoken-language production with English subtitles (there is no English dubbing available). As for the technical specifications, the set looks and sounds exceptional; this version has been formatted to 16:9 Anamorphic. Alas, as is often the case with these imports landing on American shores, there are no special features to speak of.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Clearly, these tales won't be to everyone's tastes as any case with MAIGRET requires an investment on the part of the viewer to understand these characters, their motives, and their means of carrying out some very dark deeds. Maigret always remains the protagonist, rarely matching wits, per se, but instead reserving discussion of the particulars until he's fully assured that he knows `whodunit'. Then, he speaks his mind convincingly and with conviction - a keen intellect always on the job who isn't above the occasional glass of wine or sip of cognac to make the day pass more easily. He's a thinking man's thinking man.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MHz Networks provided me with a DVD copy of MAIGRET - SET 7 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.