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Voilà: Rowan Atkinson as Jules Maigret

Rowen Atkinson as Detective Jules Maigret
To play a convincing Sherlock Holmes you need to be long and lean.

To play a convincing Poirot you need to be… well… David Suchet.

To play Georges Simenon’s great detective Jules Maigret, the requirements aren’t as specific. That’s one of the great things about Maigret. We know he’s a gent who enjoys a pipe and a beer and who possesses finely honed instincts regarding human nature. Beyond that, he’s everyman. Even Simenon admitted that he didn’t have a clear mental picture of Maigret’s face.

Over the years Maigret has been portrayed in French by Jean Gabin and Bruno Crémer, among others. English Maigrets have included Michael Gambon and Richard Harris. (Hmm… What other beloved literary character do they have in common?) There have been Russian, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, German, Czech, and Yugoslavian versions of Maigret. There even was a  Japanese Maigret TV series in the 1970s. It marked a rare onscreen role for Kinya Aikawa, a popular voice actor whose work included the role of Racer X in the 1960s cartoon Speed Racer and dubbing Jack Lemmon’s voice into Japanese for films such as Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. It doesn’t get more “everyman” than that.

Now prepare for a new Maigret as Rowan Atkinson steps into the role for two stand-alone TV movies:  Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man. They’re both set in 1950s Paris. Filming started on September 8th in Budapest, which apparently is standing in for the City of Light.

Are we ready for Mr. Bean (or Edmund Blackadder, if you’re hardcore) to take on the role of Simenon’s detective? I think we might be. Atkinson says he’s a fan of Simenon’s Maigret novels (who isn’t?) and he doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would tamper with perfection. This production could warrant further investigation.

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.

From Page to Screen with Night and the City

In thinking about Jules Dassin’s 1950 work of film noir Night and the City in relation to the same-named 1938 novel by Gerald Kersh, one striking thing to consider is the fact that Dassin said he never read the book. He apparently fully relied on the screenplay of Jo Eisinger, and his own cinematic vision, to guide him as he took the story and adapted it to the big screen. Was Dassin just too busy to pore over Kersh’s novel, did he not want to get distracted from the tale as it read in the screenplay, or was there some other reason why he chose to not read the book? I don’t know, but the differences between book and film are interesting.

The first thing to establish – and not that many reading this likely need to be told as much – is that both Kersh’s novel and Dassin’s film are superb. Both are influential works of noir that take an unflinching look at a panorama of seedy characters in hardboiled situations. Any lover of edgy crime stories, and/or powerful works of social realism, needs to experience both versions of the tale. Ok, so that’s settled. Now let’s get on with a close look at how the two compare.

Both film and novel are set in London. And both concern a motley crew of hardened characters who are struggling in a joylessly desperate moneyed environment. Primarily occurring in nightclubs and professional wrestling environments, the tale depicts a host of hard-up men and women who are out to make a pound any way they can, within a seemingly hopeless (sewer) rat race. Nearly every person in the story seems to be in a constant state of looking at other people and wondering how many quid they might have on them, and what they might be able to do to get some of that dough. Things like morals and decency to your fellow man and woman get tossed in the gutter like yesterday’s betting sheet, and all in the name of the mighty pound.

Continue reading “From Page to Screen with Night and the City

“In Your Face, Neil Armstrong: New Trailer for The Martian

When a fierce storm all but dooms a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and left behind. But Watney isn't dead, and when he wakes up, not only does he have supplies only meant to last one month, he also has no way of contacting NASA back on Earth to let people know he's still alive. And even if he does find a way to send a message, it will take NASA four years to get a new ship to Mars. Facing his demise, the only chance Watney has is to get creative and “science the shit out of this.”

The Martian stars Matt Damon as Watney and is directed by Ridley Scott. The film is adapted from the bestselling debut novel from Andy Weir, who originally self-published the book online in a serial format. The rest of the star-studded cast includes: Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. Watch the trailer below:

From Page to Screen with Death Wish: The Case of the Disappearing Conscience

When his wife is killed and his daughter left in a vegetative state after a brutal assault, a staunch liberal seeks comfort in vigilante justice, gunning down the monsters who stalk the savage street of 1970s New York City. And in the end, he finds himself deeply conflicted over his descent into violence.

Sounds a lot like the 1974 film Death Wish directed by Michael Winner. Everything except that last part. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows there is no such moral ambiguity. It’s a celebration of violence, and Paul Kersey, played by granite-faced actor Charles Bronson, is the answer to who will save a city gone to hell.

If you want a protagonist with a conscience, you have to look to the novel by Brian Garfield. Yes, Death Wish is in the same company as Jaws and Die Hard. Movies so iconic you couldn’t be blamed for not knowing they were based on books. And, like so many book-to-film adaptations, the filmmakers kind of missed the point.

Continue reading “From Page to Screen with Death Wish: The Case of the Disappearing Conscience”

Game of Thrones 5.02: “The House of Black and White”

Tension continues to run high in Meereen, and Daenerys’s status is in jeopardy. (Screengrab courtesy HBO)

It’s easy to imagine Game of Thrones as a sprawling game of chess, and “The House of Black and White” moved some major pieces around, but we’re still left trying to figure out who’s on whose team. Arya Stark (Maise Williams) has finally landed in Braavos, but she’s not welcomed in the fashion she assumed. Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) continue their mysterious trek away from the Eyrie, which is interrupted by Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Portman), who continue to stumble around guided blindly by luck. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Colster-Waldau) announces to his sister that he’ll head south into Dorne to rescue Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free), but not before he picks up Bronn (Jerome Flynn) first. And across the sea, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) inch ever closer to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Imagine if Daenerys headed towards Westeros at the same speed Tyrion’s headed to her! A man can dream.

Many characters might be shuffling around, but some of the biggest movements were a result of stationary characters that saw their statuses rise and fall. After all, chaos is a ladder just waiting to be climbed. And that brings us to this week’s Riser of the Week:

Continue readingGame of Thrones 5.02: “The House of Black and White””

From Page to Screen with Ed McBain’s King’s Ransom and Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low

I’ve been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 suspense film High and Low since I saw it years ago. I just watched it again after my first read of the 87th Precinct novel it’s based on: Ed McBain’s 1959 procedural King’s Ransom – the 10th installment of the highly-celebrated series penned by Evan Hunter under the McBain pseudonym. The Wikipedia page for High and Low states that is it “loosely based” on the McBain book; but while there are certainly differences between the film and the book, I’d say that statement is a stretch, as the two versions of the story are very similar in some essential ways. In any case, both are worthy examples of works done in their respective media, and it was interesting for me to look closely at what happened when a masterfully-written crime novel got channeled through the vision of a brilliant film director.

Before I delve into the storyline of King’s Ransom and High and Low, I have to confess that I’m going to commit a spoiler where the movie is concerned. There’s just no way for me to comment on the similarities and differences between novel and film without doing that. But what I’m spoiling is something that happens only about halfway into the film.

Continue reading “From Page to Screen with Ed McBain’s King’s Ransom and Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

I first saw Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat decades ago, and I just viewed it again this week. This time I watched it immediately after reading William P. McGivern’s novel of the same title. This is the latest in my series of posts where I rave about an underappreciated noir novel while commenting on a better-known film that was made from it. Lang’s big screen feature is, of course, a gem, and one that any fan of film noir should get to know if they don’t already. McGivern’s work of fiction, which originally appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, then was published as a novel in the same year as the movie’s release, deserves lofty status among those who appreciate hard-edged crime tales as they appear on the printed page.

There’s little difference in the plotline between book and movie, but for present purposes I’ll focus on the story as it is told in the novel. The primary character is Dave Bannion: a sergeant of detectives in a homicide bureau in Philadelphia. Bannion is a big man; much is made of his hulky build in McGivern’s book, whereas he comes across as being of more normal male stature via Glenn Ford’s portrayal of him in the movie. He has a temper that he needs to keep a watch over, to make sure he doesn’t use his great bulk to do bodily harm to others when it’s not warranted. Bannion is a family man, happily married to his good-natured wife and a loving father to their young daughter. He’s also an honest law enforcement agent. In the beginning of the novel (this is not in the movie), some of the detectives on his team are holding a black man on suspicion of a crime, and are ready to work him over physically to sweat a confession out of him; but Bannion feels their grounds for suspecting the man are flimsy (and racially motivated, although that’s only implied in the book), and he tells his boys to let the guy go.

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2015 Oscar Nominations: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel Lead the Way

The 2015 Academy Award nominees have been announced, and in a two-way tie for the lead with nine nominations are Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's not surprising to see Birdman clean up with nominations, as the Academy loves to honor films about the film industry, but Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a bit more surprising considering it premiered way back in March. Unlike last year, where 12 Years a Slave and Gravity were destined to win the majority of awards, this year should see a decent mix of films taking home Oscars. The Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will air February 22, and in the weeks building up, stay tuned to Criminal Element for predictions, updates, and another Carnage Count!

The list of major nominees are as follows:

Best Picture

American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


Continue reading “2015 Oscar Nominations: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel Lead the Way”

Lost Classics of Noir: Criss-Cross by Don Tracy

So this is the next in my line of posts where I’m going to write about an underappreciated vintage noir novel, and in so doing, discuss a movie that was made from its story (sometimes it’s the other way around, but you get the idea). Robert Siodmak’s 1948 (referenced as ’49 in some places) film Criss-Cross, which stars Burt Lancaster, Yvonne “Lily Munster” DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea, is an example of film noir of which most aficionados of that genre are likely familiar and appreciative. Don Tracy’s 1934 novel of the same title is less known but as worthy of recognition.

Tracy may not have been James M. Cain, but judging by this novel, he wasn’t all that terribly far behind. Honestly, if someone new to the world of classic hardboiled fiction asked me for a good example of such a book, I would be perfectly comfortable pointing them in the direction of Criss-Cross. Likewise, I’d gladly tout the book to knowing noir heads who haven’t read it.

Continue reading “Lost Classics of Noir: Criss-Cross by Don Tracy”

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