Friday 31 March 2017

Simenon on DVD - A new occasional series prompted by sighting of the second screen Maigret, LE CHIEN JAUNE

Editor's note: Beginning a new series of occasional posts devoted to DVDs based on the novels of Georges Simenon. There are dozens to choose from including many very obscure titles.

This is done entirely on a whim and in the hope that any contributions will cause others to send in anything of relevance no matter how short, or indeed no matter how long, this strand is intended to put on the record something that probably is already on the record in more and better organised detail. So...random curiosity and enthusiasm being the lifeblood of the blogger, this is the start, a film,  a copy of which came into my hands on the fateful day March 30, 2017....

Meanwhile, the pictorial element can be commenced with what I think will probably be the only Australian contribution to the forthcoming parade. As a matter of interest the film, a co-production, had only modest success in Australia. Pike and Cooper's history advises that the distributor held the film back. However, released under the title Le Passager clandestin,  its first run attracted 1,776, 374 paid admissions in France. 

Le Chien Jaune  (Credits from the copy of the film) Une Réalisation de Jean Tarride, Directeurs de Production Robert Petit, André Pfeiffer, Chef Opérateur Toporkoff, Décors Scognamilo.

Adapté d'après Le Chien Jaune, published by Fayard, 1931.

Cast: Abel Tarride (Commissaire Maigret), Rosine Derean (Emma), Rolla Norman (Leon), (Robert) Le Vigan (Dr Michoux), Henley, Gildes, Lepers, Jean Gobet, Azais, Paul Clerget, Fred Marche, Jane Lory, Sylvette Fillacier.

France, 1932, 69 minutes.

Rene Chateau is France's big boy of DVD as it was of VHS. Dozens of ancient, popular titles have been issued, all in bare bones editions without subtitles or extras. The art work on the cover of the company's titles is usually the original poster for the film, a nice touch but cheap to do. The company ranges far and wide and no doubt has contact with French rights holders at all levels though its output seems to be made up of films produced by independent production companies.  The image and sound quality of the movies they publish is variable.
Such is the case with Le Chien Jaune. It comes with a warning that though the film has been restored there are still elements that are not up to scratch due to the exigencies of time. Fair enough. What we get is a film with a lot of very crisp black and white photography by a Chef Operator designated on the credits only as "Toporkoff". It's hard to know whether all the framing is due to the DoP, particularly the shots which cut into the actors' heads. Maybe the material they used for the restoration wasn't even as quite good as might be.

The second Maigret is a well-dressed portly, jowly figure, constantly smoking a pipe, who arrives in what the cover slick tells us is Concarneau, a fishing port in Brittany. (He was beaten to the screen by Pierre Renoir in his brother Jean's La Nuit du Carrefour  which went out on 15 April 1932, just a couple of months before La Chien Jaune's  debut on 29 June 1932.)

The old fashioned  feel of Concarneau is conveyed mostly by the women in the movie who all wear a traditional Breton garb including a bonnet over tightly pulled back hair. The women go to church unaccompanied by their men. 

Abel Tarride, the first screen Maigret
Commissaire Maigret arrives by train accompanied by young, bouncy bag carrier/bright spark Inspecteur Leroy. He's investigating a murder which was accompanied by the sighting of a huge yellow dog. 
Much of the tale takes place in the bar of a hotel where Maigret and Leroy settle down for a couple of days. The story follows up on some suspicious types and the presence of the dog is mysterious until it gets shot as well. Margret spends much time pondering and assuring people that he's on the case. Suspicion falls on Dr Michoux, a mysteriously slippery character living in the hotel but who also has a grand chateau down near the water.

You'll have to forgive my lack of ability to delve deep into the reasons whereby the killer is unmasked and just what exactly he had done and why? Definitely a movie for which, in the final revelation, some help was needed. Subtitles would have surely added a lot more pourquoi for this French language deficient.

The dog is killed. He is tended by a woman in traditional Breton costume
The Tarride family got on to Simenon and Maigret early. Abel, the father, apparently making his film debut at age 67 after a career on the stage, looks the part. He works under the direction off his son Jean. Jean was an actor and director though the near dozen films he made contain no highlights for the national filmography.

(Robert) Le Vigan as Dr Michoux
The atmospherics are modest and Jean Tarride’s mise-en-scene is still heavily gripped by the lumbering quality of early sound film. The location shooting in Concarneau is perfunctory. Most of the action is confined to a series of studio sets – the bar, an interior on a boat, inside a pharmacy and best of all from viewpoint of demonstrating Toporkoff’s skills, a rooftop sequence involving shadow, a couple of sources of light and a skyline over the port. 


  1. Early European (and Paramount) sound films used the entire film frame remaining after the sound track was removed - a picture that was taller than what came to be known as Standard screen and went into universal use about 1935 when Hollywood standardised on the Bell and Howell Aperture with a black frame line between the picures.

    Unless there is a black line down the sides of the picture to restore the original shape you are seeing early films cropped - like the René Chateau CHIEN JAUNE.

    I particularly like Le Vignan taking notes during Maigret's summary to use at a trial. Never saw that again.

    Designer Gabriel Scognamillo covers himself with glory and went to Hollywood to work on Lubitsh’s MERRY WIDOW and got involved with the construction of Disneyland.

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