On December 5th, Kino Lorber will release new digital restorations of the first two Inspector Maigret movies starring Jean Gabin. I previously reviewed the first film, Maigret Sets a Trap (1958), so if you are unfamiliar with the Maigret movies, you may want to read the prior review before moving on to the sequel below.
Jean Gabin returned to the role of Inspector Maigret just one year after Maigret Sets a Trap (1958) in Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case (1959). This time the action occurs outside of the detective’s beloved Paris, as Maigret travels to his boyhood home of St. Fiacre to investigate an unsigned death threat against his friend and childhood crush, the Countess of St. Fiacre (Valentine Tessier). The note warns that the Countess will die before the Ash Wednesday Mass, which is scheduled the day after Maigret arrives at the Countess’ dilapidated château. When the appointed day arrives, Maigret keeps a close eye on the Countess as she attends the church service, presided over by the local priest (Michel Vitold). However, despite Maigret’s presence, the public setting, and no apparent murder weapon, the Countess drops dead before the end of the Mass. Her doctor (Paul Frankeur) declares that the death is due to a heart attack, but Maigret is convinced that the coincidence is too great to be anything other than murder.
This sequel carries over all the key players from Maigret Sets a Trap — director Jean Delannoy, the same writing team, and of course, star Jean Gabin as Inspector Maigret. However, the two films are quite different. Whereas the first film was a police procedural with mystery and film noir elements, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case is more in the tradition of the “cozy” mysteries of Agatha Christie. One could easily imagine this murder being solved by Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, rather than Maigret, as the police inspector is outside of his jurisdiction and acts more-or-less as an amateur detective. The mystery takes place in the kind of small village that one might find in a Miss Marple mystery, with the action mostly contained within the Countess’ home and the local church. There is also a wide array of suspects — the Countess’ heir (Michel Auclair), her secretary (Robert Hirsch), the priest, the doctor, and various friends and servants — which would not be out of place in a Hercule Poirot mystery. Ultimately, the story ends with a gathering of suspects around a dinner table, as Maigret reconstructs the murder, which is the type of climax more likely to occur within an Agatha Christie novel than one by Maigret author Georges Simenon.
The fact that Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case is so different from Maigret Sets a Trap is not a negative. In fact, it is quite refreshing that the sequel would blaze such a dissimilar path from its predecessor. Your preference between the two films will be completely dependent on your taste in mystery fiction, but both movies are well written, sharply directed, beautifully shot, and expertly acted. You can’t go wrong with either one; and Jean Gabin is magnificent in both pictures. He is a perfect Maigret.
France/B&W-97m./Dir: Jean Delannoy/Wr: Jean Delannoy, R.M. Arlaud, and Michel Audiard (based on the novel by Georges Simenon)/Cast: Jean Gabin, Michel Auclair, Valentine Tessier, Michel Vitold, Robert Hirsch, Camille Guérini, Jacques Marin, Paul Frankeur, Jacques Morel, Serge Rousseau, Gabrielle Fontan, Jean-Pierre Granval, Jacques Hilling, Micheline Luccioni, Armande, Marcel Pérès, Hélène Tossy
If You Like: Fans of film and television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels will likely enjoy Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case.
Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case Blu-ray from Kino Lorber features a new restoration of the film, sporting a sharp, beautiful, black & white image. A few shots, such as the opening credit sequence are a little less sharp than the rest of the film, which is probably accurate to the original film elements. While the image quality is a slight notch below that of Maigret Sets a Trap, the differences are marginal. This is probably the best the film will ever look on home video. As with the previous film, the original French mono audio is also crisp and clear, and the optional English subtitles are literate and easy to read. The disc is rounded out by the theatrical trailer for both this film and its predecessor.
Streaming: Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case was not available on any of the major streaming services at the time this review was written.
More to Explore: In addition to
Maigret Sets a Trap [Blu-ray], which I previously reviewed, Jean Gabin returned to the role of Maigret for a third and final time in
Maigret Sees Red (Maigret Voit Rouge, 1963), which currently is only available on DVD.
Trivia: In the late Fifties, the French New Wave had begun to take hold, with more experimental and avant-garde films directed by the likes of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette appearing in theaters around the same time as these Maiget movies. The critics of Cahiers du cinéma were especially critical of director Jean Delannoy. They saw his film-making techniques as stodgy and out-of-date. However, there is nothing wrong with being a good storyteller, and the years have been kind to the films of Delannoy. He may not be an auteur, but his movies are solid.
For more info: Why not read the original novel,
The Saint-Fiacre Affair, by Georges Simenon? Or if you are a completist like me, you can read the entire series, beginning with the first Inspector Maigret novel,
Pietr the Latvian.