by Allan Fish
(France 1932 73m) not on DVD
Aka. The Night at the Crossroads
All those foreigners should be deported
p Jean Renoir d/w Jean Renoir novel Georges Simenon ph Georges Asselin, Marcel Lucien ed Marguerite Renoir art William Aguet
Pierre Renoir (Inspector Jules Maigret), Georges Térof (Lucas), Winna Winifried (Else Andersen), Georges Koudria (Carl Andersen), Dignimont (Oscar), G.A.Martin (Granjean), Jean Mitry (Arsène), Michel Duran (Jojo), Jean Gehret (Emile Michonnet), Jane Pierson (Madame Michonnet), Manuel Raaby (Guido), Lucie Vallat (Michelle),
Jonathan Rosenbaum called it “the sexiest film Renoir ever made.” At first Renoir disowned it, referring to how he deliberately left things vague and often incomprehensible, and yet that’s the very reason we love The Big Sleep and one of the reasons we would love this. Sadly, however, it’s another one of those gems that exist in a permanent fog, hardly ever seen in an English friendly print, and generally forgotten in English testimonies to Renoir and dismissed as the pot-boiler he made between La Chienne and Boudu, the two seminal Michel Simon movies. While Jean Gabin (and later Rupert Davies and Bruno Cremer on TV) would make the role their own, this remains the best single Maigret film and one of the pivotal pre-noir noirs, predating even the poetic realists by a few years.
The crossroads in the title is at the sleepy by-water of Avrainville 30 miles or so from Paris. At the crossroads there are three houses and a garage and nothing else but the crossed-roads themselves, lined by rows of trees and acres of deserted farmland. One morning, a local insurance agent finds his car has been replaced by another and, believing it to be a swindle perpetrated by the local Andersens (Danes who the agent, Michonnet, is bigoted towards) opens their garage door and, sure enough, finds his six cylinder car inside. One problem, there’s a stiff at the wheel.
Carl Andersen is interrogated by police, but they have to let him go, leaving Maigret and his assistant Lucas to head to Avrainville to look into things themselves. There they find Michonnet and his loud wife, a group of very suspicious mechanics at the local garage with a fondness for tyres and, last but not least, Andersen’s sister, the seemingly drug-addled Else.
The mystery was never the main point of interest here, that was merely the, ahem, mechanics of the plot. He’s more interested in the characters, the atmosphere, the faintly dreamy, ghostly mood and the visuals. Shot entirely in natural sound it belies its early talkie origins quite wonderfully, and for fans of car chases, there’s a wonderful early example where the cops speed after a gang of crooks through the windy streets of the French countryside, passing through small villages on the way to the inevitable arrest. Not that the arrest clears anything up; it rather makes the picture murkier still, though we know the Commissaire will solve it before he has to refill his pipe.
Take some of the simple techniques to show the passage of time during Carl’s interrogation, with juxtaposition of shots of a news stand offering morning, afternoon and evening editions. And take the look of the film. All those exteriors shot at night in such a way as to literally descend an impenetrable cloak over the characters. Not only does the mood prefigure poetic realism, it prefigures the traditional birth of film noir.
Tony D’Ambra’s Review Of La Nuit de Carrefour…Over There at Film Noir.Net
[Postscript:Allan, Sam Juliano, and Jamie...Check -out Tony's last screenshot...Which evokes the mood that Ed Howard, points out in his comment..."I love this film, too. Its fragmentary plot (caused, at least in part, by a now-missing reel) only adds to its foggy mood..."]
In the lead, Renoir is delicious, making the audience believe he wasn’t perturbed by the developments even when the audience is. Yet more memorable still is cocaine addict Winna Winifried, a haunting-faced creature who would only make a few more films, including a few in Britain, before disappearing off the radar in 1940. She was only 17 when this was shot, as delectable a piece of skirt as you will find offered in early thirties French film, a femme fatale in every sense of the word but who, it would seem, falls in love with her Sûréte quarry. She wants him, he obviously wants her, but that doesn’t matter. “You won’t need make up where you’re going”, he tells her, before adding later, more sympathetically, that her two year sentence will soon be over and then she’ll be free.