Release Date(s)1960-1961 (December 20, 2022)
Studio(s)BBC (Kino Classics/Network)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C
Georges Simenon’s Parisian police detective Jules Maigret (pronounced “may-gray”) is the antithesis of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Where Poirot is flamboyant and fastidious, a gourmand and world traveler in high society, highly excitable and irritable, Maigret is the lowest of low-key sleuths, working class, a doting husband, calm and methodical, not uncultured nor rough around the edges like Lt. Columbo (really part of that detective’s act) but similarly ordinary yet highly observant and intelligent.
Maigret was the subject of 75 novels and 28 short stories written by Simenon between 1931 and 1972, and has been adapted into other media nearly as widely as Sherlock Holmes and Poirot. Maigret has been played by such diverse talent as Pierre Renior (Jean’s brother), Jean Gabin (in three late-1950s/early-1960s films), and Charles Laughton (in the elusive The Man on the Eiffel Tower). Italian Gino Cervi played the detective in a successful mini-series in the 1970s, while a Japanese television series starring Kinya Aikawa won high praise from Simenon. Richard Harris played Maigret in a 1988 TV movie, followed by Michael Gambon in an excellent, atmospheric series that ran two short seasons in 1992-93. (And, ironically, Gambon subsequently assumed Harris’s role in the Harry Potter films following Harris’s death.) Beginning in 1991, shortly before the Gambon series went into production, French actor Bruno Cremer began playing Maigret in a long-running program of more than 50 French-made TV movies through 2005. Most recently, Rowan Atkinson assumed the part in four British TV-movies produced in 2016-17.
The consensus seems to be that French actor Cremer is the definitive Maigret but, running a close second, and first among English-language adaptations, is the interpretation by British actor Rupert Davies. Basil Sydney starred as Maigret in a 1959 pilot film for the BBC but was unable to continue, so the much less famous Davies, a jobbing character actor, assumed the part for Maigret, which ran for four series (seasons) during 1960-63, resulting in 52 one-hour episodes. It became Davies’s signature role, much like Poirot would be for David Suchet or Sherlock Holmes for Jeremy Brett. Davies would return to the role a couple more times after the series ended, including a 1969 episode of BBC Play of the Month. He died in 1976 at age 60.
Famously, Simenon was delighted with Davies’s interpretation. Before the series even aired, a meeting in Lausanne was arranged, Simenon telling Davies, “C’est Maigret! C’est Maigret! You are the flesh and bones of Maigret!” Indeed, Davies was so identified with the Commissaire that for the 1992 TV series produced by Britain’s ITV, Michael Gambon seems to have been cast as much for his close resemblance to Davies as his (considerable) acting chops. Gambon, unlike Davies, wore a mustache when he played Maigret, but it was an uncanny resurrection, Gambon even playing Maigret much as Davies had.
The 1960-63 series was highly regarded in Britain though not widely seen elsewhere until recently. Part of the reason was the way the series was shot: the one-hour, black-and-white drama was shot on two-inch videotape for 405-line analogue broadcast. As was commonplace at the time, exterior/location footage was shot on film (either 35 mm or, more commonly, 16 mm) and integrated into the two-inch video master. Many BBC shows shot in this manner were subsequently lost; the tapes were degaussed for reuse on another program or simply tossed. All of Maigret survives, fortunately, except for the original, on-location film elements, but what survives isn’t exactly eye-pleasing in this high-def age. (Beginning with Season Two, Maigret filmed exteriors on location in Paris.) Liner notes refer to Network sourcing 35 mm “telerecordings,” which I assume were a British equivalent (perhaps more sophisticated) of kinescopes.
In recent years, the BBC and U.K. video labels such as Network (from which this Maigret is derived) strove to digitally restore and even enhance the image quality of such programs, sometimes with startlingly good results. A short (2:27) featurette included on Kino’s Blu-ray details the digital tweaking that was done, work including reducing severe combing effects that clearly improved the picture quality in some respects, but it’s still a far cry from a title you’ll want to use to show off your home theater system. This is a series never meant for big screen TVs, but the quality of the program offsets its visual shortcomings.
I’ve always struggled a bit with this British convention of video studio interiors intercut with shot-on-film exteriors, but this release smooths out those transitions more than usual. It also tones down the harsh video quality of the in-studio photography, not exactly giving episodes a film-like look, but maybe settling on a middle-ground, somewhere between the looks of video and film.
Holding everything together is, of course, the shrewd underplaying of Rupert Davies, a delight as Maigret. American viewers will recognize him for his scattered film work, in British movies such as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (as George Smiley), Witchfinder General, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and TV shows like Danger Man and Man in a Suitcase. Ewen Solon, probably best-remembered as the grouchy Stapleton in the Peter Cushing Hound of the Baskervilles, plays Sgt. Lucas, while long-lived Helen Shingler is Madame Maigret.
Network offered Maigret—The Complete Series as a Region “B” boxed set in October 2021, which is currently priced at around £67 (about $80) and includes a thick (136-page) book. Kino’s Blu-rays are broken into season sets with SRPs of $49.95 each, so the Network set is a far less expensive option for those with region-free players, and you’ll get a book besides.
Kino’s release of Maigret—Season 1 offers 13 episodes spread across three Region “A” discs, some 715 minutes of show. (See above for comments about the video quality.) The following episodes are included:
- Murder in Montmartre
- Unscheduled Departure
- The Burglar's Wife
- The Revolver
- The Old Lady
- Liberty Bar
- A Man of Quality
- My Friend the Inspector
- The Mistake
- On Holiday
- The Experts
- The Cactus
- The Children's Party
The English DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono) is acceptable, and supported by optional English subtitles. Besides the brief restoration featurette, there extras include an episode guide. It offers titles, airdates, short synopses of each episode, writer and director but does not list guest stars, nor does it indicate on which disc each episode can be found.
It took me one full episode to get past the inherent limitations of the picture quality, but soon after became so engrossed in the stories and Davies’s portrayal especially that I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy this nearly long-lost series.
- Stuart Galbraith IV