Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)

The Man on the Eiffel Tower stands out among Franchot's filmography for many reasons. First, it is a film that Franchot cited as one of his favorites. Second, it is the only film of his in color. Third, it features his second wife and mother of his children, Jean Wallace (yet they were either separated or divorced at the time of filming). Fourth, it was filmed with his pals Burgess Meredith and Charles Laughton. And fifth, it gave Franchot the opportunity to play a disheveled, quietly plotting killer.
Jean Wallace
Truthfully, I did not appreciate this movie the first time I watched it. I had come off a string of Franchot's 40s light romantic comedies and the plot of Eiffel Tower was a bit more complicated to follow. Also, I first watched a spotty quality copy with bad audio on Youtube, so I struggled to make out all the dialogue and was distracted by the rough cut. Later, I found a better version on Moving Image Archive and watched the film over in its entirety. (Just a note, because this film now falls under public domain, there really is no pristine copy. I've included links to the ones available online at the end of this post). On my second viewing, I enjoyed the The Man on the Eiffel Tower for the unique thriller that it is. My advice to you is don't write it off just because it hasn't been restored and it's not your typical glossy Hollywood mystery. The film has a clever plot, great cast, and amazing color views of Paris in the late 1940s.

In the movie, Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton) and his girlfriend Edna (played by Jean Wallace) confess to Bill's wife that they have been having an affair. In a cafe, Bill talks about his wealthy aunt and how her death could benefit his and Edna's future.

Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) is a sly, kooky character dining across the cafe. Radek passes a note to Mr. Kirby, offering to murder the wealthy aunt.
Meanwhile, the film's director Burgess Meredith stars as Joseph Heurtin, a quiet, hard-working man whose wife does nothing but belittle him. Heurtin decides to break in to and steal from Kirby's aunt's house, and unwittingly walks into a murder scene. When Heurtin loses his thick glasses (very similar to Meredith's Twilight Zone "Time Enough at Last" spectacles), the murderer Radek helps him home.

Because his glasses are left at the scene, Heurtin is first implicated in the murder. Heurtin helps the police identify Radek, but Radek is so sneaky and clever that he is able to taunt the police. Charles Laughton is brilliant as the lead inspector working to bait and catch Radek.
Franchot was 44 years old when The Man on the Eiffel Tower was filmed and the film, in my eyes, is his transition from romantic lead to interesting character actor. Although Franchot had played a killer once before in 1944's Phantom Lady, Eiffel Tower is where we first see Franchot's face (a bit more lined with wrinkles and wisdom) taking on the characteristics that he would display in his television work. His hair and clothes are somewhat disheveled and his eyes are full of mischief.
One of my favorite scenes is the exciting Eiffel Tower climb at the end of the film. Radek attempts to resist arrest by climbing the Tower, but Heurtin and the Inspector are close behind. The cityscape is visually stunning and the scene itself will have you on the edge of your seat!

You can watch The Man on the Eiffel Tower on Youtube or at the Moving Image Archive. There is also a DVD available on Amazon.

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