Georges Simenon’s Maigret Season 1 (Kino Lorber, NR)

Jules Maigret, Detective Chief Superintendant of the Paris Brigade Criminelle, made his first public appearance in 1931, courtesy of Georges Simenon’s novel Pietr-le-Letton (Pietr the Latvian). Simenon would go on to write 74 more Maigret novels as well as 28 short stories featuring the commissaire, who would also appear in numerous film and television adaptations. One of the classics among the latter was the BBC series which aired from 1960 to 1963, with Rupert Davies in the title role. No less an expert than Simenon himself approved of casting Davies in the role, proclaiming that he was “the flesh and bones of Maigret!”

Unfortunately, the BBC series, which ran for 52 episodes, has been unavailable for years due to the nature of the source material. The episodes were originally preserved only as tele-recordings, a.k.a. kinescopes (images made by recording a live broadcast directly from a television screen), resulting in a less than ideal picture quality. The episodes in this release have been remastered in high definition, with electronic correction used to remove as much combing, static dirt, jitter, and unsteadiness, as possible but no amount of processing can create an image as sharp and clear as what we would expect with a series produced today. Still, the episodes look much better than unprocessed kinescopes, and you can easily learn to look past the faults in the images to enjoy the unfussy storytelling, committed acting performances, and efficient production of these episodes. A special bonus is the expert use of Parisian locations to complement the studio work, making the episodes at times resemble films more than set-bound television productions.

I don’t know what British TV was like in the early 1960s, but these episodes feel much more daring that what was available on American TV at the time. The first episode, “Murder in Montmartre,” for instance, presents a gritty and fairly harsh view of the lives of those who live and work in that district—it’s not the scrubbed-up Bohéme of merry “starving artists” but a distinctly non-glamourous and cruel place where the weak are victimized, drug and alcohol use harms people, and doctors can be downright creepy. There’s also more flesh on display than you might expect given the time, although nothing that should really shock anyone today. Maybe having the series set in France gave the producers more leeway than they would have enjoyed for a British-set series, or maybe the Brits were just more mature in that regard than Americans at the time.

The series presents a cerebral approach to police work—a minimum of violence, a maximum of psychological insight and ratiocination. Maigret himself is not given to displays of emotion, but he’s essentially a kind person who takes his job seriously and wants to do the right thing. The result is a series that remains calm and reassuring without looking away from the harsher aspects of life. Each episode is self-contained and based on a single Simenon work; you can find a key matching episodes and their literary sources here.

Maigret’s primary colleagues at work are Lucas (Ewen Solon) and Lapointe (Neville Jason), while Madame Maigret (Helen Shingler) holds down the fort at home. The series features a variety of guest stars as well, and the characters portrayed include a wide range of types (i.e., they’re not all Hollywood pretty). Sixteen different directors worked on the series, along with 10 different writers, but you wouldn’t know it since the series achieves a uniform feel from episode to episode. The series music was written by Ron Grainer, including an accordian-tinged theme that immediately signals Paris to the viewer, and which won Grainer the 1962 Ivor Novello award. | Sarah Boslaugh

Georges Simenon’s Maigret Season 1, consisting of 13 episodes of about 55 minutes each, is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Since these were made for the BBC, each episode runs straight through, with no breaks for commercials. The main extras included with the discs are a featurette on the restoration process and a liner booklet including notes on the remastering process as well as a summary and credits for each episode.

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