In Paris, an American, Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton), wants his aunt dead so he can inherit her fortune, pay for his wife’s divorce, and marry her friend. So he hires the job out to Radek (Franchot Tone). The hit (including on the aunt’s housekeeper) comes off, but with an odd complication. A burglar saw the murderer.
That witness (Burgess Meredith as Huertin), is in the proverbial heap-of-trouble. The police, (led by Charles Laughton’s Inspector Maignet) correctly figure that Huertin isn’t the killer, but will lead them to the culprit, and allow him to escape from jail. A lot of cat-and-mouse stuff ensues, and, sure enough, Huertin ends up facing Radek.
Radek puts on a strange act, basically throwing himself into the Inspector’s lap. That seems both arrogant and absurd; it is, but it also provides enough notoriety for the case to make blackmailing Kirby workable. Soon, however, both Kirby and Huertin show up dead, both apparent suicides. By this time, the Inspector is pretty sure that Radek in the killer, but he has no evidence.
Radek keeps stirring things up on two fronts: he pals around with the strangely indulgent Inspector, dropping hints about Kirby’s girlfriend Edna (Patricia Roc) and his wife Helen (Jean Wallace); he also writes to both women. It’s a pretty cunning ploy, setting them at cross-purposes. Will they tie up all the loose ends by killing each other? Or maybe just ratting on each other will do.
He brings the Inspector along to tail the two women. “Am I following you, or are you following me?” The Inspector tells him, slowly assuming the initiative. And, then, everyone shows up at the murder room, including the two (not) dead guys. (I thought that both of these ‘deaths’ were iffy). Superb denouement. The jig is up for Radek.
Radek splits. We end up, of course, at the Eiffel Tower. It’s pretty much the epitome of film noir urban mazes–breathtaking vertigo combined with claustrophobic space. It’s stunning to watch these guys clamber up the girders, fighting, suspended so far up. Amazingly, Radek doesn’t fall. We hear the guillotine fall, though, which is a good horror touch. Huertin and his wife are reconciled. Hmm, but isn’t he still down for the burglary?
The beginning and the end of the movie are quite good; but Eiffel Tower sags some in the long middle portion. Laughton’s performance is unusually restrained. That’s more or less made up for by Tone, who plays an eccentric’s role very well. Otherwise, though, there’s not much memorable about these characters.
I didn’t think it was possible for a city, especially Paris, to look so gritty. That effect is probably enhanced somewhat by the creepy color technique. It’s almost as though the city is blanketed with a layer of ash, permeated only by the dim glow of an eternal dusk.
Farmermouse is busy scurrying about in the Parisian nightlife, so he scribbled a note giving The Man On The Eiffel Tower six croissants. 6/10.