Friday, June 11, 2021

The Peril of The Smoking Pipe

An actor should never fall in love with a prop.  In Cover Up (1949), William Bendix builds his performance as a thoughtful small town sheriff around a smoking pipe.  The overused pipe is a distraction most of the time, greatly diminishing the actor's performance.  

Bendix may have been trying to mimic the great fictional French detective Maigret.  

This was said about Maigret in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro:

Without his pipe, Maigret is a naked man.  At the start of any investigation, it supports his reflections and his tactile perception of the outside world.  Maigret smoked his pipe in little puffs, trying to imbue himself with all this world he hadn't known the day before, and which had suddenly appeared in his life.

The pipe is repeatedly mentioned in the Maigret stories: 

Maigret smiled, his lips drawn up strangely around the stem of his pipe.
He relit his pipe, to give himself time to reflect.  

He leaned back, blew the smoke of his pipe toward the ceiling.

He lit his pipe, without stopping speaking, interspersing his words with puffs of smoke.

The great Jean Gabin portrayed Maigret in three films, Maigret tend un piège (1958), Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (1959) and Maigret voit rouge (1963).  The actor uses the pipe as expected, but he uses this prop sparingly and certainly never lets it upstage him.

Diana Wynyard similarly fusses with a lap dog in Gaslight (1940).

Reference source

Le Figaro, January 9, 2003: "Simenon: the myth in 7 legends." 

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