Michel Blanc, the bald, diminutive funnyman, plays it utterly straight in Monsieur Hire, an unconvincing adaptation of a 1933 novel by Georges Simenon, first filmed as Panique by Julien Duvivier in 1946.
Simenon’s novel [Les fiancailles de M. Hire], about a lonely misanthropic man framed for a murder by a ruthless pair of lovers and hounded to death by a mob of neighbors, has been watered down. Script virtually does away with the social background and the frightening depiction of mob violence, which figured prominently in Duvivier’s film.
Worse, M. Hire, the protagonist, a sleazy minor felon chez Simenon (and memorably protrayed by Michel Simon under Duvivier), has been morally sanitized. The character is, if not a model citizen, a basically conventional outsider who’s always impeccably dressed, keeps a cage of pet white mice, and regularly visits a brothel.
He’s transfixed by the attractive young woman Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) who lives across the courtyard and who doesn’t believe in curtains. When Alice realizes she is being watched, she begins coming on to the lovesick voyeur who offers to take her abroad away from her sordid life.
Blanc does a creditable if not credible job as M. Hire in a dour, no-nonsense performance. Bonnaire gives some ambiguities and touching shadings to the twofaced girl. Luc Thuillier, however, has nothing much to do as Bonnaire’s ne’er-do-well lover. Film apparently is the 50th motion picture adapted from Simenon.