...But the conflict between Simenon and the film industry went deeper. Individualistic novelist and solitary creator that he was, he was uncomfortable with the collective efforts and industrial procedures inevitably entailed in filmmaking. The ponderous chain of production annoyed him. Too many people had something to say about how the film came out. He was horrified by the sums of money and numbers of people involved and disoriented by a human and economic organization whose functioning eluded him.
When he wrote a book, he was the sole master. When a film was made of one of his books, his role shrank steadily as the date of shooting approached, until finally he was the fifth wheel on the cart, a condition that finally seemed aberrant to a man who was used to being the center of his own universe and the heart of his own production system. It was especially unpleasant for him to confront it for the first time just when his recent but promising success had fanned his most sensitive traits: vanity, egocentrism, and boastfulness.
Simenon was a stubborn man resistant to allowing his own personality to be dissolved in a project based on a gathering of talents of diverse origins. It was his book, his screenplay, his script and therefore his film. Even after collaborating on two screenplays, he did not understand that the director had to present in images what the writer tends merely to suggest in words. To depict without demonstrating, to suggest without describing, to be faithful to the spirit but not the letterall this seemed inconceivable to him. He refused to admit that adapters might have to take liberties with the novels on which their films were based.
He therefore decided to make his own movies. He believed that if he had learned to write by doing it, there was no reason why he could not learn fimmaking the same way. He would flout norms, schools, and rules, trust his own intuition, genius, and whims. Most of all he would get rid of all those irksome intruders who constantly urged him to modify, correct, add, or delete on the basis of criteria he did not share. Some warned him of the difficulty of the enterprise and of the technical expertise required by this craft of which he knew nothing. He refused to listen. He made the proud announcement of his plans in an interview with Paris-Midi.
"Only the author can judge how his novel must be incarnated," he declared, adding that while he would merely oversee the production of Le Charretier de la "Providence" (1931), he would be completely in charge of La Tête d'un homme (1931).
In April, after writing Le Fou de Bergerac (The Madman of Bergerac, 1932) at the Hotel de France in La Rochelle, he moved to the nearby La Richardiere, a sixteenth-century manor house between Nieul and Marsilly. He fell so in love with the place that he tried to buy it immediately, but the owner rejected his offer, and he had to be content with renting.
It was in these surroundings that "his" film was to be born. La Tête d'un homme was atypical in that it pitted Maigret against another major character, the murderer himself, who competes with the inspector in unraveling the threads of the investigation, thereby hoping to demonstrate his Machiavellian intelligence, unfairly overlooked by society.
The murderer in question is a twenty-five-year-old medical student of Czech origin. The character was inspired by Simenon's friend Ilya Ehrenbourg, a Jew form Kiev who, like the author, was a regular at La Coupole. Though he fled the Soviet regime, he had earlier participated in the 1905 revolution, and the police therefore regarded him as a Bolshevik propagandist. Once in Paris, he became a poet, write, and journalist the prototype of the exiled foreign intellectual. Simenon's murderer had many points in common with Ehrenbourg, and to top it off he gave him the name Jean Radek. This was a clever touch: Karl Radek was a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the presidium of the Comintern. Several years later he would be expelled on charges of Trotskyism.
Simenon wanted Pierre Renoir to play Maigret again. He was the right man for the role, and his mere presence in the film would suggest to audiences that the films, like the books, were part of a series. Radek would be played by Valéry Inkijnoff, a Russian actor with Asiatic features who had recently been featured in Le Capitaine jaune.
Simenon thought of everything, including the promotion of the film, which for the moment only existed on paper. When he invited Inkijinoff to his house in Charentes to work on the script, he made sure to alert a photographer from the movie magazine Pour vous. The subsequent article struck just the right tone: two pipe smokers walking dogs in the countryside, chopping and sawing wood, and most of all brainstorming conceiving, writing, and dictating to a secretary what would surely be the film of the year.
In the end, alas, the film industry prevailed over Simenon's desire to go it alone. As he tells it, crooked producers paid him with rubber checks, thus forcing him to abandon the project. Perhaps the results of his cogitations in Charentes struck them as too amateurish and therefore too risky. One way or another, a furious and disgusted Simenon was forced to pull out.
Marcel Vandal and Charles Delac, producers at the Films d'Art company, then assigned the picture to Julien Duvivier, a seasoned director with some thirty films to his credit, including several literary adaptations. With Duvivier there would be no unpleasant surprises. He kept Valéry Inkijnoff on in the role of Radek, but dropped Pierre Renoir in favour of Harry Baur, who would make a sober, taciturn, and physically powerful Maigret. He abandoned the existing script and asked Louis Delaprée and Pierre Caldmann to write another.
Simenon wanted nothing more to do with this film or with films in general. Two commercial failures and his own aborted project convinced him that he would be boycotted by the industry, a prospect that did not concern him unduly. He expected his work to endure, and he was sure the movie companies would one day rediscover him, if only out of simple common sense: "…the cinema, abandoning its routines and repudiating its laws and prophets, will feel the need to assimilate the aesthetics of the novel, to delve into psychology, to come closer to man while stepping back from intrigue and from the theatrical clichés which have already half-mummified it." When that day came, filmmakers who had learned to live with freedom would work unfettered. They would make movies the way he wrote. Until then he would renounce films. If he could not make "his" great picture, he would refuse to allow anyone else to make it in his place. Film rights to his books were no longer for sale, a boycott that would last for seven years.
But the false start had not been a total loss. He had made as fair amount of money, a hint of what he could get from the cinema if ever he decided to bow to its laws. "From the first Maigrets, the movies were a good fairy to me," the memorialist would later acknowledge. ... In 1931, movies were his second biggest source of income (75,000 franc), after the Maigret novels published by Fayard. If we take into account the financial resources the Simenons needed for their extravagant lifestyle, we get an idea of the strength of principle required to keep his inspector off the screen, albeit temporarily.