Belgian author Georges Simenon, born in Liège in 1903, discovered his love of reading fairly early on. He stopped going to school at the tender age of fifteen and began writing for the local newspaper under the pen name G. Sim. His time at the paper not only helped him acquire brand new skills, such as quick editing, but also provided him with a peek into the seedy side of his hometown. Simenon’s first novel, Au Pont des Arches, was written when he was sixteen and published after he turned eighteen. In 1922, the novelist settled down in Paris with his first wife but eventually went on to travel extensively, all the while writing profusely. He was known to pen eighty pages a day and had a tendency to finish a novel within a week and a half. During his long and rich life marked by living abroad and bedding women (he famously declared to have slept with no more or less than ten thousand women), Simenon published literal heaps of books, with his opus including more than one hundred and fifty novellas, almost two hundred novels, a number of pulp novels written under pseudonyms, many articles and a few autobiographies. Seventy-five of the novels and twenty-eight of the novellas shared a famous protagonist: French police detective Jules Maigret, who he created in 1930. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that his many written works served as inspiration for quite a few motion pictures, with Simenon ending up with more than one hundred sixty film credits to his name.

The author’s popular detective was transferred to the big screen a mere two years after being conceived (in the 1930 novel Pietr-le-Letton): In 1932, Jean Renoir wrote and directed the adaptation of the seventh Maigret novel La Nuit du carrefour (Night at the Crossroads) which was published just a year earlier. Starring the director’s brother Pierre Renoir as the blunt protagonist, Night at the Crossroads was described by Jean-Luc Godard not just as Renoir’s most mysterious movie, but also “the only great French detective movie—in fact, the greatest of all adventure movies.” Two other adaptations of Simenon’s Maigret novels shot in the 1930s are Le Chien jaune (The Yellow Dog, 1932) and La Tête d’un homme (A Man’s Neck, 1933). The former was directed by Jean Tarride with his father Abel Tarride in the lead role, while the latter was helmed by Julien Duvivier and featured Harry Baur as the Inspector, garnering praise for its alluring atmosphere and well-written script. The book La Tête d’un homme was adapted once more, but this time into Burgess Meredith’s 1949 American film The Man on the Eiffel Tower. The movie was deemed a flop and for years it was thought to be lost, but ultimately wound up found and restored.

The 1940s saw a resurgence of Maigret adaptations, with Albert Préjean taking on the mantle of Maigret in three films: Richard Pottier’s Picpus (1943) and Les Caves du Majestic (Majestic Hotel Cellars, 1945), as well as Maurice Tourneur’s Cécile est morte! (Cecile is Dead, 1944). It is safe to say that lovers of the literary detective were nowhere near impressed with Préjean’s portrayal (both in terms of his physical appearance and characterization) and that the three movies were forgotten. However, the late 1950s turned out to be a good time period for cinematic adaptations of Simenon’s popular novels. Both Maigret tend un piège (Maigret Sets a Trap, 1958) and Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (1959) were directed by Jean Delannoy and written by Delannoy, Rodolphe-Maurice Arlaud and Michel Audiard, whereas director Gilles Grangier’s Maigret voit rouge (Maigret Sees Red, 1963) was penned by Gilles Grangier and Jacques Robert. Legendary French actor Jean Gabin who, just like his predecessor, starred in all three pictures, was hailed as the perfect incarnation of the Inspector, with Simenon himself stating as much.

During the 1960s, Maigret may have been absent from films, but was quite prominent on television screens. The BBC TV series Maigret (1960-1963), created by Simenon himself, spanned fifty-two episodes and starred Rupert Davies. There was also a Dutch series of the same name that lasted from 1964 to 1968 and had two actors play the lead role during the course of its eighteen episodes. The Italian show Le inchieste del commissario Maigret aired from 1964 to 1972 and starred Gino Cervi, while the French made a series entitled Les enquêtes du commissaire Maigret, with Jean Richard portraying the titular hero from 1967 to 1990.

Simenon stopped writing eight years before his death in 1989, and the following decade saw the creation of two other Maigret adaptations. There was the highly praised 1992 British series Maigret with Shakespearean actor Michael Gambon and a 1991 French series with Bruno Cremer that lasted for fourteen seasons. And then, in 2016, huge Maigret fan Rowan Atkinson had the privilege of portraying the character he was so captivated with, in a British miniseries comprised of four ninety-minute episodes set in the 1950s. The latest adaptation is the French film Maigret et la jeune morte that will be released in April 2022, directed by Patrice Leconte and starring Gérard Depardieu.

But of course, adaptations of Simenon’s other books are equally worth mentioning. While the Maigret novels started getting their cinematic counterparts in 1932, works that did not involve the investigator had to wait until 1942. It began with a small film by Jean Dréville called Annette et la dame blonde that was soon forgotten. A truly successful movie was Les Inconnus dans la maison (The Strangers in the House, 1942), Henri Decoin’s crime drama about a mysterious murder that happens in a mansion, home of attorney Loursat and his daughter Nicole. The fantastic performance by actor Raimu, as well as the well-thought-out screenplay by Henri-Georges Clouzot who added fantastic scenes that were not in the novel but greatly contribute to the film’s overall atmosphere and plot, are some of the reasons why Decoin’s film is considered a high-quality adaptation. Similar things could be said for Louis Daquin’s Le Voyageur de la Toussaint (Strange Inheritance) that came out a year later and was based on Marcel Aymé’s amazing script.

Another fantastic adaptation with Decoin sitting in the director’s chair was La Vérité sur Bébé Donge (The Truth About Bebe Donge, 1952), starring the phenomenal Danielle Darrieux and Jean Gabin as a couple in a declining marriage. The 1960s were a fruitful period for bringing Simenon’s works to the screen and one of the fines examples thereof is Édouard Molinaro's La Mort de Belle (The Passion of Slow Fire, 1960), a superbly acted, well-paced, contemplative drama that The New York Times deemed “an elegantly comprehensive and persuasive movie version of a Georges Simenon novel”.

Other notable cinematic versions of Simenon’s novels include several films by Pierre Granier-Deferre: the 1971 drama La veuve Couderc (The Widow Couderc), a mood film ripe with portrayals of rural life; his poignant 1973 film Le Train (The Train) about an encounter between a Frenchman and a Jewish German woman on a train in the midst of escaping the German army about to enter France; the 1973 drama Le Chat (The Cat) revolving around a an old, unhappily married couple, a phenomenal depiction of marital ennui not lacking in symbolism; the 1982 crime film L'Étoile du Nord (The North Star) that won a César Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Fanny Cottençon).

Georges Simenon died of natural causes in 1989, at the age of eighty-six. Such was his cultural significance that in 2003, a silver commemorative coin was made in his honor (the Belgian 100 Years of Georges Simenon coin). In the decades following his death, there was no shortage of films, TV movies and series that used the author’s novels, both Maigret and non-Maigret ones, as their source material. And seeing as how not only the aforementioned Maigret film with Gérard Depardieu is in the works, but also an adaptation of the novel Les volets verts, starring Depardieu yet again, it is safe to say that the author’s rich legacy continues to live on.

Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art.