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Movie Details

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Directed By
Henri-Georges Clouzot

Written By:
Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac

Simone Signoret, Charles Vanel, Michel Serrault, Georges Poujouly, Robert Dalban, Jean Lefebvre, Noël Roquevert, Paul Meurisse, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Jean Brochard, Pierre Larquey, Thérèse Dorny, Yves-Marie Maurin, Georges Chamarat, Jacques Varennes

Diabolique (1955)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
March 9th, 2008

Sadly, 'Diabolique' has become known only to American audiences through the rather abysmal remake with Sharon Stone; the original has all but been forgotten. And that is a shame, since it is one of the most cleverly constructed thrillers ever made. It comes from French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, a contemporary of Hitchcock, and indeed he was compared to him for much of his career, and the two are very much alike, in the sense that they made films like no one else could, and chose to work almost exclusively within the realm of suspense. 'Diabolique' could very well be Clouzot's masterpiece, though that would mean it was better than Wages of Fear, and I am not sure that it is, so I will not be so hasty to call it his masterpiece. But I will say it is an amazing achievement. The plot centers on two women, Nicole (Simone Signoret) and Christina (Vera Clouzot), who are conspiring to kill Michel (Paul Meurisse), the man they are both involved with. Christina is his wife and Nicole is his mistress. He is headmaster of a boarding school for boys, and they both work there as teachers. He married Christina for her money, and flaunts Nicole in front of her. Christina is frail and sickly; Nicole wears sunglasses to hide the bruises on her face. Michel is selfish and cruel, he controls the women, and they live in fear of him, so too do the students and the rest of the staff. It is Nicole who comes up with the plan to murder him; Christina will serve as her accomplice. They lure him to Nicole's apartment by having Christina call him and tell him she wants a divorce; he arrives to make her come home with him. He drinks from a bottle of wine laced with a sedative, and while he is unconscious, Nicole puts him in the bathtub and holds him down, until he drowns. They transport his body back to the school in a large wicker trunk, and dump the body in the pool in the school's play yard. They want it to be found; this would indicate that Michel had killed himself, and they have solid alibis. But, the body mysteriously disappears. At this point, the movie becomes a superbly engaging and creepy mystery, as Michel is allegedly spotted around the campus. He could be a figment of the women's imaginations, or he could still be alive, or there could be some other explanation. To reveal anything else would be unforgivable; the film itself has a warning instructing the audience not to tell anyone about the ending, which is certainly understandable. It provides for quite an unexpected shock. That Michel is murdered is not big deal, one cannot develop much sympathy for him. But Christina is haunted by guilt, and wants to go to the police, she ends up meeting a retired detective who offers to help her find out the truth about Michel.

'Diabolique' exudes atmosphere, and what brilliant use of lighting there is in the final scenes, shadows and footsteps and creaking doors are all used to startling effect. The performances are solid and convincing. Yes, the film is in black-and-white, and in subtitled French, so that means many people would simply ignore it, in favor of the inferior 1996 version. The film exerts a sense of psychological terror, the uncertainty of whether Michel is really dead or not, or if his ghost is tormenting the women slowly drives both of them insane, especially Christina. But the truth of the matter is ultimately revealed. 'Diabolique' is indeed on par with some of Hitchcock's best work, though Clouzot never was quite as prolific, nor did he produce quite the string of masterpieces Hitchcock did in the course of a decade or so. But, in any case, 'Diabolique' is well worth seeing.

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