Friday Flashback: Les Diaboliques (1955)

I watched this film for the first time a couple of years ago and all I could think was that I couldn’t believe I waited so long to see this masterfully haunting film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. In 2007, Time magazine even placed this thriller on their list of the Top 25 horror films (ranked 19th). Now, it gets a marvelous new Blu-Ray release from the wonderful folks at the Criterion Collection. The Blu-Ray contains many new features (as Criterion usually includes), including a new digital restoration.

Based on Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac’s novel She Who Was No More, Clouzot was able to grab the film rights to the book – just before Alfred Hitchcock, “the master of suspense” was able to. In watching Les Diaboliques, you can clearly see just how much Hitchcock would have loved to have gotten his hands on this project – it fits in so well with his body of work. The film would go on to inspire one of Hitchcock’s latter efforts, the American classic Psycho.

The film takes place at a boarding school run by the despotic and cruel Michel (Paul Meurisse). The school is owned by his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot), who works there as a teacher. Christina is a fragile, timid creature who is the object of her husband’s abuse. Michel is also having an affair with Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), another teacher at the school – and he isn’t exactly discreet about it. The two women devise a plan to kill this beast of a man. Signoret takes the reins here, leading the hesitant Clouzot on as they plot to drown him in a bathtub and throw him in the school’s deserted pool. When the body floats up, it will simply look like an accident…But the body doesn’t surface. In fact, when the pool is drained, the body is nowhere to be found – leaving the delicate Christina in an absolute state of horror and petrified of getting caught.

This is a classic “revenge film” with twists in the story that you surely do not see coming. Clouzot also captures some frightening images in this glorious black-and-white film. The performances by the three stars are marvelous – and the finale just takes your breathe away – so much so, that the end credit asks viewers not to give away anything to others – an olden-day “anti-spoiler” alert, if you will. As a horror/thriller, the film sets a benchmark for others that would follow, including the aforementioned Psycho, Polanski’s Repulsion, DePalma’s Sisters, and Sluizer’s The Vanishing. One of the very best films ever made, for sure – surely strong enough to be widely appreciated and admired by a new audience 50+ years later. Rent it, buy it…watch it if you haven’t already…and you can thank me later.

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8 Responses to Friday Flashback: Les Diaboliques (1955)

  1. Ivar says:

    Just today I bought this movie from my local DVD store (Arrowfilm-edition)! Watched once again, one of my favoritest suspense movies of all time!!! Thanks for your nice review!

  2. gita says:

    iam going to see the film

  3. Joel Burman says:

    I hate that Criterion has regional coding on their blu-rays I need this one bad.

    This might be Clouzos finest film and he truly is up there (if not beyond) Hitchcock when it comes to suspense.

    • Agree with you in your comparison with Hitch. It is certainly my favorite of Clouzo’s, of the ones I have seen. I was not aware of Criterion doing that — sounds lame! But they usually do have the best extras and commentary out there.

  4. Castor says:

    Loved this movie! One of the most suspenseful ever made and very Hitchcokian in that regard. Nice review Peter.

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