Les Diaboliques is the classic French suspense film from 1955, starring the incomparably beautiful Simone Signoret and directed by the French Alfred Hitchcok, Henri-Georges Clouzot, who barely beat Hitch to the rights from the novel. A well acted and directed story of murder, betrayal and suspense, it was a sensation when it first came out. It had an epilogue that The Crying Game would imitate many years later, asking the audience not to reveal the ending to others. While it has lost a little of its bite in the ensuing 50 years, it is still an excellent and taunt film.
Christina (Véra Clouzot, the director's wife), her abusive husband, Michel (Paul Meurisse), and his lover(!) Nicole (the aformentioned Signoret), all work at the boarding school that Christina and Michel bought with Christina's inheritance. It is a dreary place, with a penny-pinching Michel doing his best to make everyone's lives miserable, including both (or maybe especially) Christina and Nicole. Michel is constantly playing one off the other, lord of his roost, not shy about using physical as well as mental abuse to get his way.
The women begin to talk about murdering Michel, with Nicole being the stronger of the two. They finally build up their courage and run off to Nicole's place, where Michel follows them. Christina, despite her misgivings, works up the courage to finally put Michel away for good.
Or is he? Funny things begin to happen, and the women begin to wonder. Fichet, a private detective, offers to help Christina to find her "missing" husband, despite her desire for him to stay clear. In a manner that would be mimiced by Peter Falk 15 years later, Fichet slowly begins to unravel the mystery. Things come to an unbearable climax, amid myriad plot twists and turns.
This was a movie that was a lot of fun, especially thru the first half or so, until it became clear to me what was going on. There were several nearly comedic points of high tension and surprise, that just kept building and building, leading to a not altogether surprising (to me anyway), ending. But still, incredibly well done - bravo!All the acting was superb. The dreariness of the boarding school could hardly have been protrayed any better, with the slime covered swimming pool a perfect symbol of its disrepair. The kids were real good as well, especially the "trouble maker", who keeps seeing dead people. And Charles Vanel was great as the disheveled detective, asking the same question in different fashions to try and trip the story up, as well as doing a lot of "Oh, by the way..." questioning.
But, like I said, it wasn't as surprising as I thought it would be. It was really tense until I guessed what was going on. And I'm also confused as to why they call the movie "Diabolique" in the US. That doesn't seem to be any less foreign than "Les Diaboliques", and it makes a whole lot less sense, because there are multiple devils in this story. I was also a little confused as to where Fichet came into it, and why he stuck around.
The black and white picture was pretty crisp, as befits a Criterion Collection disc. As is also true of many earlier films, this one contains no extras at all. But it is a highly recommended disc in any case, a real suspense classic.