Sunday, October 24, 2010

#79. Diabolique (1955)


Directed By: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse



Tag line: "See it, be amazed at it, but... BE QUIET ABOUT IT!"

Trivia:  Two women drive from the outskirts of Paris to Niort, the birthplace of director Henri-Georges Clouzot






Diabolique is the film that Alfred Hitchcock almost made. The Master of Suspense was anxiously pursuing the rights to the French novel, Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More), the literary work that would form the basis of Diabolique, when, legend has it, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him to the punch, purchasing the rights only hours ahead of Hitchcock’s offer to do so. Yet Hitch wasn’t bitter about losing out to Clouzot. On the contrary; he became quite a fan of Diabolique, and the events of this film would serve as an influence on one of Hitchcock’s most popular works; the 1960 psychological thriller, Psycho

Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the director of a boarding school for boys that's owned by his wife, Christina (Véra Clouzot). Privately, Michel is a brute, a man who terrorizes both his wife and mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret), also a teacher at the school. Michel is abusive, both verbally and physically, and both women have had enough of his hateful ways. To this end, Nicole formulates a detailed plan by which she and Christina will murder Michel and dispose of his body. Despite a few second thoughts by Christina, the plan goes off without a hitch, and it appears as if both women will literally get away with murder. That is, until a string of coincidences suggests that Michel may not be dead after all. 

In true Hitchcockian fashion, Diabolique perfectly balances elements of suspense and horror, with a few surprising twists thrown in to keep us on our toes . One such twist involves the film’s sudden change of pace, during which it transforms itself from a tale of murder into a perplexing mystery, complete with scenes of unbearable tension. Hitchcock would use a similar narrative switch years later in Psycho, a movie that begins with a robbery and ends amid a bloody mess at the sinister Bates Motel. In fact, there are a number of similarities between Diabolique and Psycho, not the least of which is each film’s murder scene. Like Psycho, Diabolique’s killing occurs in the bathroom, but with one small difference. Whereas Janet Leigh suffered a gruesome fate while taking a shower, Paul Meurisse meets the grim reaper at the bottom of a bathtub. 

If you’re a Hitchcock fan, then I would most certainly recommend Diabolique, but let me give you a little advice: don’t plan on taking a bath once the film is over. In short, Diabolique does for bathtubs what Psycho did for showers!








2 comments:

DorianTB said...

I enjoyed your review of DIABOLIQUE! I'd agree it has plenty of things in common with PSYCHO, though I'd say DIABOLIQUE is even darker. Like Stanley Donen's CHARADE, DIABOLIQUE is often called "The Best Hitchcock Film That Hitchcock NEVER Made!" The difference is that CHARADE recalls playful, polished, soignée Hitchcock films such as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, whereas DIABOLIQUE, based on a novel by Boileau & Narcejac of VERTIGO fame, is more like a precursor of Hitchcock’s darker, more sinister PSYCHO.

Dave Becker said...

Dorian: Thanks for the comment.

I agree with you in that I also think DIABOLIQUE is a much darker film. I was also fortunate in that I knew very little about the story going in, so the first time I saw DIABOLIQUE, the 'twist' at the end absolutely floored me (Unfortunately, PSYCHO was a bit too mainstream, and as such had been spoiled for me long before I got a chance to see it. Which also might have had something to do with it not feeling as dark as DIABOLIQUE. Was PSYCHO spoiled by it's own notoriety? Just a thought).