Thursday, July 7, 2011
(November 1955, U.S.)
Director Alfred Hitchcock was without question one of the most influential film makers in the history of cinema; internationally as well as here in the United States. So when you watch Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE, your first thought might very well be, "Hey, this French guy was clearly influenced by Hitchcock's PSYCHO!". That's a tempting thought, but the film was first released as LES DIABOLIQUES in France in January 1955, FIVE whole years before PSYCHO ever graced the screen. In fact, Clouzot actually snatched the screenplay rights from Hitchcock and his (Clouzot's) film helped inspire PSYCHO. Robert Bloch himself, the author of the original novel PSYCHO, once stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is DIABOLIQUE. Horror? I'm not so sure myself. Suspenseful...definitely!
This French masterpiece takes place in a second-rate boarding school run by the mean and tyrannical Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse). The school, however, is owned by Delassalle's teacher-wife, the frail, weak-hearted Christina (played by Vera Clouzot). Delassalle has no reservations about flaunting his relationship with Nicole Horner (played by Simone Signoret), another teacher at the school. Rather than the expected antagonism between wife and mistress, the two women actually share a somewhat close relationship, primarily based on their apparent mutual hatred of Michel, who is physically and emotionally abusive to both. The two of them even go so far as to plan his murder together (how's THAT for tollerance and teamwork!). Through deception and sedation, the two women drown Michel in a bathtub and dump his body in the school's dirty, neglected swimming pool. When his corpse floats to the surface, they think it will appear to have been an accident. Almost everything goes according to their plans until the body fails to surface, and Michel's corpse is nowhere to be found when the pool is drained. In a late night sequence that is particularly creepy (even without the use of suspenseful music), Christina is haunted by strange noises at the school and wanders around to investigate. Back in her room, she finds Michel's corpse in the bathtub and...
What happens next is particularly scary and eventually concludes in one of those classic surprise endings. I'll be kind and not give it away to you now. Hell, even the original film contained an "anti-spoiler message" at the end credits for those in the audience. But by all means, rent DIABOLIQUE so you can experience what I'm talking about. And I do mean rent the ORIGINAL French black and white film, not that bullshit 1996 Sharon Stone remake!
Favorite line or dialogue:
M. Drain: "I may be reactionary, but this is absolutely astounding - the legal wife consoling the mistress! No, no, and no!"