(1955) director Henri-Georges Clouzot
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (known in the US as Diabolique) is sort of the great Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. Or so the story goes, in that Clouzot swept up the rights to the book “Celle qui n’était plus” (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac before Hitchcock could get his hands on it. And, according to the story, Boileau and Narcejac then wrote “D’entre les morts” (The Living and the Dead) for Hitchcock who in turn developed it into his classic Vertigo (1958). Another story around this film and Hitchcock is that he supposedly made Psycho (1960) as somewhat of a response to Les Diaboliques, perhaps namely in regards to the shocker ending opportunity.
The film stars Véra Clouzot (wife of the director) as a fragile wife of a selfish and cruel husband (Paul Meurisse), who together run a boarding school. Simone Signoret is a teacher at the school and openly Meurisse’s lover, but who also seems to loathe his cruelties. Together they conspire to kill Meurisse over a long holiday weekend, drugging him and then drowning him in Signoret’s bathtub. They then dump his body in the school’s murky swimming pool, hoping to make it look like an accident. Only the body is not there when the pool is drained and it seems as though his ghost has come back to haunt them.
There’s more to the story, but as the film asks kindly at its end to not spoil the surprises for anyone, I won’t detail the twists and turns and the drama. You know, I had first seen this film some time ago, and I remembered liking it quite well. I had only vaguely recalled the exact details of the drama, even though I was aware of a much less respected American re-make that came out in 1996. And yet, still, knowing sort of how the story was going to turn out, I did feel a little less compelled that the first time around.
I decided to re-visit Diabolique because though I am more than buried by my long list of films that I want to see that I have never seen (a priority that drives most of my viewing), I was also thinking how that there were a number of films that I’d really liked when I’d seen them some years ago (before I started writing about every film I watch), and I was interested in seeing them again.
Diabolique is an excellent film, and I’m glad to have re-watched it. It’s certainly not a Hitchcock film, but it’s fun to watch it with those considerations in mind. And truly, if you have never seen it, the less you know the better. The shocks aren’t quite as dramatic as you might think, but the tensions in not knowing exactly what is happening, the lingering uncertainties, those are the things that make the film at its best. Lacking those does take a level off of the fullness of enjoyment.