Diabolique [Les Diaboliques]
This is my entry in the The Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) Blogathon. Please click on the link and check out the entries by my fellow bloggers! I would like to also thank Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci [Tales of the Easily Distracted] and Rebecca Barnes [ClassicBecky’s Brain Food] for putting this all together and letting me be a part of it
Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of the thriller. He did it better, more often and more consistently than anyone else. Others have made excellent thrillers, but they are always compared back to the master. Hell, these films are even called “Hitchcockian Thrillers.” This genre is the focus of this lovely, little blogathon. They are basically thrillers that are so freaking good, that could have been made by Hitchcock, himself. Clouzot’s Diabolique holds an interesting place amongst these films. Hitchcock almost made this film. Diabolique is based off a novel by Boileau and Narcejac. Hitchcock was actually looking for the rights to this, but Clouzot beat him to it! There were no hard feelings from Hitchcock, however. He later adapted another Boileau and Narcejac novel with Vertigo (which is one of my favorites). Also, he reportedly showed Diabolique to those who helped him make Vertigo and Pyscho as a great example of a thriller.
Diabolique is about a wealthy, kindly woman, Christina Delassale (Vera Clouzot (the director’s wife)) who is tormented and abused by her gold-digging husband, Michel Delassale (Paul Meurisse). They run a boarding school for little boys. Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) is a teacher at the school and also Michel’s not-so-secret mistress. Michel is quickly characterized as the villain in the film. He is horrible to his wife and mistress both. He buys rotten food for the children of the school and hands out outrageous punishments for the slightest offenses. Nicole, surprisingly, is Christina’s friend. They have struck up an odd partnership and are out to get rid of Michel. While Nicole pushes for action to be taken against this horrible man, Christina is much more hesitant. These two women are set up as diametric opposites. Nicole is a taller, more masculine blonde. She is anything but passive. Christina is much more sensitive and hesitant to act. Her appearance is much more fragile and feminine than Nicole. She is also a foreigner and a devout Catholic with heart issues (apparently she’s sickly and doesn’t deal with stress well). There are also a number of smaller characters who serve to add some humor to this dark film.
I’m not going to get into much more of the plot or characterization. If you have never seen Diabolique, you really should avoid spoilers like the plague. It is jam-packed with shocks, twists and turns. If you are watching it for the second, third or tenth time, you will see many little hints and clues scattered throughout the film. Also, the cinematography and lighting for this film are absolutely stellar. There is a lot of play with shadows, especially in the most “important” moments in the movie. This film can hold its own with any Hitchcock movie and is considered one of the greatest French thriller of all time.
Creepy Credits:. The words are projected on a filthy pool of water, which is constantly rippling. The music starts off as a standard, pretty creepy score. Then the voices of young boys are introduced into the music. After that an organ starts to play the theme (this is were I was getting pretty weirded out). Finally the original theme comes into this mix even louder with the organ and the choir continuing to play/sing (unmistakably the score to a very scary movie!).
How to Watch: Do yourself a favor and watch this at night in a dark room. I’ve watched in the middle of the afternoon and its not just not the same.
Who to Watch This With: Probably not the best for young children. I don’t want to say much more (for fear of getting into spoilers), but there are some rather disturbing images, which may lead to nightmares… and not only for the little ones!
Final Verdict: Diabolique is a wonderful example of a suspenseful, intelligent and nuanced thriller. It is beautifully shot and the plot is masterfully crafted. Whether it’s the setting or the characters, this movie is unmistakably French. And to give credit where credit is due: Clouzot, himself, is a wonderful director, who shines in this film. Its totally like Hitchcock, but not really… Maybe thats a bit of a cop-out from me, but I don’t mean it to be. Just give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean.
Now, watch it and let me know what you think!