Diabolique (Les Diaboliques) (1955)
Reviewed on 2007 February 13
Very good French movie when you want something dark and nasty. It’s subtitled but if you get a nice copy they’re nice and crisp. It’s worth it.
Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) and his long-suffering wife Christina (Vera Clouzot, real-life wife of director Henri-Georges Clouzot) run a third-rate boys school in France. She is very beautiful and seems to be a sweet-tempered woman who cares for her wards, but Michel doesn’t care about her inner or outer beauty. He chose Christina because she came from a wealthy family. The gloomy buildings and spacious, gently decaying grounds could be pretty, and the swimming pool is huge, even if it has more crap floating in it than a CDC petri dish. If Michel would spend a franc, this could be a decent place, but he’s an abusive bum who would rather spend his wife’s dowry on good wine and fine suits. (In one scene he cuts costs by feeding the poor kids some gone-over fish.)
His ex-mistress Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) also works at the dismal school, and Christina befriends her, probably because everyone else seems to be too afraid of Michel. Not Nicole. Turns out they’re both abused by him, and Nicole has had enough. Christina fumes that he abuses her, he cheats the kids, and on top of everything, with her poor health she shortened her life when she left warm, sunny Spain to be with this Neanderthal. Their rage builds and they decide to get rid of the lout, but that’s not as easy to accomplish as they think.
The acting in this is formidable, and the tension is incredible. The setting of the run-down school only makes things more sinister. Clouzot knew how to put his audience through the wringer — The Wages of Fear makes truck driving nerve-wracking — but this is my favorite of the two. I still get spooked if I watch this thing alone at night. I didn’t see the entire remake of this, but I will say if you’re not familiar with the story, watch it with as little background as possible, and watch the original first.
Four chocolate morsels.