Mystery, Horror | 114 mins | Released: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Jean Brochard, Therese Dorny, Michel Serrault
Our Rating: 8
Black & White
In Diabolique, a second-rate boarding school is run by the tyrannical and mean Michel Delassalle (Meurisse). The school, though, is owned by Delassalle’s teacher wife, the frail Christina (Clouzot), and Delassalle flaunts his relationship with Nicole Horner (Signoret), a teacher at the school. Rather than antagonism, the two women are shown to have a somewhat close relationship, primarily based on their apparent mutual hatred of Michel, who is physically and emotionally abusive to both.
Unable to stand his mistreatment any longer, Nicole devises a plan. Though hesitant at first, Christina ultimately consents to help Nicole. Using a threatened divorce to lure Michel to Nicole’s apartment building in a remote village several hundred kilometers away, Christina sedates him. The two women then drown him in a bathtub and dump his body in the school’s 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.
Nicole sees in the paper that the police found the corpse. Christina goes to the morgue and learns it is not Michel’s body. There she meets Alfred Fichet (Vanel), a retired private detective. He gets involved in the case, much to Nicole’s chagrin.
When Christina and Alfred come back, a boy is punished for breaking a window; the boy says Michel punished him. After hearing this, Christina becomes very sick. She is unable to be photographed for the school photo; however, it seems that Michel is in it, in the back next to a window. Nicole becomes worried and leaves the school.
Christina, overcome by fear, tells Alfred everything. He does not believe her, but he investigates the pool. Christina hears some noises and wanders the school. She concludes that someone is in the school and she runs back to her room. She finds Michel’s corpse in the bathtub. Michel rises from the tub, and Christina has a heart attack and dies.
Michel and Nicole have set up Christina from the beginning. Michel is not dead, but acting dead to scare Christina to death. But as soon as Nicole and Michel escape Alfred is there to arrest them.
Some time later, the same boy who had earlier broken a window breaks another. When asked how he got his slingshot back, the boy says that Christina gave it back to him. A final title screen in Diabolique tells the audience not to reveal the ending to others.
Les Diaboliques, released as Diabolique in the United States and variously translated as The Devils or The Fiends, is a 1955 French black-and-white psychological thriller feature film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel. Diabolique is based on the novel Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau. The story blends elements of thriller and horror, with the plot focusing on a woman and her husband’s mistress who conspire to murder the man; after the crime is committed, however, his body disappears, and a number of strange occurrences ensue. Diabolique was the 10th highest grossing film of the year with a total of 3,674,380 admissions in France.
Clouzot, right after finishing Wages of Fear, snatched the screenplay rights for Diabolique from Alfred Hitchcock. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock’s Psycho. Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique.
Now considered iconic in the horror genre and film in general, Les Diaboliques ranked #49 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Nicole Horner: [angrily] “Some things are hard to swallow, and I’m not talking about the fish.”
Alfred Fichet, le commissaire: “To commit suicide in the Seine, one doesn’t need to undress.”