Diabolique (1955)

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An abused, neglected wife and her husband’s jaded mistress plot the perfect murder.

The biggest pat on the back for this film goes to the writers. The way the characters are developed turns the screw of intensity until finally the ending is revealed. If you haven’t seen it, let me say it is not like other endings, it is a magnificent one, set apart.

Many writers were involved in starting and completing this film. After the final scenes’ power, you will likely agree with me it shows! The director is Henri-Georges Clouzot. He is known for other intensely dark yet compelling thrillers like this one. The films he has done as listed in his IMDB bio are: “Le Corbeau and “The Wages of Fear.” I admit to not seeing these films, but I want to after seeing “Les Diabolique.” He is compared in the bio to Hitchcock except with films that “do not have as much light relief.”

Le Corbeau got Georges in a lot of trouble. The French government thought he presented France in a dark and bad light so he was banned from making films for several years. Though there are many other stories about this director, I feel that one is the most telling about his honesty and integrity as a filmmaker. Thank goodness I don’t live in a censored state like he did. I don’t think I would be able to stand for it. Inevitably, this made him tough and thoughtful about his craft.

The brutal scene pictured here is a good followup to the director who crafted this amazing film. By today’s standards, it’s tame but for 1955 it was more brutal & mysterious than Hitchcock and that’s why people still love it to this day.

This film takes place in a French boys’ school where most the characters work. The Headmaster has been cheating on his wife for years and his mistress as well as the wife, work at the school. This is where the story is told and the exquisite tension begins.

You see a far different school than ours in America today. The teachers are smoking in the presence of the students, the kids food fight regularly, although it is smart how they just don’t feed them for the malfeasance. It seems to be ameliorated the next day. Funny what a schoolmaster hunger can be right? The headmaster is a womanizer, a rapist (in theory), and an all around unlikable guy. We start to see right away he needs to be killed, or at least we hope. As the two women drive together, they discuss a plan to get rid of this guy once and for all. For all intents and purposes, it seems like a perfect plan for murder.

I want to make a comment about the practical effects. Obviously back then it was all they had to work with but they are so much fun to watch. I recently watched “Eyes Without a Face,” another classic horror, and the car scenes were so funny to me. It looks so fake and yet they probably thought it was so real for the time. The scenes in these cars are even more archaic and also more funny to me. It really shows how far we’ve come with effects. Now back to the idea of this plot, with no spoilers.

The film is black and white of course and filmed almost entirely at the house which is the school for boys. The swimming pool that is part of their plan is at the school. They do a great job distracting the viewer with activities of the children. We find that the husband/headmaster has a lot to lose if his wife divorces him. He hits her and treats her miserably. As the viewer it’s hard to not imagine killing him, he’s that bad. BUT as we all know in the civilized world, it’s never appropriate to kill someone. We watch these two women make their plans, as he equally humiliates the mistress though not as badly, and their path takes them to another location: a holiday hotel.

The little couple that manage the hotel are side-splittingly funny. They are innocents and it’s funny how people intending to kill can look at innocents with such jealousy. Once the deed is done, there’ll be no going back.

I’ll leave my summary there for you. I haven’t given anything away except the fact that there is a great ending. I would challenge you to be brave and watch this old film. It’s better than so many modern murder mysteries.  If you’ve seen it, do leave some thoughts in the comments. I enjoy discussing this and other murder mysteries in this genre. Thos eare my thoughts, what did you think of this film?

 

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