Mur­der­ers in search of a corpse

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

CAU­TION SHOULD be taken when rec­om­mend­ing Les Di­aboliques to any­one un­ac­quainted with the piece. It is, per­haps, best to say lit­tle else bar, “Walk, don’t run”. Henri-Ge­orges Clouzot’s im­per­ish­able thriller is such a de­light­ful tan­gle of re­ver­sals and dis­cov­er­ies that any pré­cis, how­ever eco­nom­i­cal, risks spoil­ing some of the fun.

Still, we can, per­haps, men­tion that the film seems to fol­low two women – the owner of a sec­ond-rate board­ing school and

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the lover of her hus­band, the head­teacher – as they plot to mur­der the man who is mak­ing both their lives hard to bear. The tit­u­lar fiends drown the un­for­tu­nate chap in a bath­tub and then dump the body in a swim­ming pool. When the pool is drained, how­ever, the corpse is nowhere to be seen.

Ru­mour has it that Clouzot, di­rec­tor of the equally magnificent Wages of Fear, snatched the rights to Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narce­jac’s source novel from un­der Al­fred Hitch­cock’s jeal­ous nose. It’s hard to avoid pon­der­ing what Hitch might have done with Les Di­aboliques, but it would have been a shame if we had never seen the story told amid the post-war Gal­lic grime.

The film is jus­ti­fi­ably fa­mous for the chill­ing mo­ment when – fol­low­ing a lunge into seem­ingly un­hinged ter­ri­tory – all is ex­plained in a few eco­nom­i­cal ges­tures.

But Clouzot is also to be praised for main­tain­ing a mem­o­rable at­mos­phere of muggy decadence through­out. Véra Clouzot, the di­rec­tor’s wife, fid­gets ef­fec­tively as the more timid of the con­spir­a­tors. Si­mone Sig­noret ra­di­ates car­nal con­fi­dence as her more worldly com­pan­ion. Even Pa­tri­cia High­smith might shiver at the de­grees of amoral­ity on dis­play.

If your only ex­pe­ri­ence of the pic­ture is the truly aw­ful 1996 re­make, then this wel­come reis­sue of­fers an op­por­tu­nity for ex­or­cism.

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