Murderers in search of a corpse
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
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.