Les Diaboliques (1955)

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot and Paul Meurisse
Arrow Films
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 12
Available 29 October 2007

Nicole and Christina are both involved with the same sadistic penny-pinching misogynist Michel. Christina is his wife and owner of the boy's boarding school where they all work, whilst Nicole is his mistress, who he openly flaunts in front of his wife. When the women have had enough of his behaviour they hatch a plot to lure him into the countryside, drown him and make it look like an accident. However, when the body disappears and the suit he died in is returned from the cleaners, it is certain that something has gone wrong...

Les Diaboliques (1955) is a magnificent gem of a film, and as a thriller is on par with anything that Hitchcock was producing at the time. Directed by Henri-Georges Clozot, and shot in black and white, Les Diabloiques was quite shocking for the time and still holds up well today.

It's difficult to talk about the plot of the film without giving away the twist at the end. In fact when the film was first released Clozot begged reviewers not to give away the ending, so who am I to go against the director's wishes. Of course, this is a moot point if you have seen the Sharon Stone remake.

As well as the plot holding up so do the various performances by the cast. Paul Meurisse, as Michel, positively drips vile invective when talking to either his wife or mistress. Right from the opening shot, showing him callously running over a child's boat in a puddle, the audience takes a distinct dislike to him. His further actions only go to move your sympathies towards the two would-be murderesses. Simone Signoret fills the screen with a pervasive sexuality, though we are aware that her character, Nicole, acts in a manner that would suggest that she has possible lesbian designs on Christina. Like most of the film, this concern is just misdirection. In fact the best advice when watching the film is to play close attention to what is happening because little of it is what it appears to be. Christina is played as a waifish ruin of a woman by Clozot's own wife Vera.

The print is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ration, with a mono audio track. Given its age the print is surprisingly clean and, though it does not mention it, I would hazard a guess that this is the restored print which was originally distributed in the States.

The disc comes with an extra in the form of a full length commentary by Professor Susan Hayward. Although, there is little doubt that her insights into the film are well worth listening too, they are delivered in a very academic manner, which is a little dry for my taste.

So, a nice little gem from way back when, with a twist in the tail.

Charles Packer

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