Vive la France! Blogathon – Les Diaboliques (1955)

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Not only is Les Diaboliques (1955, dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot) one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time, it is also one of the most unsettling. Georges van Parys’ terrifying score in the opening credits is enough to send shivers down your spine – and remind you of Cape Fear (1962, dir. J. Lee Thompson) in the process – but the steady pace towards the shocking ending is on a whole other level.

School teachers Christina Delassalle (Vera Coulzot) and Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) conspire to kill Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse), a tyrannical school headmaster and their husband and lover, respectively. They carry out their carefully thought-out plan by sedating him and drowning him in a bathtub one night. They then throw his body in the school’s swimming pool, only to find it gone the next day…

The film’s bleak look and overall feel is perfectly suited for its plot and subject matter and what’s great about it is that it hits you straight away. From the beginning, we get this immense sense of dread and doom, so raw and unnapologetically out in the open, which is something I always found particularly brilliant about French cinema of the era. Here, Nicole and Christina’s first interaction sets the tone for the rest of the movie, as it reveals the violent nature of this three-way relationship, while also letting us know who’s in charge. Their scenes together set the plot in motion and the subsequent events are increasingly unnerving, particularly that gruesome murder in the middle of the night, after which, things get even spookier, if that’s even possible. The swimming pool sequence, especially, is a prime example of the ‘anticipation of the bang’ phenomenon that goes with psychological thrillers and it is perhaps the most significant moment in the film, as it changes the course of the narrative and shifts the dynamics between the main characters. This is where the cracks start to show…

Oh and if you’re sensing some Hitchcock vibes, there’s a reason for that. Apparently, Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him for the rights of the book (She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac) by just a few hours and Hitch subsequently called it one of his favorite movies. Luckily, Boileau-Narcejac also wrote D’Entre Les Morts, which, of course, became Vertigo (1958), so…

For more posts on the Vive Le France! Blogathon, click here.

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COMEDY GOLD #18: The picnic from To Catch a Thief (1955)

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To Catch a Thief (1955, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) boasts not only two of the most beautiful people who have ever lived as its leads, but also some of the most breath-taking landscape ever put on film. Let’s face it, To Catch a Thief is pure eye candy! But more importantly than that, it remains one of Hitchcock’s most well-rounded and quintessential films, ticking nearly all the boxes when it comes to genres. It’s a thriller, it’s a romance, it’s a comedy, you name it. And while one could focus on Jessie Royce Landis’ entire performance for this month’s COMEDY GOLD, the picnic scene ultimately takes the cake. At this point, the police are after retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant) following a string of robberies and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) is at the wheel, driving him away from them. After a while, they stop at a pre-chosen spot and have a little picnic. Francie’s onto John and she lets him know that not only does she know what’s going on but that she wants in on it. The whole scene is filled with charming little quips here and there, culminating in an equally charming kiss, but the stand-out moment has to be the infamous ‘Do you want a leg or a breast?’ scene, a line which was improvised by Kelly, prompting an improvised response from Grant, all without missing a beat. Well, nearly. He almost started laughing, but managed to keep it together. I’m not sure many people in his position would have.

SCREENPLAY BY: June Mathis

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June Mathis’ legendary eye for detail and sense of plot and theme are second only to her perseverance and determination; her accomplishments in the early to mid-1920s led to her being ranked by the Academy as the third most powerful woman in Hollywood, behind only Mary Pickford and Norma Talmadge.

Born in Colorado in 1887, June Mathis initially pursued a career in vaudeville at the age of 12, finding success in San Francisco. When she realized she wanted to write instead, she entered a screenwriting contest. She ended up receiving several offers and her first produced script came in 1915 with The House of Tears (dir. Edwin Carewe). She signed with Metro, wrote for some of the biggest stars of her day, and in the early 1920s became the first and only female executive in Hollywood. In 1921, came The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (dir. Rex Ingram), a project that belonged to Mathis in nearly every way. She wrote the script, chose the director, and perhaps more significantly, the star, one Rudolph Valentino. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse became the biggest-grossing film of 1921, launching its three principals players – Mathis, Ingram and, of course, Rudy – into superstardom. Her lifelong friendship with Valentino was a genuine and prosperous one, with Mathis writing several films for him including The Young Rajan (1922, dir. Phil Rosen), Blood and Sand (1922, dir. Fred Niblo) and The Hooded Falcon (1924, dir. Joseph Henabery). The jaw-droppingly disasterous production of Ben Hur (1925, dir. Fred Niblo) came just a year after the controversial editing of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924), but thankfully First National Pictures was just around the corner, ready to take her in. While there, she wrote several comedy scripts for Coleen Moore, and after two years, she joined United Artists. After Rudolph Valentino’s death in 1926, she loaned her spot in the crypt in the then-Hollywood Memorial Cemetery for him to be buried there. In 1927, June Mathis died from a heart ailment at the age of 40. To this day, Mathis and Valentino rest next to each other in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.