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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24 thoughts on “Vive la France! Blogathon – Les Diaboliques (1955)

  1. Mike Noonan

    Thanks Carol. Will have to see it. Will read it after I see the film. Btw, saw and enjoyed “ pickup on south street “.Thelma Ritter deserved the Oscar nomination.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with you Carol, this is one of the all-time great suspense (and terrifying) movie thrillers. I saw it years ago unawares and I still can’t forget it. Thank you for covering it for the Vive la France blogathon and thank you for participating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, this is a film you won’t forget once you’ve seen it. I remember reading of Hitchcock’s great admiration for the film and that he watched it many times prior to and while filming Vertigo. The Clouzot/Les Diaboliques influence on Hitchcock becomes most apparent with Psycho,

    Thanks for a very fine post for our Vive la France! blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG – this is one of the most suspenseful films ever. I love Hitchcock, but I’m glad he didn’t make it.. Somehow, the French vibe makes it even more nail biting. Great choice – great post about probably my favorite French film.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Le Magalhaes

    I love this film so much – and the ending made my jaw drop, I didn’t see that coming at all! Your review certainly does this masterpiece justice.
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting connection to Hitchcock and Vertigo. As I was reading your fab review, I thought, “This could almost be a Hitchcock film.”

    Despite all the great things I’ve read about Les Diaboliques, I haven’t yet seen this film. I just haven’t crossed paths with it yet, but you’ve prompted me to make a greater effort. Thanks in advance. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If I hadn’t seen this film, this article would definitely made me want to see it! It’s excellent and you capture perfectly the atmosphere of this chilling film. I read a book written by Boileau-Narcejac called “Et mon tout est un homme…” when I was in high school. I wish it would be adapted on-screen. It would be VERY creepy tho.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mike Noonan

    Just saw it Carol! Thanks for the recommendation! Loved it! Didn’t read your review till after I saw it.you captured it excellently as usual. I can see why Hitchcock wanted to film it! Thanks again 👍

    Liked by 1 person

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