Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2011
“I won’t have any regrets.”
Alfred Hitchcock may be the undisputed master of suspense, but matched toe-to-toe with Henri-Georges Clouzot, he might have lost at least two rounds.
Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear remains probably THE most suspenseful movie of all time. If you’re not mentally exhausted by watching two teams drive rickety trucks loaded with nitro-glycerin across some of the worst terrain imaginable, you have no pulse.
But in some respects, even more satisfying was his incredibly twisted thriller Diabolique. This is one of those movies that’s so influential, you’ve seen the influence in countless imitations, even if you never knew where those influences came from.
I would like very much to describe some of the ways in which this movie changed the face of modern mysteries and thrillers, but to even hint at them MIGHT take away some of the enjoyment for first time viewers. And, like the advertisements said, you’d have to be a devil to deprive someone of that pleasure.
The story involves a miserable wife Christina (Vera Clouzot) married to a boorish husband Michel (Meurisse), who is openly having an affair with Nicole (Signoret). Both women have been abused and greatly wronged by Michel. And, as one character points out, when the mistress and the wife start plotting together, it can’t come to any good.
They come up with the perfect murder. During a vacation, they will lure Michel out to the country, drug and drown him, and dump his body into the murky swimming pool at the school where they work. Eventually the body will rise and everyone will assume Michel simply drowned accidentally. Perfect.
But not so fast…all goes well, until Michel’s body doesn’t end up where they left it. Other claim to have seen the dead man. His suit comes back from the cleaners in perfect condition. And soon, a retired police detective (Vanel) is offering his services to the two ladies, who DON’T want the crime solved.
This is my all time favorite suspense movie, and a movie so powerful it’s been said it even overwhelmed Alfred Hitchcock, and partly inspired Psycho. I love that movie as well, but in a side-by-side comparison, there is no contest. If you thought the finale of Hitchcock’s film was surprising and unforgettable, wait until you see how Diabolique reaches its shocking conclusion.
But don’t give anything away!
Criterion has done a beautiful job with the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot on Blu-ray. This is a crisp, clean black and white offering that looks quite lovely. A couple of darker stretches betray the film’s age with a few noticeable marks, but for the most part, the detail levels are incredible and the contrast supreme.
This movie has very little music…in fact, only a bit at the beginning and end. The way the uncompressed mono soundtrack delivers dynamic range is through the stretches where the silence is almost unbearable. The audio is clean throughout, and the French dialogue seems very well-rendered.
There is a terrific introduction by Serge Bromberg, who co-directed Clouzot’s final unfinished film Inferno. An interview with mystery writer and critic Kim Newman dissects the impact and influence of the film. There is also a select scene commentary with French film scholar Kelley Conway, and the original trailer.
They don’t make suspense movies like this anymore…but when they do, they are pale imitations of Diabolique. Henri-Georges Clouzot truly delivered a masterpiece of mystery, and I am thrilled to have this all-time favorite of mine on Blu-ray from the loving hands at Criterion.