Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
There will be large spoilers in this review. There will also be some spoilers for Vertigo. I’ll spoil the review though: I think you should watch it. Now Go!
Hey, you went and watched it and came back to my fabulous thread just to read my thoughts and gab about it? I’m flattered. Oh, you don’t care what I think? Well… Can you like, read it anyway? Thanks…
Okay, so here is a great movie. It’s a classic in the thriller genre and rightfully so. The cover boasts that it was before Psycho and Peeping Tom, and while that is true, I feel it had very different interests than either of those and is far more in line with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I also know that Hitch tried to acquire the rights to this and I’m fairly certain Vertigo was heavily inspired by this. They have a very similar feel and both favor atmosphere over logic.
It is a film that plays with its audience so effortlessly and pulls them along, crafting a film with a big twist that I don’t believe became an ultimate cliche until the likes of Shyamalan came about. So many films owe this film due, and like the Maltese Falcon, this one manages to carry the weight of it’s legacy and be great in its own right.
The story is rather simple. A wife and her husband’s mistress decide to kill the abusive man in both their lives to finally be free. Once he’s dead, strange things start to happen.
It is in execution, that the film shows the work of a master. The pacing is meticulous and deliberate. It takes its time, every scene building upon each other. If one were to go into this film blind, they would likely have no idea where it was going. Clouzot purposely makes the film feel like it’s playing with all its cards on the table. We see the victims of abuse plan the murder, execute it, try and dispose of the body, then fall apart when things go wrong. We hear and see so much that it feels as though there’s nothing we couldn’t know, so when the twist happens, we should be shocked.
Of course, living in a world of constant twists this hampers the experience for me. In a film like this, I’ve almost been programmed to think and try and figure out the ending. I try to control this and just go with the ride (and what a ride it is!) but accidentally did come to the right conclusion. The ending and twist was still great and should be as iconic as “He was a ghost the whole time!”, but I could only imagine how floored I would be if I’d watched it in 1954, with fresh eyes. How my mind would’ve been absolutely blown. Instead, it was more of a clinical “That’s a damn fine twist”.
Now, many will notice something: Once the twist is made the film becomes a lot more silly in retrospect. Why didn’t he just kill his wife? There had to be a simpler approach than this extremely convoluted plan that added up to nothing more than a big ole “Boo!” Just try scaring her every time she jumps out the shower? Hire someone to kill her? The amount of chances such a ludicrous fake death/ghost haunting scheme could have happen and foil it all are so numerous that to fathom them is ridiculous.
It also shares this with Vertigo, which after all is said and done, you think: Well, they couldn’t have found a simpler way? In fact, the reveal and plot are almost identical, which is why I compared them.
But to do this to either film is to miss the point. It’s not a film about logic or science, it’s a film about the very essence of mystery. About simply not knowing the truth and being haunted by it. This may seem a cheap defense, it may not work for others, and I may be called a hypocrite after my logic policing in the Prometheus thread, but these films have something a movie like that does not: An excellent script that has NO cheap characters, bad dialogue, or pointless plots that go nowhere. These films, build their atmosphere and themes to the logical conclusion, then end.
Diabolique, at it’s core is about the compromise of morals for the right reasons and how it is corrosive to the human condition as well as man’s blatant acceptance to the supernatural because the truth is often very hard to see, and how this can be used to destroy man. I find these themes rather fascinating, and while I’m not sure if the latter is intentional, it is most certainly applicable.
Lastly, in an act of horrible irony, the main actress and director’s wife, Vera Clouzot, died of a heart attack at the age of 46, eerily mirroring her character’s death in this. Nothing like the tragic loss of a talented beauty to add a twinge of melancholy to a masterpiece like this.
Final word: Go see it. Blind buy the bluray if you dig Hitchcok films (but if it’s a blind buy, why the hell did you read this review damn it? You skimmed didn’t you? Skimmed this review I put like, 15 minutes work into? What the hell’s wrong with you? Get out of my thread!!! No… You can stay. I need the company… It’s… Lonely). Great film.