Monday, July 8, 2013

Movie Review: Les Diaboliques (1955)

Over the summer, Number Two Son is supposed to watch some French movies for his AP French class.  So the other night, he and I settled in to watch Les Diaboliques, a 1955 thriller by Henri-Georges Clouzot, one of the most famous of French directors.  In the United States the film was released with the title Diabolique.  We watched the excellent version put out by the Criterion Collection, which has done such a great job of preserving many high-quality films that are not as well known in this country as they should be.

We had a blast, because this is a great movie.  Les Diaboliques means "The Devils," and the film tells the story of two women who plot against the same man.  The man is Michel Dalassalle, who runs a second-rate boarding school close to Paris.  One of the women is Michel's wife, and the other is his mistress, and both of them work at the school, which Dalassalle runs as a tyrant.  As the film opens, the two women are working on a plan to deal with Michele once and for all.  But something goes wrong, and the tension mounts as the two women argue over what to do next.

I can't say much more than that, because it would be criminal to give away one of the very best movie plots I have ever seen.  Les Diaboliques actually concludes with a plea to the audience not to reveal what happens, and that seems like a fair request to me.  I will only say that Les Diaboliques is often compared to the great Hitchcock movies of the era, and that this comparison is fully justified.  The plot was taken from a story by two French writers:  Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.  Hitchcock later took a different story from the same writers to make Vertigo.  Of the two stories, I think the one for Les Diaboliques is better, and I am certain that if Hitchcock had made this movie, it would be regarded as one of his greatest triumphs.

I realize, of course, that not everyone likes thrillers.  But if you do, and if you would like to have the joy of watching a great thriller that you haven't already seen, then you are in for a treat.

Finally, here's the trailer for Les Diaboliques, which does a better job of capturing what it's like than I can do in this review.

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