© 1955 Filmsonor

Diabolique (1955)

I was interested in this film mainly how it relates to one of my favorites, Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Hitchcock had just experimented with a homage to Italian neo-realist cinema, making The Wrong Man with a minimum of his usual camera tricks and as faithful as possible to the actual story it is based on.  The critics, and the director himself, were not overwhelmed by the outcome, and for his next film, he wanted to go French all the way. Hitchcock was interested in by the film rights to the novel, and, as legend has it, was beat to the punch by mere hours by director Henri-Georges Clouzot. With his never-give-in attitude, Hitch then commissioned the writers of Diabolique‘s source novel, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac and they produced From Among the Dead, a novel that had its setting transferred from Paris to San Francisco and was shaped into Vertigo. Hitchcock became quite a fan of Diabolique, adding it to the collection of his own films that he would have screened for his writers and other collaborators in order to indoctrinate them to his visual philosophy, and he would later tell reporters that the decision to film Psycho in black and white was from a desire to make it a “Diabolique type film.”

So watching Diabolique, the story of a man’s abused wife and mistress conspiring to bump him off, it is tempting to think of how it would have been had Hitchcock managed to get the rights and been the director. It is easy to imagine scenes of the two women transporting the body of the dead man filled with dark comic touches, and would later appear in Hitchcock’s Frenzy. But moving past the Hitchcock connection, Diabolique is a wonderful example of a psychological horror film with evocative imagery and genuine suspense. The ending is ingenious, although it has been ripped off by so many lesser films since, it is hard to imagine now just how shocking it must have been to 1955 audiences.

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