Film / Les Diaboliques

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Les Diaboliques (The Devils), also known as Diabolique, is a French suspense-thriller made in 1955 and directed by Henri Georges Clouzot, adapted from the 1951 novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.

Christina and Nicole, respectively the wife and mistress of Michel the Jerk Ass boarding-school headmaster, conspire to kill him. However, after they carry it out, his body disappears, and then things just get weirder. Christina and Nicole are played by Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret, while Paul Meurisse plays Michel.

Rumpled, folksy detective Fichet, played by Charles Vanel, was the inspiration for Columbo.

Remade in the U.S. twice, first as the 1974 Made-for-TV Movie Reflections of Murder (starring Joan Hackett as the wife, Tuesday Weld as the mistress, and Sam Waterston as the brutish husband) and then again as the 1996 theatrical film Diabolique (with Isabelle Adjani as the wife, Sharon Stone as the mistress, Chazz Palminteri as the husband, and Kathy Bates in a Gender Flip role as the police detective).

This movie contains examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Michel, with so much emphasis on "asshole" that the "victim" part almost fades in comparison. Subverted eventually, as the ending reveals that he has been alive and working together with Nicole the whole time. Double subverted when Alfred Fichet catches them both and arrests them.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: L'institution Delassalle might not be quite as extreme as some examples, but it's still a run-down dump overseen by the sadistic headmaster Michel.
  • Ceiling Banger: Nicole's upstairs tenant, attempting to listen to a radio quiz show, is aggravated by her noisily filling her bathtub at 10 p.m.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Michel is referred to as a former champion swimmer, which allowed him to hold his breath long enough to make the drowning seem real.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Nicole gives a lame excuse for a black eye that was apparently caused by Michel.
  • Disposing of a Body: Or appearing to, anyway.
  • Domestic Abuse: Michel is physically and emotionally abusive toward both Christina and Nicole.
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: Translated from French, the final title card after the film reads:
    Don't be diabolic yourselves! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. On their behalf, we thank you.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: The women freak out when the suit Michel was drowned in is returned to the school from a dry cleaners.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The whole movie is a plot by Michel and Nicole to kill Christina. She has a weak heart, which they use to frighten her to death.
  • Fainting: Christina, after the swimming pool where Michel's body was dumped is drained empty... and the body is gone.
  • Faking the Dead: Michel wasn't dead at all. It was a trick to fool Christina.
  • Focus Group Ending: The remake completely changes (and arguably ruins) the ending. Mia doesn't die, Nicole panics, and in the end Mia and Nicole drown Guy (the husband) in the pool, for real. The detective then helps them cover it up.
  • Foreshadowing: Early scenes establish that 1) Christina has a lot of money of her own, and 2) she has a heart condition.
  • Fright Death Trap: Christina, driven wild by fright, has her fatal heart attack after Michel rises from the tub.
  • Gaslighting: Nicole and Michel are plotting to drive Christina mad with fear.
  • Gender Flip: Kathy Bates as the Fichet-Expy in the 1996 remake.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Averted. The fatal heart attack at the end is disturbingly realistic.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: The film implies that Christina and Nicole are lovers — one scene shows them in the same room in pajamas, and later they speak of running away together. This is never expressly portrayed or stated, however; there were some things you just couldn't do in 1955, even in France.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: One of the teachers, M. Raymond, comes across as this.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the last scene, a kid claims to have talked to Christina, who died from a heart attack earlier. The boy is noted to be a notorious liar, but he was right when he said that he saw Michel earlier in the movie. So is he lying, or has he really seen a ghost? Or did Christina survive her attack, just like Michel faked his death?
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The tension when Christina is wandering through the deserted halls of the school at night, looking for Michel, is incredible.
  • Not Quite Dead: Possibly. The film hints that the wife might have survived her heart attack. (Or that the kid saw her ghost. Or that the kid is a liar.)
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Fichet, the detective, employs a bit of this. (More than one observer has noted the character's similarity to Columbo.)
  • Police Are Useless: It's good that Fichet heard Michel and Nicole discussing their plot, but it would have been better if he'd stepped up before Christina keeled over and died.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: The film implies that Michel rapes Christina after the dinner with the fish.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: What happened to Michel's body? What's going on?
  • Screaming Woman: Christina, when the lights go out just after she finds Michel's name written over and over on the typewriter during the climax.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Michel is given sedative-laced whiskey to drink so he can be carried to the bathtub and drowned.
  • Spooky Photographs: Michel's ghostly face appears in the class portrait.
  • Twist Ending: Michel and Nicole have been in cahoots all along.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Michel slaps Christina after she spills alcohol on his suit — it's drugged, and she was trying to stop him from drinking it. She then goes ahead and lets him drink.

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