Writing Euro Noir (published in May) gave me an excuse to watch some superb films again. The Arrow Blu-ray of Les Diaboliques is the perfect reason to take another look at this highly influential suspense classic. But what about the original authors? Their influence on crime novels and cinema has been prodigious – so why isn’t the critical stock of Boileau & Narcejac higher? When Alfred Hitchcock saw the effect on audiences of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques/The Fiends (1955), he realised that this Hitchcockian French film — with its superb orchestration of suspense (including horror in a bathroom) and twist-filled plotting of immense ingenuity – would have been absolutely perfect material for him, and subsequently proceeded to make a film utilising very similar tactics, Psycho (1960). In the original novel of Les Diaboliques, Ravinel has drowned his wife Mireille in her bath, and (aided by his mistress Lucienne) he has dropped her body into a river to suggest suicide. But as Mireille is dead, how is she able to correspond with him from beyond the grave? (Details were tweaked for Clouzot’s film). Regrettably, the plot for the Les Diaboliques has subsequently been borrowed so often, it is now over-familiar, but as well as being one of the most effective films in crime cinema – a piece that still carries a charge even in our seen-it-all era – Clouzot’s classic was ground-breakingly influential. Apart from the matchless black-and white cinematography, it is, of course, the impeccable performances that still register: a glowering Simone Signoret, a sneering Paul Meurisse, and (most memorably) Vera Clouzot’s vulnerability as the terrified wife. Nepotism (for once) earns an honourable place here with Clouzot’s casting of his wife. A forgettable American re-make with Sharon Stone can be… forgotten.
LES DIABOLIQUES/THE FIENDS (Film, 1954, Henri-Georges Clouzot, director)/Arrow Blu-Ray