Les Diaboliques (French pronunciation: [lɛ diaboˈlikə]), released as Diabolique in the United States and variously translated as The Devils or The Fiends, is a 1955 French black-and-whitepsychological thriller feature film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel. It is based on the novel Celle qui n'était plus(She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The story blends elements of thriller and horror, with the plot focusing on a woman and her husband's mistress who conspire to murder the man; after the crime is committed, however, his body disappears, and a number of strange occurrences ensue. The film was the 10th highest grossing film of the year with a total of 3,674,380 admissions in France.
Clouzot, right after finishing Wages of Fear, snatched the screenplay rights from master of suspense director, Alfred Hitchcock. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock'sPsycho. Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique.
The story takes place in a second-rate boarding school run by the tyrannical and mean Michel Delassalle (Meurisse). The school, though, is owned by Delassalle's teacher wife, the frail Christina (Clouzot), and Delassalle flaunts his relationship with Nicole Horner (Signoret), a teacher at the school. Rather than antagonism, the two women are shown to have a somewhat close relationship, primarily based on their apparent common hatred of Michel, who is physically and emotionally abusive to both.
Unable to stand his mistreatment any longer, Nicole devises a plan. Though hesitant at first, Christina ultimately consents to help Nicole. Using a threatened divorce to lure Michel to Nicole's apartment building in a remote village several hundred kilometers away, Christina sedates him. The two women then drown him in a bathtub and dump his body in the school's neglected swimming pool. When his corpse floats to the surface, they think it will appear to have been an accident. Almost everything goes according to their plans until the body fails to surface, and Michel's corpse is nowhere to be found when the pool is drained.
Christina grows increasingly paranoid which aggravates Nicole, who begins to fear about Michel's missing corpse. After a standoff between the two women, each threatening to expose the other, Nicole catches up to Christina leaving the school grounds. Christina, a former nun, is on her way to confession when Nicole shows her a newspaper article about a body found in the Seine whose features resemble Michel. Christina goes to the morgue to identify who she thinks is her husband's body, only to discover it isn't. Christina meets the former police commissioner turned private investigator, who assures her that he will discover what happened to Michel
Meanwhile, a young student claims to have been punished by Michel for breaking a window with a slingshot, although none of the adults at the school believe him. Christina becomes gravely ill and is ordered to remain bedridden by her doctor.
That night as she tosses and turns in bed, she awakes abruptly to find the private investigator sitting in her room. He tells her that everything will be alright because he has found her husband and he will be there shortly. Christina feverishly refutes the inspector’s claim and tells him the whole story about how she and Nicole murdered her husband. The investigator gets up to leave, telling Christina that in the morning she will be acquitted.
Later that evening as Christina lay in bed, a light shines into her room from the adjoining building. She gets up and looks out the window at the nearby classroom building. She sees light in one room and the figure of a man moving about. The light goes out and the light in the next room goes on as the figure moves to that room. This is repeated room after room, until all the lights are out.
A gloved hand is on the banister of the stairway as someone walks up the stairs toward the floor of Christina’s room. Christina, having returned to bed, senses something and leaves her bed to peer down the hallway outside her room. Only the legs and feet of the intruder are shown walking around the corner toward the hallway. The shoes and trousers suggest the intruder is a man. Christina begins to walk down the hallway toward the visitor, calling out “who’s there”. As Christina approaches, the intruder appears to slip into a side room. Christina turns around and looks down the hallway. She sees the room at the end of the hallway with the door ajar, light flowing through the crack in the door. She begins to walk toward the room and begins to hear what sounds like the clicking from a typewriter. She stands outside the room, fearful of who, or what, might be in the room. Finally, she enters the room to find a table with a typewriter. A sheet of paper is in the typewriter. Next to the typewriter is a pair of gloves and a man’s hat. She approaches the table and reads the words on the paper. The name of her husband has been typed repeatedly. Christina screams and runs from the room and down the hall, back to her room.
Christina runs to her bathroom and dabs her forehead with water. As she turns toward the bathtub, her face fills with shock and horror. Laying in the bathtub is the submerged body of her husband, Michel. Slowly his head begins to rise and his hands grab the edge of the tub. He sits up, only the whites of his eyes showing. Christina, chokes out a muffled scream as she grabs her heart and falls against the wall. Michel, stands up and gets out of the bathtub, his dead eyes appearing to stare at Christina. In complete terror and dread, Christina clutches her chest and falls to the floor, dead from an apparent heart attack. Michel’s hands move to his eyes and he removes the creepy artificial lenses that cover his real eyes. Michel walks to the still body of Christina and checks her pulse. She is indeed, dead.
Michel, with his dripping clothes, walks to the bedroom door, opens it and calls out. Nicole appears. Michel tells her that Christina is dead. They kiss. It is revealed that the plot to kill Michel was a hoax, and the real target was Christina. While the two celebrate the large inheritance Michel and Nicole are going to split thanks to Christina's wealth, the private investigator appears from the shadow, having heard the whole plot to kill Christina. He informs them that depending on the judge, they should expect to spend 15 to 20 years in prison.
Cut to the last day of school, where the same young student who claims to have seen Michel breaks another window with the same slingshot. When questioned, he says that Christina gave it to him, and again no one believes him. He is walking towards the corner to go to time out when the movie ends.
- Véra Clouzot as Christina Delassalle
- Paul Meurisse as Michel Delassalle
- Charles Vanel as Alfred Fichet
- Jean Brochard as Plantiveau
- Pierre Larquey as M. Drain
- Michel Serrault as M. Raymond
- Thérèse Dorny as Mme. Herboux
- Noël Roquevert as M. Herboux
- Georges Poujouly as Soudieu
The film created a sensation upon its original release. It has often been likened to the films of Alfred Hitchcock; some sources say that Alfred Hitchcock missed out on purchasing the rights to the Boileau and Narcejac novel by just a few hours, Clouzot getting to the authors first. The end credit contains an early example of an "anti-spoiler message". The film was a success at the box office, with 3,674,380 admissions in France alone.
The film gained additional press when, only five years after its release, Véra Clouzot died of a heart attack at age 46, somewhat mirroring her character in the film, who also had heart problems.
While Les Diaboliques was often shown on Turner Classic Movies channel, it had limited availability for home entertainment purchase.
An American version, titled Reflections of Murder, was made by ABC-TV in 1974 with Tuesday Weld, Joan Hackett, and Sam Waterston. In 1993, another made-for-television movie remake was made; this one was titled House of Secrets, and it starred Melissa Gilbert. In 1996, the film was remade again as Diabolique, adapted by Don Roos, directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, and starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani in the leading female roles, with Chazz Palminteri as the husband and Kathy Bates as the detective. The 1967 film Games, written by Gene R. Kearney and directed by Curtis Harrington, and starring James Caan and Katharine Ross, has a different basic situation, but similar twists at the end, and again features Simone Signoret as the corrupt woman of mystery.
In 2007, Time placed Les Diaboliques on their list of Top 25 Horror films. The film holds a 97% approval rate based on 36 reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes web site. In 1954 Les Diaboliques won the Louis Delluc Prize and the award for best foreign film at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards in 1955.
The film was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in July 1999 and was then re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in May 2011. The former release did not fill a widescreen television. The latter release features selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway, a new video introduction by Serge Bromberg, and a new video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman.