If you’re working yourself towards film-buffery, you really need to have seen something by master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot – “the French Hitchcock” he is often called, when Jacques Deray or Claude Chabrol aren’t using the sobriquet. You may already have seen the masterful The Wages of Fear, Clouzot’s 1953 tale of gelignite being driven across the South American jungle. It’s well worth adding Les Diaboliques, 1954’s tale of the murder most horrid – drugged, drowned – of a brutish husband by a fragile wife (Vera Clouzot) and his scheming mistress (Simone Signoret, none better). Job done, except the body keeps disappearing. Less a whodunit, more a wheresitgone, Les Diaboliques also strongly prefigures films like Thelma and Louise – where women do the dirty work and carry the drama. And watch out for the performance, as a shabby detective, by the brilliant French character actor Charles Vanel – pure Columbo, at least 20 years before Peter Falk ever fixed his glass eye on a suspect. Here in restored, silky monochrome glory and boasting a soundtrack heaving with pregnant silence, Les Diaboliques is the blueprint for so many suspense films to come.
© Steve Morrissey 2013