Michel Delasalle (Meurisse) is the headmaster of a boys boarding school near Paris. He is verbally and physically abusive of both his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot) and his mistress, Nicole Horner (Signoret). The two women join forces to murder him, drowning him in his bath and subsequently attempting to make it look like suicide. When his body goes missing, and sightings of the dead man are reported, the two women apparently begin to panic. They need to find out what happened to the body before it is found or a retired private detective, Alfred Fichet (Vanel), manages to unravel their crime. There is then a terrifying twist to the plot, which results in Christina’s death. Fichet catches those who are truly guilty.
Les Diaboliques is a murder mystery. But the murder that takes place before our eyes is not the one the narrative is directed towards exposing. What begins as a kind of feminist plot against a man who is irredeemably unpleasant ends up as something far more sordid, even Balzacian a crime carried out in the name of bourgeois greed. Clouzot’s film is deeply pessimistic about humanity in general. Its pace, ingenious construction, black-and-white cinematography, and the almost tangible sense of foreboding it encourages make it one of the very best produced by the man at times described as the French Hitchcock.
Scary, but so calculatedly sensational that its rather revolting. The New Yorker.
It depends very much on the intimate details of the seedy fourth-rate school, with its inadequate education and uneatable food, its general smell of unwashed children, hatred and petty perversions. Basil Wright.
The ending, much copied, is justly famous. But its the implacable build-up that seals its classic status. Derek Malcolm.
A great piece of Guignol misanthropy. Peter Bradshaw. M.S.