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Les Diaboliques

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Les Diaboliques is still devilish 48 years later.

The ending of Les Diaboliques is so good that seeing it again without remembering the solution of the puzzle is like trying to forget that Janet Leigh gets knifed in a shower in Psycho. Even so, it’s an engrossing tale with little delights throughout, like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which was based on a book by the same writer.

Filmed in the only two colors needed to show human character, the film is directly tautly by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Set in a small, seedy school for boys in France, it wastes no time in establishing that the school’s director, Michel (Paul Meurisse), is cheating on his wife Christina (Véra Clouzot) with one of the other teachers, Nicole (Simone Signoret). This being France and all, the two women are on relatively good terms about it. Of course, it helps that Michel is a slimy bastard. The two women contemplate ridding the planet of him. The plot unfolds from there, taking a crease in the middle. Enough said.

The acting is perfect, which is to say that it’s just right for the type of movie this is. Every character we meet is sharply etched, especially the other teachers, each of whom is distinct and memorable. Although the scenes that were at the time nasty no longer shock, yet they remain disturbing. On the other hand, a crucial plot development may be telegraphed early on for today’s viewers since the idea has been used since; I already knew what was coming, so I can’t tell.

Even if you know what’s coming, it’s fun watching it all get put together.

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About David Weinberger