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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Drama > Murder > French > Diabolique (1955/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Diabolique (1955/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B     Film: B+



In the 1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was on a roll, free of his problematic relationship with David O. Selznick, the Master of Suspense was making classic after classic practically and when large-frame format film (anything larger than regular 1.33 X 1 35mm film) arrived, he choose to work with VistaVision as part of his great run (and contract) at Paramount Pictures.  He could still pull off darker, smaller films (The Wrong Man (1955) with Henry Fonda, Rear Window (1954) and Dial ‘M’ For Murder (1953), still one of the few great narrative 3-D films ever made) but the larger Technicolor thrillers drove some to comment that Hitch had become too comfortable with big budgets and was likely not going to be able to return to making the small thrillers that made him a legend.


In fact, he was as able as ever and was expanding his storytelling ideas and visual approaches, but that did not stop some from expressing this idea.  This was made more pronounced in 1955 when the great French director Henri-Georges Clouzot stunned the world cinema audience with a film based on a book Hitch missed getting the rights to.  The result was Diabolique, a critical and commercial success so extensive that it helped break open the U.S. market to foreign films and became one of the most imitated films France produced until their New Wave arrived four years later.


Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) stars as the unhappily married Christina Delassalle, running a school with her abusive husband (Paul Meurisse) and tolerating constantly ugly moments with him.  However, she is starting to get sick of him and decides maybe she should kill him off.  He seems to be getting involved with the headmistress (Simone Signoret) but she too is not happy with him and the two women decide to plot a particularly effective murder to get him out of the way so they can continue to run the school together and be done with him.


They decide to drown him in the bathtub and all seems to be just fine, but the police become curious and then, in an odder twist, he seems to haunt the place.  But he’s dead, not alive.  The film then takes a few more twists and turns until its classic conclusion and after 56 years, is still a very formidable thriller thanks to the superior skills of Clouzot, who was making some fine films at the time including the superior and even more controversial Wages Of Fear (see link below) and it became a film everyone wanted to imitate like many of Hitchcock’s films and later genre classics like The Silence Of The Lambs.


Of course, Hitch returned a few years later with Psycho (1960) as Michael Powell made the amazing Peeping Tom the same year and the thriller took another giant step forward.  However, Clouzot had pulled off the biggest success of his career and it will endure for many decades to come.  Now, Criterion has updated its treatment of the film and the Blu-ray delivers the version that has been long overdue for all of us to enjoy.


The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image is from the original 35mm camera negative, though it does show some wear the older Wages Of Fear (Criterion’s Blu-ray is strongly recommended, with stunning clarity for its age) does not on Criterion’s Blu-ray edition.  However, Video Black is excellent, Video White decent, we get some depth of field and the dirt, noise and wear of all the previous video editions now look worse as compared to this fine restoration.  Director of Photography Armand Thiard (a longtime Clouzot collaborator) creates some of the most memorable images in French and Thriller history here, but this is the first time I could really see and appreciate his work and enjoy it now that the film has been saved.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 1.0 Mono comes from a 35mm magnetic sound source and though it also shows wear, it is never brittle and better than all previous renderings of the film.


Extras include the usual booklet dedicated to the film with tech details and an excellent essay by Terrence Rafferty on the film, plus the disc adds scene select audio commentary by French film scholar Kelley Conway worth hearing after seeing the film, new video introduction by Serge Bromberg (co-director of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno), the Original Theatrical Trailer and new on-camera interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman that does an excellent job of discussing the film’s success, influence and cinematic context.



As noted, we also recommend the Criterion Blu-ray of Wages Of Fear, which we did not get the chance to review, but caught up with since.  We did cover the DVD as the site debuted and you can read more about the film at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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