Plot: Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the headmaster of a boarding school and he thrives on his position, using his power to further his own goals and making almost everyone else miserable in the process. He is also a sadistic man who takes pleasure in the misery of the others around him, so he is hated by nearly everyone, but remains protected by his position. His wife Christina (Vera Clouzot) happens to own the school, which also insulates him from backlash, despite his affair with one of the teachers, the beautiful Nicole (Simone Signoret). As tensions rise and Michel pushes them too far, Christina and Nicole become fed up with his behavior and decide to take action, with a plan to kill him and end his tyranny for good. The two drown him in a bathtub, then dump the corpse into the school’s pool. The scene is prepared to have the death seem like an accident, but when the pool is drained and Michel’s body is nowhere to be found, what have the women gotten themselves into?
Entertainment Value: Diabolique is a master class thriller, the kind of movie you can rewatch over and again, picking up new little hints and clues that you missed in the earlier visits. Henri-Georges Clouzot crafted this movie with such an incredible attention to detail, as even the smallest threads are connected to the main narrative and enrich the twists and turns. In other words, while some films lean on left field turns or barely set up twists, Diabolique puts in the work to have all of the twists and turns make sense. As you watch, what seem like mundane details or unrelated cues prove to be invaluable and a crucial element to read the narrative. This is impressive to say the least, especially given how many twists and turns are woven into Diabolique, so seeing how complex the web of clues is can be quite remarkable. The tension is thick and escalates throughout, so the atmosphere is intense and effective. The pace is also on point, so the movie is never slow and uses the duration in efficient fashion. In short, Diabolique is an all time classic and hits all the notes a thriller should.
The cast in this one is excellent, with nuanced and memorable performances that allow the talent to shine through. The three leads are all given rich characters to dive into, with development and evolution that had to be a challenge, but all three rise to that challenge and then some. Paul Meurisse embodies the blowhard headmaster, such a slimy persona that makes it easy to see how everyone hates him. This kind of role could have easily been taken over the top and lost some of the impact, but Meurisse knows when to dial things back and keeps that balance in check. Vera Clouzot is quite memorable as well, especially as the movie unfolds and she is given more depth to work with. By the finale, she conveys exactly the presence the role calls for and really nails what could have eluded a lesser talent. While she is outshone at times, Simone Signoret is also great in her role and adds a lot to Diabolique. The cast also includes Charles Vanel, Michel Surrault, and Jean Brochard.