Is Diabolique (Clouzot, 1955) a film noir or a thriller? We firmly assert that it is one of the most delectable, and yes, diabolical noir masterpieces to come out of the 1950s. That it manages to be thrilling as well is a testament to the deft hand of Henri-Georges Clouzot, a director of immense talent. So why did we decide it is a noir first and thriller second? It’s got great noir lines, like “my only regret is that he won’t know I killed him.” There is such a sense of finality and even nihilism that we’ve come to expect from noir even with the deeply suspenseful third act cat-and-mouse game. We see the murder happen in real time, and we see the dead body itself–a very unsettling experience. And then there’s the rumpled and scruffy cop on the trail, rather than the straight arrow white hat.
Having said that though, let us not negate the thriller aspect. Clouzot and Hitchcock were in fact contemporaries and influenced each other. Hitchcock tried to get the rights to this story but Clouzot beat him to it. Hitchcock would say later that Psycho was very much a product of this film. Clouzot builds the big set pieces of action to be as tense as anything we might see from Hitchcock.
I do not want to close before mentioning that the film would be nothing without the two leads, Simone Signoret as the mistress and Véra Clouzot as the wife, drawn together in a common goal. Or are they? Watch and find out!
What you’ll find in this episode: the rewatchability factor, musings about how a character who looks like Jack Webb can get so much action, and the diverging careers of the two leads.