Henri-Georges Clouzot was called the Hitchcock of France for his shadowy thrillers and the atmosphere of distrust and suspicion that ran through so many of his films. “Diabolique,” his 1955 thriller about a plot to commit a perfect murder and the wrenching tension when the corpse disappears, plays like his attempt to out-do Hitchcock. In fact, Clouzot beat out Hitchcock to secure the rights to the original novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (Hitch consoled himself with another of their novels, “D’Entre Les Morts,” which became the basis for “Vertigo”) and turned that blueprint for terror into the most popular film in his career.
Vera Clouzot stars as the sickly wife of the bullying, philandering headmaster (Paul Meurisse) of her family’s provincial private school and the commanding Simone Signoret is his mistreated mistress. He married her for her money and, tired of waiting for her weak heart to give and leave him with her small fortune, he now torments her with an open affair while refusing a divorce. The two women find common ground in their desire to kill the cause of both of their miseries.