THE VANISHING ACT
If you’re a Hitchcock fan, I implore you to watch “Les Diaboliques” (translation: The Devils). It’s a French thriller purported to be one of best movies not made by Mr. Hitchcock. The movie tells of an unlikely alliance between a wife (Vera Clouzot) and her husband’s mistress (Simone Signoret). Both women concoct to murder the cruel man (Paul Meurisse) they both have been involved with. The plan is to lure him in, drug him and then submerged his body under a tub of water. At the same time, the movie tries to lure you in, drag you until you’re fully submerged into the breathless story.
The hook is wondering whether the female duo can succeed in their double-teaming scheme. They don’t always agree; their differing personalities clash. The wife, prone to guilt, easily loses her nerves. Meanwhile, the mistress, with the demeanor of a femme fetale, is decisive and unruffled. Yet, it’s fascinating how they both toil towards a common goal. They do pull off some obstacles together, but there wouldn’t be a movie if their criminal design does not backfire. The plot turn-around happens halfway through the movie. It’s a shocking what-the-f moment when, how should I put this, an unthinkable vanishing act occurs.
There is no question that “Les Diaboliques” is a brilliant film. However, I have misgivings in recommending it to a casual modern viewer. Its picture is in black-and-white, its characters speak French, and its pacing is slower than the contemporary thrillers. In my strange POV, these “obstacles” seem more like advantages to me. The cinematography makes the film more eerie. The unfamiliar language makes it more mysterious. The slow pace heightens the suspense. If these “obstacles” still scare you, then the good news is that there’s an American remake. The bad news, not surprisingly, is that it’s a mediocre version. I know you can do better. I know you can.
Both movies are fairly similar in plot, but the French version is superior in its direction. Now, you can doubt me on this, but I do believe that director Henri-Georges Clouzot works at the same level of Alfred Hitchcock. His camera has a subtle personality on its own: its patience is unnerving and its observation is sharp. He also knows how to film a climax. Oh, just prepare yourself when you arrive at the heart-stopping penultimate scene. His execution is astoundingly genius, considering that the conclusion might give the viewer a double-take thinking. The film is too good to be true. To miss it would be a crime, especially if you find murder mysteries arresting.
Henri Georges Clouzot