Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Release Date(s)1955 (May 17, 2011)
Studio(s)Criterion (Spine #35)
Two women, one a sickly young wife and the other a conniving mistress, plot to take the ultimate revenge against the unpleasant husband in their lives... but their revenge is not the final word on the matter.
Before Alfred Hitchcock shocked audiences and became “The Master of Suspense,” another filmmaker by the name of Henri-Georges Clouzot directed the French masterpiece Les Diaboliques (later known as simply Diabolique in the United States). Hitchcock himself was also looking to adapt the original novel that the film is based off of, but Clouzot had beaten him to the punch. The resulting film was revolutionary in many ways and solidified a new type of thriller which utilized horror elements in a way no one had used them before. It’s also one of the first films to offer a twist ending, which has since become an abundantly commonplace plot device. Because of this, the film has lost some of its great shock value. Endlessly imitated and even remade a couple of times since its release, it no longer seems possible to go into a film like Diabolique fresh and still feel the same amount of suspense you might have upon its original release. Fortunately, a film as meticulously crafted as this one still manages to stand apart from everything that came after it. It’s not just simply a highlight of the genre, but of filmmaking in general.
Criterion’s new digital restoration boasts a healthy and beautiful transfer. Nearly all instances of dirt, scratches, frame damage and other film flaws have been cleaned up. Film grain is apparent but gives the picture a suitably smooth viewing texture. Contrast is high but the image is a bit softer than one might usually expect. It’s not necessarily a flaw though, as it doesn’t detract from the viewing experience at all. The image is still very crisp and, quite frankly, it’s the cleanest the film has probably ever looked (certainly on home video). This release also contains the most frame-correct presentation of all previous releases (even Criterion’s original DVD release). There’s a significant amount of additional image on all sides of the frame, revealing visual information that was previously hidden. Overall, this is a fantastic transfer that does the film justice. The audio included is a French mono track with English subtitles. While I can’t comment on the accuracy of the subtitles, I can say that I was never lost once throughout the film. The audio, on the other hand, is clearly vintage, but never sounds like it was merely dragged out of a vault. It’s a good and level mix that should leave little to complain about.
Also with this release is a brief but decent amount of interesting extras. Included is an audio commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway; a newly-recorded introduction to the film by Clouzot collaborator Serge Bromberg; a newly-recorded video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman; the film’s theatrical trailer; and finally, a 16-page booklet containing an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty. Unfortunately, the 4-page essay by Danny Peary from the original Criterion DVD release hasn’t been included. Neither have the extras from the Arrow Films Blu-ray release, which included an audio commentary by Susan Hayward (author of the French film guide Les Diaboliques) and a video interview with French film scholar and critic Ginnette Vincendeau. Not that Criterion would have the rights to those latter items, but it would have been nice to have it all together in one package. Regardless, what has been included complements the film very well.
Despite the fact that Diabolique is over fifty years old, it still manages to raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck. Henri-Georges Clouzot manages to take us on a tense journey with these two fiendish women, tightening the screws at every turn, right up until the very end. And now, thanks to Criterion, you can see this classic in the greatest quality possible. For those who have yet to see this masterpiece, I won’t spoil things for you. But rest assured, this film is a heart-stopper!
- Tim Salmons