Diabolique has an extremely messy script. Not just in how the film changes gears multiple times as far as the pace. The entire film takes place in a week (and a day, maybe) and the first half or so takes place in three days. Director Clouzot is initially deliberate with those seventy-two hours, encouraging the viewer to pay attention to time details and supporting characters. Then he speeds up a little. Then he lengths the narrative distance to the characters. These changes aren’t organic, Clouzot doesn’t do anything to forecast them or move the film toward them. He gets away with it for a while because it seems like they’re going to add up to something.
Then they never do. And Clouzot goes out on a gag he established in the second half of the film. The lesser half too. Because even though there are a lot of thrills in Diabolique’s finale, Clouzot can’t do them. He refuses to be manipulative enough for the sequences to work, deliberately directing against it. The script isn’t any help during these scenes either; the script would probably play better as a comedy than a serious film, it’s so bewilderingly contrived.
Clouzot doesn’t care about the characters in Diabolique, which is another reason it’s too bad it isn’t a comedy. There should be a strange bond between lead Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife and second-billed, though the protagonist) and Simone Signoret. But Diabolique sets them up with a catch–Signoret’s Clouzot’s husband’s mistress (Clouzot the actor, not the director)–then reminds the viewer of that catch while pushing them gracelessly through the film.
And both Clouzot (the actor) and Signoret are good. They’re just never good together, except maybe a little at the beginning.
Paul Meurisse is okay as the husband. He doesn’t really have a character to play. He’s just got be utterly loathsome. It’s surprising he doesn’t kick a dog or something.
The film’s well-directed as far as composition, Madeleine Gug’s editing is fantastic, the lead performances are great, it’s all just a tad shallow. Even if the film’s intended to be effective only on the initial viewing, Clouzot takes every lame short cut he can.
Produced and directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot; screenplay by René Masson, Frédéric Grendel, Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; director of photography, Armand Thirard; edited by Madeleine Gug; music by Georges Van Parys; released by Cinédis.
Starring Véra Clouzot (Christina Delassalle), Simone Signoret (Nicole Horner), Paul Meurisse (Michel Delassalle), Jean Brochard (Plantiveau), Michel Serrault (M. Raymond), Jacques Varennes (M. Bridoux), Pierre Larquey (M. Drain), Yves-Marie Maurin (Moinet), Thérèse Dorny (Mme. Herboux), Noël Roquevert (M. Herboux) and Charles Vanel (Fichet).