Les Diaboliques (1955) – reviewed by George

At a boys’ boarding school in France, M. Delassalle,  the head master/owner (technically his wife is the owner, but he waves the facts away) cuts corners by stinting on food as well as on more mundane supplies, maintains a mistress in addition to his wife, and is a martinet to the four teachers: his wife, his mistress, and two male teachers. He is also imperious and cruel to the boys and the support staff – mainly a janitor-yardman who lives in the gatehouse. Mme. Delassalle is a frail, unhealthy woman subject to breathing problems and nerves. The mistress, Mlle. Horner, is tough, but is gradually wearing out. M. Delassalle is so horrible to the two women in his thrall (he uses both physical and mental cruelty) that they have joined together as friends. The mistress feels herself more ill-used than the wife, but they both have come to hate him. Consequently they develop a murder plot: if he is dead the wife regains control of the school, and everyone will be better off. And the murder plot seems foolproof.
At the upcoming three-day break the women will travel to Mlle. Horner’s place, ostensibly for rest. M. Delassalle will undoubtedly follow after a day, since he dislikes the friendship they have developed and feels that what they really want is to complain to each other about him. He’s not entirely wrong.
When he arrives at Mlle. Horner’s home she arranges to be upstairs with her tenants to guarantee that they don’t see him arrive, or even know that he is there. So Mme. Delassalle must greet him and give him a drink laced with a drug. When Mlle. Horner returns they carry him to the previously-filled tub and slide him in, using a heavy decorative piece on his chest to hold him under. After midnight they put him in a huge wicker container and get it into the back of the van they’re driving. They get back to the school in the dead of night, making a great deal of noise and demanding that the gateman open up. The desire is to fix in his mind what time they came back, knowing that an autopsy will show that Delassalle died earlier, while they were still away. Then they dump the body in the school swimming pool and try to resume a normal life. The pool figures in their plot because it has not been used for some time and is filthy, with floating plant material and a murkiness that obscures the bottom of the pool.
Then the body does not float up as expected. Mlle. Horner contrives to drop her keys in the pool, necessitating draining the pool to recover them, and …………. the body is not there.
This is a classic suspense film, which stars Simone Signoret as Horner, Vera Clouzot as Mme. Delassalle, and Paul Meurisse as the dreadful M. Delassalle. It was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot (here billed as H.G. Clouzot), who also directed “Wages of Fear”, and “Le Corbeau (The Raven)”. The film was remade in 1996, starring Sharon Stone as Horner and Isabelle Adjani as the wife, with Chazz Palminteri as the husband, but I have not seen that version, nor did I know of it until I began researching this film.

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