Revenge is the theme of what many people consider H.G. Clouzot’s finest film, the 1955 thriller “Diabolique”. This is the story of two women who want to kill the same man. One is his kind and gentle wife, and the other is his attractive but hard-hearted mistress. The two work together to end his life, devising a plan that comes to fruition surprisingly early in the film. What initially appears to be a film about the plotting of a murder turns into a film about something else… something more sinister and unexpected. A… the two realize that the man they mean to kill may not be dead after all, their dread and terror escalates, as does the tension on the screen.
Clouzot’s real life spouse, Vera Clouzot, plays the part of the mild mannered wife, and she does so superbly. I really cannot say enough about her performance in this film. She is reason enough to watch the film, but the engaging plot and thrilling finale make it even better. Criterion brings us a true classic of early French cinema, with “Diabolique”.
As would be expected, the audio here is in French Mono only. Criterion has gone ahead and reworked the English subtitles, however, making this an easy film to follow for those of us who only speak English. Unfortunately, the existing soundtrack is in bad shape. I am sure that Criterion did their best to restore it, but the result is still badly flawed. There are lots of pops, hisses, and other unwanted noises throughout the film. Dialog is bright, and ambient noises are muted and slurred together. This is an old, old film, and the condition of the soundtrack proves it.
The video quality on this feature is much the same as the sound. I have had the opportunity to have seen this film in it’s pre-restored version, and so I can tell you that as bad as this film looks, it is much, much improved over the original version. Still, the negative is filled with dust, scratches, and other unsightly debris that has attached itself to this great work. Also, the viewer must understand that the camera and film quality of the time was primitive compared to today’s standards, which simply cannot be helped.
Most Criterion releases are filled with special features, be it commentaries, bonus footage, alternate cuts of the film, interviews or what have you. All that is available on this disc, however, is Color Bars. That’s it. Total. With a film this good, I was really hoping for some more background. Granted, I’m sure that sources were hard to come by, but they could have given me something. How about a text section about the director, or an essay on the film’s place in history? Hello? Criterion?
This is a fantastic film that has unfortunately succumbed to its own age. The folks at Criterion have done their best to clean it up, and this is definitely the best version of the film available, but it is still a movie-only release. Maybe someday someone will revisit this title with additional features, but for now, I’m afraid this is as good as it gets.
Special Features List
- Color Bars