Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Les Diaboliques (1955, Fr.)
(aka Diabolique, or The Devils)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Les Diaboliques (1955, Fr.) (aka Diabolique, or The Devils)

In French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's intriguing, noirish psychological horror-thriller - one of the earliest films to feature a shocking plot twist in its conclusion; the Hitchcockian, Psycho-like film (with another crucial bathroom sequence) with a complex murder plot, and the overarching themes of hate, double-cross, revenge and greed, was adapted for the screen from Pierre Boileau's and Thomas Narceja's 1952 novel Celle Qui N'était Plus (She Who Was No More); the film was remade as the R-rated erotic thriller Diabolique (1996), starring Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani and Chazz Palminteri:

  • the film opened with the title screens symbolically displayed above the algae-infested, fetid waters of an unkempt swimming pool, and a quote from Barbey D'Aurevilly: "A painting is always quite moral when it is tragic and it presents the horror of the things it depicts"
  • the film's setting was the run-down, all-boys Institution Delassalle Boarding School in metropolitan Paris (in the provincial town of St. Cloud), where a love triangle involved the three main characters (all heinous, evil, and greedy in their own right) in the curving plotline
  • the headmaster of the Parisian school was 34 year-old Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) - a despicable, miserly, tyrannical and abusive schoolmaster who was cruelly mistreating his students and employees; he was also involved in a physically-abusive affair with his lover/mistress - the brassy science schoolteacher, an icy cool-tempered, cropped blonde-haired femme fatale Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) whom he often beat (in the opening scene, she had a black eye that was hidden by her sunglasses)

Christina "CriCri" Delassalle (Véra Clouzot)

Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret)

Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse)
  • the film's point-of-view or perspective was from Michel's also mistreated, downtrodden, humiliated, tormented and "delicate" wife/Headmistress-Principal Christina "CriCri" Delassalle (Véra Clouzot, director Georges Clouzot's real-life wife), a devout ex-Catholic nun originally from Caracas, Venezuela with a heart condition; Michel called his frail wife of eight years "a cute little ruin"; the dark-haired, pig-tailed infantilized Christina was the wealthy owner of the school; Christina knew of her husband's destructive affair with his lover Nicole, but tolerated it; one of the other teachers astutely observed: "The legal wife consoling the mistress"
  • in an early scene in the school's dining room, the mean-spirited Michel made Christina chew and swallow stinking, rotten fish served for dinner (expired food prepared by the school's staff) in front of everyone: "Everyone is looking at you. Swallow!"; once the dining room was cleared, Michel approached toward Christina (off-screen) and presumably forced sex from her
  • during the suspenseful thriller (with a convoluted murder plot), Nicole was finally able to convince her co-battered friend Christina to join together with her to commit the perfect yet sinister murder of their equally-despised tormenter Michel; during a 3-day school vacation break that they took together to Nicole's country apartment (in the isolated village of Niort over 400 km from Paris), Christina and Nicole shared the one bed (the film's mildly-implied lesbian sub-text); they lured Michel there by phoning him and having Christina announce her sudden divorce plans for a legal separation
  • later that evening, after Michel arrived by train in Niort, they discussed her unhappiness in the marriage, and he slapped her in anger; he was tricked by Christina into drinking alcohol spiked with a sleep sedative before the two drowned him in the bathtub; Nicole held down Michel's drugged body as the horrified and more sensitive Christina stood by, but then went to the bedroom with heart pains [Note: This was Christina's fatal mistake - she did not definitively verify that Michael was actually dead!]
  • the females concealed Michel's bloated body in a large wicker trunk to drive it back to the school the next day, but were nearly discovered when a piece of string snapped on the wicker trunk as it was being dragged with help from Nicole's upstairs neighbor M. Herboux (Noël Roquevert) to their vehicle, and the corpse was almost detected
  • as the two drove back, Christina worried: "We are monsters. I don't like monsters," while Nicole replied: "If it's only him, I feel better. I'll save the grain of sand falling from the hands of providence for my morality lessons"; a hitch-hiking drunken soldier (Jean Lefebvre) also made Christina anxious when he kept insisting on getting into the back of their vehicle
  • later that night as the two were dumping the weighted body into the school's murky, scummy, neglected and unused swimming pool, again they were almost discovered when a young boarding school student named Pascual (Jean-Pierre Bonnefous) turned on an upstairs bathroom light that illuminated the pool area
  • the two females thought that the death would easily be ruled a suspected drowning once the body surfaced, but Michel's corpse didn't appear as expected; speculation was running rampant about the missing Michel's unforeseen absence; to force the draining of the pool, Nicole claimed she had accidentally dropped her keys into the water; as the pool was being emptied by the school's groundskeeper-concierge Plantiveau (Jean Brochard), the distracted and anxious Christina was nervously teaching her math class nearby; when Michel's body was not found, Christina fainted in shock by the side of the pool
  • the two uncertain and nervous co-conspirators began to distrust each other, assign blame and make recriminating statements, while they became guilt-ridden, fearful, and worried about the possibility of being blackmailed by someone who had discovered their secret; Christina blamed Nicole for promoting the murder: "I was insane to listen to you"
  • other tense, semi-supernatural and unusual situations began to occur, suggesting that something had gone terribly awry with the murder; Michel's gray, Prince of Wales suit that he was wearing when he was drowned was mysteriously delivered from the dry cleaners. A key found in the suit was identified as the door key to Room # 9 in a nearby, rarely-used, fancy Eden Hotel residential room. It had "no belongings, no bags" and no one seemed to have ever seen Michel there; Christina also found that charges for an unpaid bill two years earlier (shower repair for 80,000 francs) had recently been paid from Michel's account
  • once the remains of a naked body were discovered off the school grounds in the Seine River, Christina went to the morgue to verify its identity, but the body was not Michel's; nosy, retired police commissioner and elderly, bumbling private detective Alfred Fichet (Charles Vanel) became involved in the case when he insisted that he could help Christina and locate her missing husband: ("If you'd like, we are both going to find your husband...don't worry, I'll find him")

Private Detective Alfred Fichet (Charles Vanel)

Detective Fichet With the Two Female Suspects
  • Christina and Nicole listened as a student named Moinet (Yves-Marie Maurin) claimed to have been recently reprimanded and punished by an 'unseen' Michel (and ordered to rake dead leaves) for shattering a window with his slingshot (that was promptly confiscated); teachers were known to often accuse the fanciful-minded boy of lying and being a "mythomaniac": (Nicole: "You forget that this kid is a pathological liar"), and now they doubted his account of the presence of the supposedly-dead Michel; as he walked away, however, the boy affirmed his sighting: "I saw him. I know I saw him"
  • oddly though, a photograph taken at the school seemed to show that the spectral figure of Michel was standing in the window behind the students - was Michel still alive?
  • the fearful, unstable, paranoid and ailing Christina was suffering from nightmares; in her bedroom, she confessed everything to private detective Fichet and told him why Michel wasn't coming back: ("You know he can't come back...because I killed him...five days ago in Niort"); he was doubtful of her story due to help she received from Michel's mistress Nicole; Christina was surprised that Fichet didn't charge her with a crime, and told her to take a strong sedative
  • later that night, in the film's plot-twisting conclusion, after wandering around the school building and her apartment and getting spooked by strange noises and shadows, the trembling Christina heard the sounds of a typewriter's keys; down a long hallway and into Michel's office, she found a piece of paper in the typewriter with multiple "Michel Delassalle"'s typed on the page, with Michel's gloves nearby. [Note: A similar scene was in The Shining (1980).]
Zombie-Like Michel Resurrected in the Bathtub - and Removing His Fake Eye Lenses From His Eyes
  • as she screamed and raced away, she was lured into her bathroom, and unexpectedly found Michel's corpse in the bathtub; the sight caused her (and the audience) to have a fright-induced heart attack, when Michel slowly rose zombie-like out of a bathtub, fully clothed, with half-opened, glazed all-white eyes; Was it revenge beyond the grave?, or a tremendous double-cross; she clutched her chest in the vicinity of her heart, and her eyes rolled back as she fell against the wall behind her; she slid to the floor where she collapsed and slumped over dead
Christina's Fright-Induced Heart Attack

[Note: The scary bathtub scene was imitated in The Shining (1980), Fatal Attraction (1987), and What Lies Beneath (2000).]

  • the major twist was that Michel was never killed by them - he had faked his own death - with collaborative help by Nicole - so that Christina could be induced into having a fatal heart attack
  • afterwards, Michel popped the fake eye lenses from his eyes, exited the tub, and perfunctorily checked Christina's arm for a pulse; after unlocking the apartment door, Nicole rushed into his arms for embraces and kisses; their plan had been to become rich by selling the "fire-trap" school that he would inherit from his deceased wife (Michel: "Wasn't it worth it? Now, we're rich. Just by selling the school, we'll get a lot")
  • the film's initial conclusion was that the pair of "Diaboliques" weren't Christina and Nicole as previously assumed, but Nicole and Michel; in the denouement, the two gloating co-conspirators were immediately arrested by Fichet - who overheard them talking about their plotting, and predicted their prison term ("between 15 and 20 years in jail")
  • in the film's resolution the next day as the school was closing due to the scandalous news, there was another dizzying reversal regarding the fate of Christina. The confused, truth-telling or lying (?) schoolboy Moinet, the same one who had earlier broken a window, declared that Christina had just given him back his confiscated slingshot which he had used to break a second window that morning ("She's not dead. She came back") - the film's last line as he walked away to again stand in a corner for punishment for lying was: "I saw her. I know I saw her." (translated)
  • the film viewer was left pondering this additional integral question: Had the retired detective Fichet and Christina devised their own scheme (off-screen) to fool both Nicole and Michel?; it was highly likely that the school-boy - who hadn't really lied the first time about Michel's continued presence - also wasn't lying this second instance when he declared that Christina was still alive
  • the film's unique, one of the first of its kind, end-credits 'anti-spoilers' director's statement advised viewers to keep the film's ending a secret (two translations):
    • "Don't be devils. Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you for them."
    • "Don't be diabolical yourself. Don't spoil the ending for your friends by telling them what you have just seen. On their behalf - Thank you!"

Institution Delassalle (Boarding School)

The Two Plotting Females - (With a Lesbian Sub-text)

Christina Ordered by Michel to Swallow Rotten Fish Served for Dinner at the School

A Spiked Drink Offered by Christina to Michel

Michel's Forced 'Murder' (by Drowning) in Bathtub

Dumping the Body Into the School's Swimming Pool

The Pool Was Drained - But No Body Was Found

The Discovery of a Body in the Seine River - Not Michel's!

Schoolboy Moinet (Yves-Marie Maurin) Claiming He Was Punished by the Principal For Breaking a Window With His Now-Confiscated Slingshot

"I Saw Him, I Know I Saw Him"

The Principal Seen in the Background of a School Class Portrait

Nicole and Christina Worried About All the Strange Happenings

Christina's Fear of Sounds and Shadows in the School Building

The Typed Page with Multiple "Michel Delassalle"'s in Michel's Office

Michel Briefly Checking Christina's Pulse for Heartbeat

The Two Scheming Lovers After Christina's 'Death'

Nicole and Michel Arrested by Fichet

Schoolboy Moinet Claiming to Have Seen Christina After Her Supposed Death ("I saw her. I know I saw her")

Director's Anti-Spoiler Statement


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