After the success of The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur) Henri-Georges Clouzot cemented his reputation with his masterpiece, Les diaboliques.
Based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (who also wrote the novel on which Hitchcock's Vertigo is based), Les diaboliques tells the story of a sadistic headmaster (Paul Meurisse) who brutalises his wife and mistress (Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret) and their plot to murder him. Superbly edited with nail-biting suspense, the two women murder the headmaster and dump the body in the swimming pool, but when the pool is drained no corpse is found. An unsettling and beautifully-paced study of betrayal, mistrust and guilt, Les diaboliques is atmospherically shot in black and white, its murky tones hauntingly echo the moral ambiguity of its principals.
An acknowledged influence on Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick among others, Les diaboliques is presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Arrow Films presents Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this single-layer Blu-ray, presenting the image in 1080p/24hz.
Arrow released this all-region Blu-ray about a month before Criterion’s region A edition and now having seen both I can say the Criterion slightly edges out the Arrow presentation by a little bit. On the minus side the Arrow BD actually has less information on screen, with the image cropped around the edges, but this was really only noticeable when doing direct comparisons. Also there are times where the film grain presentation can look a little more like compression noise, more noticeable in the film’s darker sequences. I’m not sure but this could be because of the bitrate, which is about half of what the Criterion’s is (again this one is a single-layer disc where Criterion’s is a dual-layer disc, allowing for more room for the film.)
But in every other regard the presentations look similar. Sharpness and details vary throughout primarily because of the source materials, which can look to be a bit out of focus and fuzzy, but when the source materials allow definition is still strong, but the finer details still mostly get lost. Gray levels look pretty good and contrast levels are solid allowing for strong shadows.
In all it still looks pretty good but is hampered slightly by a middling bitrate and the condition of the source materials.
(Though a UK release this disc is all-region and should play on all Blu-ray players. I had no problems playing the disc on my North American PS3.)
The French linear PCM mono track is fine but is limited because of the materials used, sounding pretty much the same as Criterion’s. The track is somewhat lifeless and lacks fidelity, and this is best shown in the few screams that occur throughout, which come off edgy and harsh as they strain for something more. Dialogue is easy to hear and sounds adequate enough but is flat.
Arrow Films presents their own set of supplements for their release, starting with an audio commentary by Susan Hayword. Unlike Criterion’s commentary, which is a selected-scene track, this one is actually a full-length track—mostly anyways. It’s a somewhat dry scholarly track but she covers various aspects of the film and offers some interesting analysis on Clouzot’s use of mise-en-scène, lighting, and editing. She also talks about the relationships between the characters, even pointing out the hints of a possible lesbian relationship between the two female leads (which was a full blown plot point in the original novel), and how Clouzot manages to hide clues in plain sight. She also goes over the production in great detail as well and talks about Clouzot’s work with the actors and his (mis)treatment of them. Plus there’s mention of Paul Meurisse’s dislike of Vera Clouzot (or at least how the director tried to make her the spotlight when she wasn’t a great actress) including quotes from the actor. Unfortunately during the last half of the film she does drop off for long periods leaving plenty of dead spots. In all, despite some of its weaknesses, I did enjoy the track and found Hayword’s analysis interesting.
The disc then includes an introduction by Ginette Vincendeau, who also offered an introduction for Arrow’s Rififi Blu-ray. Again, similar to that intro (and even to Criterion’s own intro to this film) I would bypass watching it if you haven’t seen the film already. For her intro she goes into great detail about Clouzot’s career before Les diaboliques, particularly his work during the German Occupation and the film Le corbeau. She then moves on to Les diaboliques’ production, the book on which its based, Clouzot’s working style with actors (as addressed elsewhere here and on supplements of other Clouzot film releases, he could be cruel), and then also addresses the comparisons to Hitchcock, which are valid in some areas but not entirely since Clouzot’s films could be darker and even crueler. It’s an excellent interview, Vincendeau covering a wide range of topics in the short time, but again I wouldn’t recommend watching it if you haven’t seen the film before, despite her effort to not give away big spoilers (I just think the film is more fun if you don’t know much about it beforehand.)
Arrow then includes the same theatrical trailer found on the Criterion edition. They also include a booklet which I unfortunately didn’t receive a copy of with the screener disc I received. Until I get a copy I’ll include these notes on the booklet from Arrow’s website: “Brand new writing on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens and a re-printed interview with Clouzot by Paul Schrader illustrated with stills and rare original set drawings by Léon Barsacq.”
Only a couple of supplements but they’re strong and offer substantial information on Clouzot, the film’s history, and the film itself.
The presentation is limited a bit by the source, and the digital transfer has a couple of problems, but overall the film looks good. The supplements are also strong and worth going through. And while I would probably point those in North America to the Criterion edition (which does have a slightly better image but I’m more concerned about the costs shipping overseas) this is a fairly nice edition as well.