Diabolique

on November 21, 1955 by Thomas Quinn
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Without a lot of contrivances, and with fewer lapses of plausibility than usual for the genre, "Diabolique" works well as a crafty suspense drama. Designed as a smart noir thriller, it constantly undercuts our expectations and keeps us guessing from start to finish. It casts itself so self-consciously in the Hitchcockian tradition that the soundtrack even echoes the theme from "Vertigo" in a kind of homage to the legendary director. With several key exceptions, the film also closely parallels the original 1955 French "Diabolique," starring Simone Signoret. Sharon Stone is superb as Nicole Horner, the trashy, ice-queen lover of a sneering elementary school headmaster, Guy Baran (Chazz Palminteri), whose sad, nun-like wife, Mia ("Queen Margot's" Isabelle Adjani), grows sick of her husband's cruelty and pacts with Nicole to murder him. Initially, the plan seems to proceed with proper dispatch. In the days that follow, however, one shocking surprise after another occurs, apparently leaving both women (and the audience) baffled as to whether the sinister hubby is indeed dead and whether someone else knows of their crime. Kathy Bates adds to the suspense in a turn as Shirley Vogel, a snooping, "Columbo"-style police detective who pokes through the evidence and asks questions that could land both the scheming ladies in prison. "Diabolique" suffers mildly from some standard genre weaknesses, including having a character (here, Adjani's) make a few dumb moves, all to increase tension. Some clues discovered by Vogel are so obvious that Stone and Mia should have found them first. Still, director Jeremiah Chechik ("Benny & Joon") resists the temptation to jolt the audience with cheap shots and instead offers a restrained and at times stylish drama that maintains tension throughout. The script by Don Roos ("Boys on the Side") is efficient and effective, and it provides a number of darkly funny one-liners, especially for Stone, who is perfectly cast here. Morgan Creek has produced a taut thriller that, despite all the comparisons with the original, both surprises and delights. Starring Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri and Kathy Bates. Directed my Jeremiah Chechik. Written by Don Roos. Produced by Marvin Worth and James G. Robinson. A Warner Bros. release. Suspense. Rated R for violence/terror, sexuality and language. Running time: 145 min
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