"Diabolique" (1996) and "Les Diaboliques" (1955)

from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Diabolique is the Sharon Stone remake of a classic Clouzot tale of suspense. The 1955 release ended with a famous admonition not to reveal the surprise ending to anyone.

Now don't read on if you want to see the original (believe me, you don't want to see the remake), because I'm going to spoil it for you.

Rumor has it that Hitchcock called to get the rights to this novel only 30 minutes after Clouzot had obtained them. Clouzot and Hitchcock were rivals, contemporaries, virtual equals, and profound influences upon one another. It was excellent source material, and the original is filled with taut suspense, although it is ruined by one-dimensional characterizations.

The basic summary is this: a wife plots with her abusive husband's mistress to kill him. They drown him in a bathtub, then toss him into a scummy swimming pool. When the pool is drained, the body is missing, and all sorts of strange clues about him start turning up. Are the two women being set up by a blackmailer who saw what they did? Or is there something else? There are hints that he is still alive.

OK, here's the surprise ending - the spoiler you don't want to read if you plan to watch the original. The wife has a severe heart condition. Turns out that the husband - in collusion with the mistress - faked his death and came "back to life" in the wife's bathtub, where the sight of him scared her to death. Unfortunately for the murderers, a nosy Columbo-like detective figured it all out and sent them to the Bastille or something.

The remake held on to the one-dimensional characters, but didn't bother to retain much suspense, and dragged the movie on past the original surprise ending.

In the remake, it turns out the wife doesn't die from the sight of him, she recovers, forgives the mistress, and the two women finally do succeed at killing him. In a very silly scene, the mistress hits the husband with a garden rake. Then he fall sinto the pool where they drown him by co-operating to hold him down. Sharon Stone is seen underwater, holding down the husband while she stands in the pool in her high heels. I'm not kidding.

A female detective (sex change from the original) sees the entire thing, but she decides to look the other way because the husband was a slimeball. In fact, the detective even becomes an accomplice in covering up the crime.

Why remake the classics? The Scoopy theory is to remake only above-average movies, never poor ones or classics. With a good-not-great movie, you may have the raw material to turn something up to a higher level. (The Thomas Crown affair is a pretty good example.)

But not the classics. I like Sean Penn, but I just don't see any need for his version of Casablanca.

Anyway, the 1996 Diabolique remake was a lame movie. The photography is blurry, some scenes are totally unrealistic in a modern context, all three main characters are one-dimensional and unbelievable, not to mention unlikeable, and the editing is choppy. And, even though she is breathtakingly beautiful, if you could go through the screen you'd kill Isabelle Adjani yourself for her whining and constant eye-widening. What more is there to say?

The box office was $17 million domestic ($35 million foreign) on a $30 million dollar budget.

The production was rife with problems. First Clouzot's widow sued the production company, saying that they didn't acquire the rights.

Then Stone was said to be a pain from the beginning to the end of production. She brought her own wardrobe person, ordered a ton of clothes on the film's ticket, and refused to do a nude scene that was specifically stipulated in her contract. All this for her paltry $6 million dollar fee. And then she said publicly that she was ashamed that the production company was trying to cheat Clouzot's widow! The director said, "Sharon is great in the movie, (but) ... doesn't have a clue as to what she is talking about. She is not an easy actress to work with."

Well, I suppose he was right about some of that, but not everybody saw her acting as a threat to the memory of Jessica Tandy. The Razzie Awards gave her their "worst new star" nomination for the "new, serious Sharon". But I suppose she probably did OK. The portrayal was cartoonish, but I think it's difficult to split out the blame between her and the screenwriter. Personally, I don't think she had a realistic character to work with, and Streep couldn't have done much more.

Too bad about Stone's non-existent nude scene, but Adjani's body double did one just a few minutes into the film. Both the body double and Adjani looked especially good. Isabelle was 41 when she made this, but she could easily have passed for a woman in her late 20's, and the facial close ups don't betray her at all. Of course, they're so blurry, how could they?

The 1955 Version

IMDB summary: 8.4 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon

Apollo rating: 85 out of 100

Apollo users rating: 88 out of 100.

1996 Version

IMDB summary: 5.0 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon

Apollo rating: 46 out of 100

Apollo users rating: 63 out of 100.

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