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This is the sort of movie which makes my job a little easier. Everything about this movie depends on its twist ending, and since I won`t reveal it, I won`t have to describe so much. All I can really say about this classic is that it contains a nifty plot, and demonstrates the evil of humanity in callous terms.

The headmaster of a boy`s boarding school, actually owned by his wife (Vera Clouzot) and her dowry given to him in marriage, proves himself to be a tyrannical and wicked man. He slaps his wife around often, preying on her emotional and physical weaknesses. And he flaunts his affairs in front of her, including a recently broken affair with one of the teachers, a tall, strong blonde played by Simone Signoret. The wife and the teacher have become kindred spirits in that they`ve both faced the headmaster`s abuse, and eventually, with the aggressive, insinuating power of the teacher, they both concoct a devious plan of murder.

The wife and the teacher sneak out of the school and head to the teacher`s apartment. The wife phones the headmaster wanting a divorce. He, of course, heads over there to aggressively talk her out of it. First with kind words, then with slaps. What he doesn`t know, however, is that a bottle of wine, which he eventually drinks, is laced with a sedative. He passes out, and the teacher, with very squeamish, reluctant help from the wife, drowns him in the bathtub.

The two then attempt to sneak the body back to the school, and make it seem like a nasty accident. Typically, there are many instances where it seems they will get caught. But they successfully return the body and throw it into the swimming pool.

So the plan has succeeded. Or has it? What originally was a slow but well-plotted thriller turns into something bizarre. The body simply....goes missing. The headmaster`s suit he wore on his death is returned from the cleaners. And a retired inspector wanders in from somewhere, grilling the wife`s already fragile state into something bordering on madness. Both the wife and the teacher are at a loss to explain why everything is happening this way. And then the movie reaches its final act.

As I`ve said, everything depends upon the trick ending, which truly is shocking. You will try to figure it out, and, in some cases, you may be right, since it seems that the truth is staring us right in the face. But I seriously doubt that a person without any prior knowledge of the ending could ever guess it and be absolutely correct when it arrives. As well, the revelation discloses a story about as creul and heartless as they come. While most thrillers of the Hollywood mode will at least attempt to paint a rosy picture somewhere amid the chaos, none of that relief ever finds its way here. The characters are either evil, weak, or detached, and there is no way out of these ingrained traits, which will disappoint or disturb some viewers. But while this is not a happy movie, it`s a great one, filled with twisty writing, intense psychological portraits, and a perfectly realized ending.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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