Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot had two lengendary square-offs for film adaptation rights for novels by the writing team of Boileau & Narcejac.
The first of which was for Les Diaboliques. Htichcock wanted it, but did not get it. How Hitchcock having done that film in 1955 would have changed his career it’s hard to tell, save for the fact that it likely would’ve accelerated his evolution and perhaps there would not have even been a film version of Psycho. For if Hitchcock had unleashed Diabolique on an unsuspecting American public, then maybe Psycho wouldn’t have seemed as shocking. Though there are some clear differences.
The second such square-off was for the rights to the book D’entre les morts. That one Hitchcock won. It later became known to US audiences as Vertigo.
I venture in this post to just do a bit of dream-casting in the what if scenarios of Alfred Hitchcock directing Diabolique in the US in 1955 and Henri-Georges Clouzot directing D’entre les morts in France in 1958.
So who would be this dream cast? Although the last vestiges of the studio system were still hanging about in 1950s, Hitchcock was at that point virtually his own boss so if he had a film he could do it how he saw fit and studio affiliations of actors and the like wouldn’t matter as much. Since this is a hypothetical situation, and one that involves Hitchcock, it’s essentially carte blanche.
There are a few possibilities that came to mind for Diabolique in the US in the 1950s. Hitchcock always did have stars involved but for the most part they were the best fit for the role also. For the role of Michel Delasalle, let’s call him Michael in the US version, the seemingly-jilted husband; a few possibilities came to mind.
Hitchcock did a lot of work with Cary Grant in the 1950s so his name would naturally come up. Though Grant could easily play this two-sided role he was perhaps too classically good-looking. Perhaps someone with a little more of a rugged and mysterious quality; I also considered Fred MacMurray. MacMurray’s career was a fascinating one. He was a film noir staple and later became a linchpin to many family-oriented projects; first, the sitcom My Three Sons and then many Disney films. However, as good as that selection seems, the potential of Robert Mitchum was just too enticing. Just imagine that in some alternate universe Robert Mitchum made Diabolique and Night of the Hunter in the same year. The mind boggles.
For the role of Christina, Michael’s wife who is always racked with more doubt than her cohort, only one name really ever came to mind: Audrey Hepburn. Not only is Hepburn perfectly suited for this part, but it would have been fascinating to have seen her in a Hitchock film and playing a school teacher a few years prior to The Children’s Hour.
The role of Nicole was one I tussled with a bit. Hitch’s only only 1950s blond that was in the vicinity of this character to me was Anne Baxter. However, there is that bombshell quality to the character which is why Simone Signoret is in Les Diaboliques and Sharon Stone was tapped for the American remake. So there was one more dream pairing with Hitch that just had to be made: Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn is likely where my warning about studio affiliation comes most into play, but I think whether Fox got involved or loaned her, if Hitch had this cast in his sights, and this property, some arrangement would’ve been made and it would’ve been a colossus.
Clouzot’s D’entre les morts
My frame of reference for an American Diabolique is much greater than mine is for a French Vertigo, which in all likelihood would’ve just retained the title that Boileau-Narcejac gave it in the first place D’entre les morts. However, two names immediately came to mind for the two key roles in the film and I never looked back from there.
For the role that became ‘Scottie’ (James Stewart) in the American version I thought only of Maurice Chavalier. Granted Chevalier was 10 years older than Stewart at the time but there is an analogous quality between the two that I think would’ve made Chevalier quite the amazing fit. His interpretation I’m sure would’ve been very powerful.
The blond goddess, the now seeming reincarnation of his lost love, in the late 1950s in France could be played by no other than Brigitte Bardot in my mind. Though I suspect Clouzot would’ve likely gone back to Simone Signoret for this part too as he did for Nicole in the Diabolique that did occur.
I’m not sure if I’ll find another instance in film history that coud’ve changed things so greatly that would allow me to speculate like this anew, but it was sure great fun this time around.
Who would you see in these films if things had gone differently?