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Henri-Georges Clouzot ( – ) was a French film director, screenwriter and producer. Henri-Georges Clouzot was born in Niort, Francemarker, to mother Suzanne Clouzot and father Georges Clouzout, a book store owner. He was the first of three children in a middle class family. Clouzot is best remembered for his work in the thriller film genre, having directed The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, which are critically recognized to be among the greatest films from the 1950s. Clouzot also directed documentary films, including The Mystery of Picasso, which was declared a national treasure by the government of France.

Clouzot was an early fan of the cinema and desired a career as a writer. After moving to Parismarker, Clouzot was later hired by producer Adolphe Osso to work in Berlinmarker on French-language versions of German films. After being fired from German studios due to his friendship with Jewish producers, Clouzot returned to France, where he spent years bedridden after contracting tuberculosis. Upon recovering, Clouzot found work in Nazi occupied France as a screenwriter for the German-owned company Continental Films. At Continental, Clouzot wrote and directed films that were very popular in France. His second film Le Corbeau drew controversy over its harsh look at provincial France and Clouzot was fired from Continental before its release. As a result of his association with Continental, Clouzot was barred by the French government from filmmaking until 1947.

After the ban was lifted, Clouzot reestablished his reputation and popularity in France during the late 1940s with successful films including Quai des Orfèvres. After the release of his comedy film Miquette et sa mère, Clouzot married Véra Gibson-Amado, who would star in his next three feature films. In the early and mid-1950s, Clouzot drew acclaim from international critics and audiences with the releases of The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. Both films would serve as source material for numerous film remakes decades later. After the release of La Vérité, Clouzot's wife Véra died of a heart attack and Clouzot's career suffered due to depression, illness and new critical views of films from the French New Wave. Clouzot's later career was infrequent with a few television documentaries and two feature films in the 1960s. Clouzot wrote several unused scripts in the 1970s and died in Paris in 1977.


Early years

Henri-Georges Clouzot was born in Niortmarker, Francemarker, the first of the three children in a middle class family. Clouzot showed talent at an early age by playing piano recitals at the age of four. Clouzot grew up with a passion for reading that he picked up from his mother, Suzanne Clouzot, and his father, Georges Clouzot, who owned a book store.Bocquet 1993, p.8 In 1922, Clouzot's father's bookstore went bankrupt and his family moved to Brest, Francemarker, where Clouzot's father became an auctioneer. In Brest, Henri-Georges Clouzot went to Naval School and was unable to become a Naval Cadet due to his myopia. At the age of 18, Clouzot left for Parismarker to study political science. While living in Paris, Clouzot became friends with several magazine editors. Clouzot's writing talents led him first to theater and cinema as a playwright, lyricist and adaptor-screenwriter. Clouzot's talents led him to meet producer Adolphe Osso, who hired Clouzot and sent him to Germanymarker to work in Studio Babelsbergmarker in Berlinmarker, translating scripts for foreign language films shot there.


Screenwriting career (1931–1942)

Throughout Clouzot's career in the 1930s, he worked by writing and translating scripts, dialogue and occasionally lyrics for over twenty films. While living in Germany, Clouzot saw the films of F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang and was deeply influenced by their expressionist style. In 1931, Clouzot made his first short film La Terreur des Batignolles from a script by Jacques de Baroncelli. The film is a 15-minute comedy with three actors. Film historian and critic Claude Beylie reported this short was "surprisingly well made with expressive use shadows and lighting contrasts that Clouzot would exploit on the full-length features he would make years later". Clouzot's later wife, Inès de Gonzalez, said in 2004 that La Terreur des Batignolles added nothing to Clouzot's reputation. In Berlin, Clouzot saw several parades for Adolf Hitler and was shocked at how oblivious he felt France was to what was happening in Germany. In 1934, Clouzot was fired from UFA Studios for his friendship with Jewish film producers such as Adolphe Osso and Pierre Lazareffe.

In 1935, Clouzot was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent first to Haute-Savoiemarker and then to Switzerlandmarker, where he was bedridden for nearly five years in total. Clouzot's time in the sanatorium would be very influential on his career. While bedridden, Clouzot read constantly and learned the mechanics of storytelling to help improve his scripts. Clouzot also studied the fragile nature of the other people in the sanitarium. Clouzot had no money during this period, and was provided with financial and moral support from his family and friends. By the time Clouzot left the sanitarium and returned to Paris in 1938, World War II had broken out. French cinema had changed because many of the producers he had known fled France to escape Nazism.

Clouzot's health problems kept him from military service. In 1939, Clouzot met actor Pierre Fresnay, who was already an established film star in France. Clouzot wrote the script for Fresnay's only directorial feature Le Duel, as well as two plays for him: On prend les mêmes, which was performed in December 1940, and Comédie en trois actes, which was performed in 1942. Despite writing scripts for films and plays, Clouzot was so poor that he resorted to peddling lyrics for French singer Édith Piaf, who declined to purchase them. After the German occupation of France during World War II, the German-operated film production company Continental films was established in France in October 1940. Alfred Grevin, the director of Continental, knew Clouzot from Berlin and offered him work to adapt stories of writer Stanislas-André Steeman. Clouzot felt uncomfortable working for the Germans, but was in desperate need of money and could not refuse Grevin's offer. Clouzot's first film for Continental was the adaptation of Steeman's mystery novel Six hommes mort (Six Dead Men). Clouzot retitled the film Le Dernier de six, having been influenced by actress Suzy Delair while writing the script, allowing her to choose the name of the character she would play.

Early directorial work (1942–1947)

After the success of Le Dernier de six, Clouzot was hired as the head of Continental' screenwriting division. Clouzot began work on his second Steeman adaptation, which he would also direct, titled The Murderer Lives at Number 21. It starred Fresnay and Delair playing the same roles they did in Le Dernier de six. The film was popular with audiences and critics. Clouzot's next film was Le Corbeau based on a true story about a woman who sent poison pen letters in France in 1922. Grevin was against Clouzot making this film stating that topic was "dangerous". Le Corbeau would be the last film that Fresnay and Clouzot would work together on, since Clouzot had used all possible means to try to anger Fresnay during the filming and this caused a large fray in their friendship. After Clouzot quarreled with Fresnay's wife, Yvonne Printemps, Fresnay and Clouzot broke off their friendship.Le Corbeau was a great success in France with nearly 250,000 people having seen it in the first months of its initial release. Le Corbeau also stirred up controversy, being attacked by the right-wing Vichymarker regime, the left-wing Resistance press and the Catholic church. Two days before the release of Le Corbeau, Continental films fired Clouzot.

After the liberation of France, Clouzot and several other directors were tried in court for collaborating with the Germans. Clouzot was sentenced by being forbidden from going on the set of any film or from using a film camera for the rest of his life. Clouzot received letters of support from Jean Cocteau, René Clair, Marcel Carné and Jean-Paul Sartre, who were against the ruling. Clouzot's sentence was later shortened from life to two years. There is no official document making note of any apology or appeal. During his two-year banishment from filming, Clouzot worked with one of his supporters, Jean-Paul Sartre, who had been one of the first people to defend Le Corbeau.

Return to filmmaking and acclaim (1947–1960)

After Clouzot's ban was lifted, he re-established his reputation and popularity in France during the late 1940s with films such as Quai des Orfèvres and Manon. For Quai des Orfèvres, Clouzot asked the author for a copy of his novel Légitime défense and started writing the script before the novel arrived for him to read. Quai des Orfèvres was the fourth most popular film in France in 1947, drawing in 5.5 million spectators. For Manon, Clouzot wanted to cast unknowns for the film. He scoured schools to find the actress for the lead role and after over 700 girls he chose 17-year-old Cécile Aubry. Manon was watched by 3.4 million filmgoers in France and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Clouzot also worked on the short film Le Retour de Jean which was influenced by the short period when Clouzot lived in Germany in the early 1930s. Clouzot's next film was the comedy Miquette et Sa Mère which was a financial failure. During the film's production, Clouzot met Véra Gibson-Amado, whom Clouzot married on January 15, 1950. Clouzot and Véra took a film crew with them to Véra's homeland in Brazil for their honeymoon, where Clouzot made his first attempt at making a documentary film. The Brazilian government took issue with Clouzot filming the poverty of people in the favelas rather than the more picturesque parts of Brazil. The film was never finished after the costs became too high. Véra and Clouzot returned to France with the book Le cheval des dieux, a recounting his trip.

Upon returning to France, he was offered a script written by Georges-Jean Arnaud, an expatriate living in South America who had written about his own experiences living there. Clouzot was very anxious to film Arnaud's story, finding it easy to imagine the setting for the film. Clouzot wrote the film with his brother, Jean Clouzot, who would collaborate with him on all his subsequent films under the name of Jérôme Geronimi. Clouzot filmed The Wages of Fear in 1951 and 1952. In order to gain as much independence as possible, Clouzot created his own production company called Véra Films. The Wages of Fear was the second most popular film in France in 1953 and had nearly 7 million spectators. It won awards for best film and best actor for Charles Vanel at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker. In this early and mid-'50s period, Clouzot came to be fully embraced by international critics and audiences, with the films The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. Both movies were screened and reviewed in America as well as in France, and were rated among the best thrillers of the decade. The sole female role in The Wages of Fear is played by Véra. Clouzot wrote the role specifically for his wife as the character does not exist in the original novel. Clouzot's next big hit was Diabolique, whose screenplay he took away from director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1954, Diabolique won the Louis Delluc Prize and the New York Film Critics' Circle Award for best foreign film. In 1955, Clouzot took another attempt at documentary filmmaking with The Mystery of Picasso about Pablo Picasso. Clouzot and Picasso were old acquaintances, having met each other when Clouzot was 14. The Mystery of Picasso won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and was a financial failure in France being seen by only 37,000 filmgoers during it's initial run in 1956. It was later was declared a national treasure by the government of France.

Clouzot's next feature film was Les Espions released in 1957. Les Espions featured actors from around the world including Véra Clouzot, Curd Jürgens, Sam Jaffe, and Peter Ustinov. Les Espions would be the last acting role for Clouzt's wife Véra as Véra had been suffering from severe heart problems since filming Diabolique. Les Espions was not released in United States and was a financial failure in France. Clouzot later admitted that he only liked the first two-thirds of Les Espions. Clouzot's next film La Vérité was made after producer Raoul Levy suggested Clouzot to make the film with Brigitte Bardot as the lead. Bardot starred in the film and would later describe La Vérité as her favorite film among those that she had done. La Vérité was the second most popular film in France in 1960 with 5.7 million audience members and was Bardot's highest grossing film.

Later career and failing health (1960–1977)

Although Clouzot's reputation had spread internationally, Clouzot began to lose favour of French film critics who were part of the French New Wave and refused to take his films seriously. Clouzot took these criticism to heart, saying in the magazine Lui, that he didn't find his films Diabolique and Miquette et Sa Mère important or interesting anymore. The next film Clouzot began working on was L'Enfer. Filming for L'Enfer was never completed. Lead actor Serge Reggiani fell ill one week after shooting began and had to be replaced. Clouzot became ill during production which led to orders from doctors and insurance agents to stop production. After failing to complete the filming of L'Enfer, Clouzot filmed five television documentaries with Herbert von Karajan between 1965 and 1967. After production finished on those films, Clouzot was able to finance his final picture.

Clouzot's return to work reassured the doctors and insurers and he returned to the film studio to make his final film La Prisonnière. The film began production in September 1967 and was halted when Clouzot fell ill and was hospitalized until April 1968. Clouzot began filming La prisonnière again in August 1968. Clouzot incorporated elements of his aborted film L'enfer for the project. After finishing La Prisonnière, Clouzot's health grew worse. The 1970s were not a productive time for Clouzot. Clouzot wrote a few more scripts without ever filming them. Clouzot planned a script for a film about Indochina that was dropped after producers gave into threats of censorship. Clouzot also planned to make a pornographic film in 1974 for Francis Micheline. This project never was never completed. Clouzot's health grew worse and he required open-heart surgery in November 1976. On January 12, 1977 Clouzot died in his apartment while listening to The Damnation of Faust. Clouzot is buried beside Véra in the Montmartre Cemeterymarker.

Personal life

In the late 1930s Clouzot went to a cabaret show featuring Mistinguett and Suzy Delair at the Deus Anes Cabaret. Clouzot waited for Delair at the stage door and after meeting her the two became a couple for the next 12 years. Clouzot had Delair star in two of his films, The Murderer Lives at Number 21 and Quai des Orfèvres. Delair eventually left Clouzot after working with him on Quai des Orfèvres.

Clouzot met his first wife Véra Gibson-Amado through actor Léo Lapara who had minor parts in Le Retour de Jean and Quai des Orfèvres. Véra met Clouzot after divorcing Lapara and while working as a continuity assistant on Clouzot's Miquette et Sa Mère. Clouzot named his production company after Véra and had her star in all three films made by the company: The Wages of Fear, Diabolique and Les Espions. Véra also contributed to the script of La Vérité. Véra Clouzot died shortly after the filming of La Vérité. After her funeral, Clouzot moved to Tahitimarker. Clouzot returned to France in December 1960.

Clouzot met his second wife Inès de Gonzalez originally on the set of at a casting call for a film based on Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark. In 1962, Clouzot met de Gonzalez again after she had returned from South America. In December 1963, Clouzot and Inès de Gonzalez were married.


With the exception of the comedy film Miquette et sa mère, every directorial feature of Clouzot involves deception, betrayal, and violent deaths.When basing screenplays off of written work, Clouzot often changed the stories dramatically using only key points of the original story. The author Stanislas-André Steeman who was an author Clouzot used twice stated that Clouzot would only "build something after having contemptuously demolished any resemblance to the original, purely for the ambition of effect". When writing for his own features, Clouzot created characters which were usually corrupt and spineless, while having the ability for both good and evil within them.

Clouzot was very demanding with his actors and would often quarrel with them to get them in the proper mood Clouzot desired. Suzy Delair recalled that Clouzot "slapped [her]. So what? He slapped others as well...He was tough but I'm not about to complain". Pierre Fresnay recalled that Clouzot "worked relentlessly, which made for a juicy spectacle...That's to say nothing for his taste of violence which he never tried with me". When working with Bardot, one scene required Bardot's character to drool and sleep. Clouzot offered her powerful sleeping pills, saying they were aspirin, and this led to Bardot's stomach being pumped. Although Clouzot was harsh on his actors, he did not treat them fiercely off set; Delair recalled that off set there was an "innocence about him" that was not seen.

Clouzot biographer Marc Godin suggests that Clouzot's life provides clues to understanding his style as a film maker. Clouzot was viewed by many of his collaborators as a pessimist, short-tempered, and almost always angry. Brigitte Bardot described Clouzot as "a negative being, for ever at odds with himself and the world around him". Clouzot's look on life is reflected in his own films that reveal the darker side of humanity.


Despite criticism with the arrival of the French New Wave in France, career retrospectives of Clouzot's work have been positive. Twenty years after his death, Noël Herpe wrote in the French film journal Positif that "Les Diaboliques (just like Les Espions and La Verite) reveals a sterile and increasingly exaggerated urge to experiment with the powers of fiction". Film historian Philipe Pilard wrote that "There is no doubt that if Clouzot had worked for Hollywood and applied the formulas of US studios, today he would be lauded by the very critics who choose to ignore him". Clouzot today is generally known for his thriller films The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. Clouzot's ability with the genre led to comparisons with him and Alfred Hitchcock. Clouzot respected Hitchock's work, stating "I admire him very much and am flattered when anyone compares a film of mine to his".

Several of Clouzot's film have been re-made since their release. Director Otto Preminger adapted Le Corbeau as The 13th Letter. In the year of Clouzot's death in 1977, William Friedkin released a remake of The Wages of Fear, entitled Sorcerer. French director Claude Chabrol released a film based on Clouzot's script for L'Enfer in 1994. In 1996, an American remake of Les Diaboliques was released under the title Diabolique starring Sharon Stone.



  1. Lloyd 2007, p. 5.
  2. Hayward 2005, p. 1.
  3. Mayne 2007, p.21
  4. Hayward 2005, p. 2.
  5. Lloyd 2007, p. 1.
  6. Mayne 2007, p.22
  7. Lloyd 2007, p. 2.
  8. Lloyd 2007, p. 30
  9. Mayne 2007, p.1
  10. Lloyd 2007, p. 35
  11. Mayne 2007, 28
  12. Lloyd 2007, p. 3.
  13. Lloyd 2007, p. 7.
  14. Lloyd 2007, p. 4.
  15. Lloyd 2007, p. 6.
  16. Hayward 2006, p. 116
  17. Lloyd 2007, p. 11
  18. Hayward 2005, p. 3.
  19. Mayne 2007, p.28
  20. Mayne 2007, p.29
  21. Lloyd 2007, p. 9
  22. Lloyd 2007, p. 10
  23. Chandler 2006, p. 239
  24. Lloyd 2007, p. 176


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