Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Talented Mr. Ripley from a couple of seasons back was a reasonable suspense film that
had its good graces and its admirers. Most viewers still don't know that there's another picture
based on the same Patricia Highsmith mystery novel - an equally good thriller made 42 years ago, in
Italy by French director René Clément. Lovers of noirish fare will probably prefer
this foreign original - the plotting is coffin-tight, and the actors include some excellent, unfamiliar
faces. Purple Noon was also the star-making role for gallic heartthrob Alain Delon.
Rich American Phillip Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) refuses to come home from Italy,
despite his father's dispatching young Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) to fetch him for a $5,000 fee.
Phillip is perfectly happy spending the family money on a yacht and romancing his fiancee, Marge Duval (Marie Laforet). Tom and Phillip spend their time getting
drunk and carousing with other friends and acquaintainces on the Italian coast, much to the
consternation of the faithful and forgiving Marge. Tom, a pauper living on Phillip's nickel, is
an adept con-man, having already convinced Phillip's father that he was an old friend. Phillip admits
that his promises to return are empty. But even though they joke about how easy
it would be for Tom to kill his 'best pal' and take his place, Phillip has no idea of the schemes
that are running through Tom's head.
Purple Noon is a very slick and accomplished crime drama, beautifully put across in all
departments. The leading players are excellent, with Marie Laforet intelligent and touching as the
duped girlfriend, and Maurice Ronet OK passing as an American, even though everyone speaks
French and Italian. Alain Delon, who we're used to seeing in his later films as a stoic icon, here
shows us why critics in 1960 thought him the French James Dean and the best new actor around.
The suspense is very powerful ... the story is the Noirish kind of impersonation tale which
seldom seems credible in movies, yet works well, thanks to the absence of pointed
direction or dramatic music to telegraph surprises. Without having to resort to contrivances or foolish coincidences,
Purple Noon makes Tom Ripley's identity theft a simple matter of nerve. The other
characters aren't morons - Neither Phillip, his girlfriend, or especially his best friend Freddy
Miles (Billy Kearns) completely trust Tom, but it matters not. With his special 'talent' for
cold-blooded deception, all Tom needs is some diabolical luck to succeed.
Henri Decaë's color photography is splendid. The Italian seasides are beautiful, yet the film
never becomes a travelog. Such is the extent of René Clément's expert control, that
we are almost immediately pulled into the tale, and the picture's superior production values
become a seamless part of the fabric. Not a member of the New Wave, Clément made
classics way before (La Bataille du rail, Forbidden Games) and rather good pictures
afterward (such as the unjustly maligned Is Paris Burning?) and unlike his trendy contemporary
Roger Vadim, his pictures come off art and not commerce. I would put Clément very high
in the ranks of European directors.
The big film noir revival that begin in the 1970s brought new attention to the contributions
of mystery writers. Patricia Highsmith was previously best known in films for her source
original that became Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Both stories have at their center
sociopathic 'heroes' who connect homoerotically with successful or wealthy men with whom they
would desire to switch lives. Tom Ripley's attraction to Phillip in Purple Noon is nowhere
near as explicit as it is in the remake, which split its attention between the thriller plot and
the self-destructive Ripley character. Unfortunately, this came off as another permutation of the
stock convention of gay characters always becoming villainous psychos, so The Talented Mr.
Ripley was a mystery with a dour ending and a character study with few answers.
Purple Noon sticks to the crime facts and perhaps more easily leaves a better impression. Also,
frankly, Matt Damon is no Alain Delon in the charm or looks departments. You believe Delon can keep
his intelligent chums from becoming too suspicious, whereas Damon's snide veneer is so obvious,
a baby wouldn't take candy from him.
Savant favorite Romy Schneider makes a brief cameo appearance in the first scene. Already firmly
established, she was there because of a relationship with star Alain Delon which reportedly
lasted decades, through several marriages, and was a great source of sadness for her. All of which
adds to our wish that the villain Tom Ripley will get his just desserts. Purple Noon is such
a sophisticated thriller, it has us squirming in anticipation.
Miramax's DVD of Purple Noon is a satisfactory disc which could have been better if the company
had seen fit to give it a 16:9 transfer. As it is, the show is very colorful and clean, but not all
that well-digitized. There are more compresson flaws than there should be. This doesn't hurt the impact
of the story, but the picture never pops to life, as does
The Young Girls of Rochefort from
the same company. An English track is included but is not particularly recommended unless one wishes
to hear what the film sounded like when imported to the States. At $32.99 retail, this is kind of pricey
for a disc with no extras and a flat transfer, indifferently encoded.
The original French title, Plein Soleil, appears to mean 'full sun' and may have something
to do with the bad sunburn Tom receives early in the film. Nowhere does the disc explain the
significance of the English title.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Purple Noon rates:
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: February 22, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2002 Glenn Erickson
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