PURPLE NOON (PLEIN SOLEIL)
(director/writer: Rene Clement; screenwriters: Paul Gegauff/based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith; cinematographer: Henri Decae; editor: Francoise Javet; music: Nino Rota; cast: Alain Delon (Tom Ripley), Marie Laforet (Marge Duval), Maurice Ronet (Philippe Greenleaf), Bill Kearns (Freddy Miles), Erno Crisa (Inspector Riccordi), Frank Latimore (O’Brien), Elvira Popesco (Mme. Popova), Ave Ninchi (Signora Gianna), Vivane Chantel (La Belge); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Robert and Raymond Hakim; Miramax; 1960-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Alain Delon, in his third film, gives a staggering chilly performance as the psychopathic killer.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
French director Rene Clement (“Diabolique”) and his co-screenwriter Paul Gegauff (Chabrol’s collaborator in the 60s and 70s) base their stylish thriller on the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (she wrote the novel Stangers on a Train that was filmed by Hitchcock). This one follows the successful Hitchcock mystery formula and makes for a film that is intelligently written and always looks appealing and remains seductive, but with little insights. It exposes a man without a conscience, whose thrill is in doing the crime and cleverly trying to get away with it. Henri Decae’s color cinematography of the Italian and Mediterranean locations are breathtakingly stunning. The 24-year-old Alain Delon, in his third film, gives a staggering chilly performance as the psychopathic killer of the dissolute rich young man he was supposed to rescue from Europe but instead decides to steal his identity and his girl. Purple Noon was restored in 1996 by Martin Scorsese who sponsored it for re-release.
The wealthy industrialist family of San Franciscan Philip Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) have lost track of their spoiled playboy son, who is on an aimless holiday in Europe. The father sends his son’s old school chum (which may not be true) American Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) to Italy on an all-expenses-paid trip to retrieve his son and will pay him $5,000 on his son’s return home. The brainy but lower-class Ripley, in the meantime, has told Philip about his dad’s offer and has charmed his way into becoming Philip’s servant and traveling companion, as he has become seduced by the lifestyle of the idle rich and is in no hurry to return to America despite being abusively treated by the nasty Philip.
Tom and Philip are out on a yachting excursion to Taomina from their home base of Mongibello (a small seaside city just outside of Rome). Also on Philip’s luxury boat is his sweet fiancee Marge (Marie Laforet), who is writing a book about Fra Angelico. The men have just come from a visit to Rome without her, where they drunkenly joked around with a blind man and a loose woman they picked up in the street, and ran into Philip’s equally rich American best friend Freddy Miles (Kearns), who expressed disgust at Tom for being a parasite.
On the boat Philip acts obnoxious towards Marge and treats Tom with contempt, seemingly to see how far he can go in mistreating Tom. Why Tom is on the boat might be hidden by a secret homoerotic yearnings on the part of Philip. While Tom is envious of his devilish hedonistic companion and is secretly plotting for the opportunity to get rid of him for his own selfish reasons. When Marge urges Philip to drop Tom off at shore because she wants to be alone with him and Tom overhears this, the plot thickens. Philip boorishly tricks Tom to get in a dinghy and keeps him drifting alongside the yacht while he spends some quality make-up romantic time alone with Marge. But the tow-line was cut and Tom’s rowboat drifts off to sea, where he’s rescued but suffers from a severe sunburn. Seeking revenge, Tom plants a woman’s earrings in Philip’s jacket pocket and when the jealous Marge discovers this the two have a spat, culminating in Philip angrily throwing her manuscript overboard. Marge then requests to be put ashore and Tom and Philip continue with the voyage. But with Philip expressing no interest in returning home and showing a growing distrust for Tom, he tries to buy him off to leave. But Tom suddenly knifes Philip to death and disposes of his body in the sea, and then puts together his maniacal plan to be the rich playboy and take over his fortune and girlfriend.
Clement does a nice job of not rushing to the conclusion but allowing the viewer to identify with such an outcast and see where he’s coming from and the steel nerves it takes to pull off such an impulsive murder scheme that keeps running into problems from the forgery of signatures to acquaintances of Philip’s showing up and asking questions and dealing with the police. To add to the suspense there’s the creepy cheerful pop-style piano score by Nino Rota.
The question at the end remains, was this a perfect crime?
REVIEWED ON 2/8/2004 GRADE: A-