A shocking tale of murder and deceit, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, was presented in great style in this 1960 film by French director Rene Clément.
In French director Rene Clément’s 1960 thriller Purple Noon, Maurice Ronet plays Philippe, a rich playboy who enjoys goofing off in Italy in the company of Tom, played by Alain Delon, a young acquaintance who’s been sent by Philippe’s father to coax him back to their home in the States. Philippe seems to have everything, including a yacht and a beautiful fiancée (played by Marie Laforêt). Tom has nothing except single-minded cunning and good looks. His plan is to eliminate Philippe, forge his signature so that he can steal his money, and then assume his identity and eventually win the girl for himself.
Clément teamed with Paul Gégauff to adapt the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. After a shaky start, the picture finds a very effective tone of understated calculation, aided immensely by Delon’s breakthrough performance. This Ripley is not an intellectual schemer, and not particularly self-aware, but an intensely driven young man, hungry for status and importance, amoral rather than immoral. Delon is able to mask his character enough to make him mysterious, while revealing just enough to make him compelling.
You may recall the story was later adapted by Anthony Minghella in 1999 under Highsmith’s original title, with Matt Damon as Ripley, and that version has its own strengths, but Purple Noon is more faithful to the clever technique of the novel. This movie’s rich color (it was shot by the veteran Henri Decaë), attractive locations, and Nino Rota score create an unexpectedly queasy effect when combined with the stomach-churning plot, which involves Ripley spinning more and more complex webs of crime and deceit. Clément doesn’t need to trick the film up with melodrama or shock effects. By turning a dispassionate gaze on the story’s increasingly bizarre developments, the movie manages to make evil seem mundane and familiar, and therefore quite disturbing. It’s a tight piece of work, both an engrossing suspense film and a psychological mystery, and thankfully, it doesn’t try to be anything more. The ending is just about perfect.
Purple Noon is available on DVD.