If you haven’t already, you ought to check out the new Criterion release of Plein Soleil / Purple Noon. Rene Clement’s 1960 film based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is very impressive indeed.
For those who haven’t seen the film, read the novel, or seen the more recent Hollywood version, the plot is an intriguing one—Tom Ripley, a young man of no visible means, is hired by the father of his childhood friend Philippe Greenleaf to travel to Europe. There, he is to convince his childhood friend to give up his playboy existence and return home. Arriving in Europe, Ripley reveals the true purpose of his trip to Greenleaf and the two co-conspirators travel Europe together. Ripley is openly enamoured with Greenleaf’s charisma and wealth; Greenleaf is alternatively amused and sickened by Ripley’s infatuation. The friendship ultimately sours as the easily bored Greenleaf tires of Ripley and begins mocking him for his monetary ambitions and lack of worldly experience. Ripley appears the victim as he endures Greenleaf’s taunts.
Too self-absorbed, Greenleaf realizes only too late that Ripley has been scheming to murder Greenleaf and assume his identity. Following Greenleaf’s murder, the film changes directions, as the plot focuses on Ripley’s ingenuous efforts to maintain two identities, both as himself and Greenleaf. The film has a number of twists and at least one more murder as Ripley seeks to avoid detection by both the law and Greenleaf’s friends. The film maintains a taut, suspenseful tone perfectly until it reaches its flawed end. Without saying too much, Clement chooses a moralistic ending that is less satisfying than Highsmith’s original novel.
There is more to the film than a great script. Alain Delon delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the amoral, reptilian Ripley. His performance is remarkably subtle–in a number of scenes, he lets his eyes do all the acting. Maurice Ronet is no less impressive as Philippe Greenleaf, making vividly apparent his callousness, sadism and entitlement. Marie Laforet who plays Greeleaf’s lover Marge is also striking, believably portraying Marge as her feelings for Ripley shift, from distaste to hatred and from sympathy to love. The cinematography skilfully captures the film’s beautiful Italian and Mediterranean summer landscape. Adding to it all is Nina Rota’s superb score. Highly recommended.