July 2014 Blind Spot Film: Purple Noon / Plein Soleil (1960)

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It’s been over three years since I saw an Alain Delon film, that was  Le Samouraï  where he played a silent-but-deadly assassin. Well as Tom Ripley, he isn’t quite as taciturn but he’s just as deadly. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was familiar with the story from the 1996 film version. I can’t remember much of the details of that one thankfully, so when I watched it, the story still felt fresh to me. Though it’s based on the same novel, the two films were pretty different. There’s a homo-erotic undertones in the 1996 version that wasn’t present in this one, and the ending is also very different.

SPOILER ALERT!
Just like other Blindspot entries, this review may contain some plot discussions.

Right away I thought Delon was a far more appealing and at the same time more sinister version of Tom Ripley than Matt Damon was. With his razor-sharp cheekbones and steely gaze, Delon possesses a certain coldness, that dangerous undercurrent lurking beneath his impossible good looks. Sent to Italy by a wealthy Mr. Greenleaf to retrieve his playboy son Philipe and bring him back to San Francisco. Though Delon essentially plays an American, he barely spoke a word of English as this is a French film.

Tom is to be paid $5000 for his services but later the offer is retracted when Mr Greenfield realizes Tom fails to do his mission. By the time we see him hanging out with Philipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the two are like inseparable friends. Even as Philipe’s longtime friend Freddie (Billy Kearns) resents Tom for being a moocher, Philipe enjoys spending time with him … for a little while at least.

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Philipe’s fiancee Marge (Marie Laforêt) feels sorry for Tom but at the same time she’s not comfortable having him around. Well, can’t say I blame him, especially when it’s someone who obviously doesn’t mind spending other people’s money and wears her fiance’s clothes. There’s a really disturbing scene where Ripley is mimicking Philipe in front of the mirror whilst wearing his clothes and shoes. What’s more disturbing is that Philipe is well aware that Tom is lusting after his lavish lifestyle, yet he still lets him hang around with him. They even go on a yacht trip together, the three of them. Whilst Philipe is making out with the beautiful Marge under the scorching Mediterranean sun, Tom’s lustful eye follows every inch of them.

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Director René Clément filmed the psychological thriller in an expertly manner. The tension isn’t overt but it’s always lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike. The dialog at the yacht between Philipe and Tom is particularly fascinating as Tom jokingly tells him about his whole plan about killing him and taking his identity. At first Philipe seems nonchalant about the joke, even pointing out the weak points about Tom’s plan and all that. He gradually begins to suspect it wasn’t a joke after all, but by then it was too late. This is the most action-packed scene in the whole film, and Clement doesn’t overwhelm us with ominous score, instead he lets the natural elements like the choppy waters and high winds build  tension. Delon’s shirtless tanned body as he vigorously grabs the yacht steering wheel in this scene definitely sticks with you. An iconic combination of sex appeal and disquieting menace set in a panoramic vista.

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The cinematography by Henri Decaë is absolutely striking, whether it’s the narrow, cobblestone streets or the vast blue ocean, every frame is postcard-worthy. This movie could practically double as a Italian tourism video, especially mixed with Nino Rota‘s jazzy score. Best scenery of all is in Delon himself, what with cheekbones you could cut yourself on and those chilling, penetrating blue eyes that Decaë often frame in extreme close-ups. The devil comes in attractive packages and there are few men more attractive than the French actor. All the beautiful people and striking scenery gives a staggering contrast to the ugly-ness and darkness of the human soul. Even Philipe who’s the victim in the story is not a sympathetic character as he’s a hedonist and a bully. In a strange way, as wicked as Tom was, there’s a bit part of me that’s curious if he would get away with it. I’m not saying I sympathize with him, but like any great cinematic villain, he remains magnetic and captivating despite his vice.

Delon practically outshines everyone in the film as you can’t take your eyes off him. Obviously he’s devastatingly beautiful, but looks alone isn’t enough to carry a role like this. Peter Bradshaw’s review at the Guardian says it best “… his almost unearthly perfection is creepy itself, as if he is imitating a human being.”

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Now, about that ending. I found out after watching the film that in the book, Ripley did get away with his crime, but he becomes haunted with paranoia that he would be caught. But the ending in the film implies that Ripley was arrested when the policemen discovered Philipe’s decomposed body still tied to the anchor cable that’s tangled around its propeller. I do think the book’s ending is far more intriguing and audacious, it seems that the censorship code is to blame for the more tame finale. But still, it was a memorable ending with the sun-drenched Ripley sipping cocktails on the beach… the tranquil sight of the beautiful Riviera contrasted with a stomach-churning shot of a decomposed hand peeking out from a body bag.

If you have seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, I highly recommend you to check out this one. I’ve never seen Mr. Clément’s work before but I definitely should check out more. I’m also curious to see other roles by Delon as the two I’ve seen so far depict him as this cool and calculated persona, which he obviously excels at. He’s the perfect Tom Ripley here, far more effective than Damon and even John Malkovich in Ripley’s Game. Clément’s been called the French Hitchcock and it’s definitely fitting, yet his direction is still unique in that somehow the suspense is more subtle and there’s even a laid-back approach, keeping us mesmerized and on edge at the same time.

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  Purple Noon? I’d love to hear what you think!