Studio: The Criterion Collection
Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt
Director: René Clément
Release Date: December 04, 2012
Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:58m:00s
Genre(s): drama, french
"This time you've gone too far. What kind of game were you playing with him?" - Marge (Marie Laforêt)
Alain Delon's beautiful and cold Tom Ripley is one of film's all-time great villains, and this new edition of Purple Noon shows off the film's sensuous pleasures to great effect.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A
Director René Clément's Purple Noon is the first adaptation of American writer Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, itself only the first of five novels involving the criminal exploits of counterfeiter, forger, sometimes-murderer, and sociopath Tom Ripley. In this wonderfully sensuous film, Ripley is played by the très jolie Alain Delon as he traipses through some of the most lovely scenery of 1960's Italy.
The ingratiating Mr. Ripley is tasked by the father of wealthy jet-setter Philippe Greenleaf with seeking out his son in Italy, to return him to the US to take over the family business. Tom quickly ingratiates himself with Philippe and his fiancée, Marge (Marie Laforêt) making of himself a novel diversion, and just as quickly becomes a third wheel to the young lovers. Ripley is always a third wheel--charm and ingratiation in place of human connection. After Philippe catches Tom wearing his clothes and making out with himself in the mirror, Philippe looks to ditch the now creepy hanger-on. The manipulative Mr. Ripley won't be so easily distanced from the object of his obsession (his efforts to distract Marge and Philippe from their love-making suggests an obsession with the man, while his constant talk of money implies a desire to become him--that conflict drives Ripley). The only real difference between the two men is calculation. Dickie's privileged disregard (he buys a blind man's cane solely so that he can manhandle women with impunity) mirrors Tom's self-absorption, though he entirely lacks Tom's drive or genius. Both men are in it for their own pleasure, it's only that Tom just plays a much longer (and more interesting) game. Philippe's not fooled by Tom, but comes to find him an intriguing if dangerous diversion. Tom even details his plan to Dickie, "hypothetically": kill him, hide the body, and then impersonate him just long enough to clean out his accounts. Tom's cleverness, for better and worse, will determine to what extent his plan succeeds. What remains is a cat-and-mouse game as Ripley attempts to dodge the Italian police as well Philippe's pals long enough to complete his plans. It all plays out against the backdrop of a sun-drenched and beautifully photographed (by one of the French New Wave's favorite cinematographers, Henri Decaë) Italy with masterfully evocative music by the great Nino Rota, perhaps best known for his Godfather scores.
Though a bit unfair, it's hard not to consider Purple Noon in the context of the writer Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley oeuvre, nor without the other film adaptations in mind. Delon was only the first actor to play Mr. Ripley, with John Malkovich being among the most recent and Dennis Hopper and Matt Damon in the intervening years. A much-commented upon aspect of this film involves its ending. Without giving much away (i.e., I'm about to give a bit away--fair warning) Clement's film lacks the some of the courage of Highsmith's novel; for her sometimes gleefully sociopathic Tom Ripley character, she never saw need for and comeuppance. It's a little disappointing that the film goes to such lengths to make Tom Ripley fascinating, only to feel the ultimate need to remind us that crime does not pay. In Ripley's novelistic world, crime very often does pay, and criminals very often enjoy themselves a bit along the way. That's a truth that film has always struggled with, and, as a result, a bit of a moralistic tone near the end feels out of context from what came before.
As for this Criterion disc: this new digital restoration is stunning, befitting one of the most famously beautiful films of all time. The colors pop, and the image is clean and clear without any evidence of over-cleaning or other forms of digital abuse. The uncompressed mono soundtrack can be a tiny bit shrill given the Mediterranean-style music present throughout, but it's otherwise entirely effective. Extras include a new and thoughtful interview with film historian Denitza Bantcheva on the film's director, as well as archival interviews with Alain Delon and and writer Patricia Highsmith, who discusses some of the various film adaptations of her novels. Also included is a lovely 37-page booklet including a new essay on the feature by Geoffrey O'Brien as well as a vintage essay by the film's director. Oh, and the obligatory original trailer, as well.
Ultimately there's a great deal to enjoy here. Purple Noon succeeds as both a work of film, and as a sensuous pleasure. It's essentially a crime caper film, but at a very human scale and against a gorgeous backdrop. Delon's Ripley is both beautiful and wonderfully cold, and sits near the top of the list of the great film bad guys that you want to succeed in spite of yourself.
Posted by: Ross Johnson - January 5, 2013, 3:37 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: french new wave, italy, ripley