Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)
(France, 1960)

I first had the opportunity to view Purple Noon during its 1996 theatrical re-release (championed by Martin Scorsese through Miramax Films). The film gripped my imagination early and didn't let go. I can recall thinking about this movie days after I had seen it, and, in particular, pondering why no one in the '90s was making this kind of film. Three years later, director Anthony Minghella tried not only to make this kind of movie; he tried to make this movie. The re-make went back to the source material, Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley". The result, while arguably truer to the events of Highsmith's book, is vastly inferior. To say it suffers by comparison to Purple Noon is an understatement. Almost every aspect of Rene Clement's 1960 motion picture is superior to that of Minghella's 1999 version, from the cinematography to the acting to the screenplay. Matt Damon might make a credible Tom Ripley, but only for those who never experienced Alain Delon's portrayal. I have seen Purple Noon fewer times than most films in my Top 100 (only twice), but the impressions and images remain so clear that I didn't feel another viewing was necessary before penciling this title into its slot.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Purple Noon is an autopsy of a near-perfect crime, and a compelling look at the man who commits it. Played by a twenty-something Alain Delon, Tom Ripley is, at first glance, an unlikely criminal. Apparently insecure, he spends his time bumming around Italy, trailing after playboy Phillippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) and his beautiful fiancee, Marge (Marie Laforet). Tom has been commissioned by Phillippe's father to bring the wayward son back home to San Francisco. The fee for the job is $5000, but, once Tom becomes involved in Phillippe's life, its seductive leisure entices him away from his original goal -- or so it seems. This is all really setup, because the meat of the story reveals that Tom is, in fact, an amoral killer, willing to do just about anything to get what he wants. And, while there's a prize for each crime, it's not the money that interests Tom. Rather, he enjoys toying with his victims and the police by seeing just how far he can go without being caught. His schemes become progressively more complex, involving switched identities, forged signatures, and more than one body. Tom is without remorse; the only emotion he displays is satisfaction at the success of his latest caper.

Nothing about Purple Noon is pedantic or predictable; it's two hours of pure suspense that puts many of the recent so-called "thrillers" to shame - a masterful effort by director Rene Clement. In addition to a fine performance by lead actor Alain Delon, Purple Noon is characterized by expert camerawork and crisp direction. Clement understands how to sustain tension without drawing it out too far. The film is exactly the right length, as are each of the individual scenes. Cinematographer Henri Decae has composed each of his shots carefully, including a masterful series of closeups of Delon's eyes that reveal the sinister intelligence behind the apparently guileless exterior. There's nothing as engrossing as watching a truly intelligent thriller, and that makes this film a rare treat.

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