Purple Noon (1959): Rene Clement’s Superb Thriller, Based on Patricia Smith’s Novel, Starring Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet in Top Form

French (Plein Soleil)

Purple Noon, a cerebral psychological noir-thriller, based on Patricia Highsmith’s popular novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley, is beautifully directed by veteran Gallic helmer Rene Clement.

Clement is perhaps best known for his lyrical film Forbidden Games), which won the 1952 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Tanned, tousled, and handsomely built, Alain Delon has never looked more ravishing or behaved more corruptly than as Tom Ripley, a young American in Europe, assigned to persuade his friend Philip (Maurice Ronet) to return home. For a fee of $5,000, Ripley is sent to Mongibello (near Naples) by the heir’s San Francisco-based industrialist father, Mr. Greenleaf, who’s appalled by his son’s financially spoiled conduct and globe-trotting habits.

Ripley, dazzled by the blinding blue sea and the scent of money, enjoys sharing with Philip his glitzy lifestyle on the Italian coast, his art-school fiance Marge Duval (the equally intriguing Marie Laforet), and finally and most scarily Philip’s own identity through murder.

Switching from his initially supporting character role to a leading one, Delon dominates the screen with a labyrinth-like plot of sophisticated lies and no so sophisticated mind games. Based on endless intrigues and ingenious turns of events, tension rises steadily to a twist ending that’s most satisfying.

Highsmith’s Hitchcockian tale of murder, homosexual attraction, and character transference is the first of a successful series of books featuring Tom Ripley. Her work is given the right visual treatment, a sense of sun-struck corruption by Henri Decae’s Mediterranean cinematography, and by the brooding music of Nino Rota, better known for his many brilliant scores for Fellini.

End Note

Earlier in the decade, Hitchcock had made a superb picture out of Highsmith’s book, Strangers on a Train (1951). with Farley Granger and scene-stealing Robert Walker.

Miramax re-released “Purple Noon” theatrically in the mid-1990s to great critical and commercial success, making the film available to a new generation of viewers.

Clement’s French film was remade in 1999 by Anthony (“The English Patient”) Minghella, starring Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the 1959 version is superior since it captures the chill perversity in Highsmith’s novel more effectively and alluringly.

Credits

Directed by Rene Clement
Running time: 115 minutes