"Purple Noon," ("Plein Soleil") (!960), is a classic of the French cinema, a full-color crime/thriller/drama set on the luscious Italian Riviera. It was adapted and directed by highly- respected French director Rene Clement, (Criterion Coll: Forbidden Games
), from The Talented Mr. Ripley
, a thriller by the American author Patricia Highsmith, best-known for Strangers On A Train
. PURPLE NOON gives us loads of lush and beautiful scenery, and two of the most beautiful French leading men of the time, Alain Delon (Alain Delon - The Screen Icons Collection [DVD
]) and Maurice Ronet (After The Fox [DVD] [1966
]). It was the first filmed treatment of this important, insidious novel, which quite likely owes its kernel to Henry James' The Ambassadors
. Highsmith's novel, of course, was to be filmed again, more recently in 1999, as The Talented Mr Ripley
, in English, by British director Anthony Minghella. That version was to star Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
However, in PURPLE NOON, the cagey Tom Ripley, who is played by Alain Delon, is sent to Europe by a Mr. Greenleaf to fetch back his spoiled, playboy son, Philippe, played by Maurice Ronet (known as Dickie in the novel and the Minghella version, and why did they ever change it here?). Tom is to receive $5,000 for this pleasant chore. Philippe toys with Tom, pretending he will go back; nevertheless, he has no intentions of honoring his father's wishes or of leaving his bride to be, Marge, played by Marie Laforet, a Stockard Channing look-alike. As time passes, Mr. Greenleaf comes to consider the mission a failure and cuts Tom off. Tom then kills Philippe, and co-opts his enviable life. However, Ripley's complicated impersonation begins to entrap him, and suspense builds. He will need all his abilities as a conman to keep Philippe's friends and the police off his much too hot trail.
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is first in a five-book Ripley series penned by Highsmith, known to its fans as the Ripleyiad. This is a sexy, and gorgeous looking film adaptation, but it veers off in some odd directions, perhaps motivated by the more puritan American market of the time. Oddest, to me, is the omission of the strong homoerotic currents between Ripley and Greenleaf that haunt both the underlying book and the later film. Ripley, instead, is here made much more heterosexual than his creator envisioned him. Other odd plot changes from Highsmith's underlying book would make it much more difficult to film the later books of the Ripleyiad. Nevertheless, the movie is worth a viewing on its own terms: it is tight and suspenseful, set in beautiful Italian scenery, and stars two beautiful men, each of whom we get to see in great eyefuls.