Thursday, April 12, 2012

Purple Noon

Plein Soleil; crime, France/ Italy, 1960; D: René Clément, S: Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, Maurice Ronet, Erno Crisa, Frank Latimore, Billy Kearns, Romy Schneider

The spoiled and rich American heir Philippe Greenleaf is enjoying himself with his lover Marge in Rome. Tom Ripley is sent to persuade him to "settle down" and return to San Francisco, but eventually decides to join his escapades. Philippe, however, is very annoying and even punishes Ripley once by leaving him alone on a boat tied to his yacht, on the blistering heat. Upon leaving Marge on the shore, Ripley stabs Philippe and throws his corpse via an anchor cable in the sea. Forging his signature and passport photo, Ripley takes Philippe's identity in another suburb. When one friend, Freddie, figures that out, Ripley kills him. Taking all of Philippe's fortune, Ripley "returns" back to his own identity and starts a relationship with Marge. However, Philippe's corpse is found.

One of the French movies from the 60s that somehow struck the right chord and found universal appeal worldwide, Rene Clement's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's crime novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a grand crime classic about identity theft and a far superior film than the eponymous US version made 30 years later. In playing Tom Ripley as a complete character, not as a beau, Alain Delon achieved one of his greatest roles. The first 20 minutes may seem rather ordinary and the viewers may need some time to "adjust" to the storyline, but once the yacht segment starts and Ripley eliminates the rich Philippe Greenleaf in order to take his identity, the sophisticated suspense slowly starts to build, engaging more and more. Especially clever from the film was to show how Ripley has to balance and switch from Philippe's identity - when he is in a hotel and takes money from the account of the dead Philippe - and then back to his own name in order to avoid his friends recognizing him, which gives the movie spark since you never know what is going to happen next or if he will make a false step. The long sequence where Ripley has to dispose of a second corpse - of a man who figured out he is an impostor - by carrying him down the stairs, "disguising" him as a drunk and then throwing him into the car at night was executed almost without dialogues and is one of the highlights of the film whereas many details are delicious (Ripley using a slide projector to screen a huge image of Philippe's signature on the wall, so that he can practise forging it) which all contribute to a crime story not even Agatha Christie would be ashamed of.


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