Rene Clement's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley is still a daring and delicious examination with a raging psychopath. Clement's dreamy 60's French cinematic flavour is neither inferior nor superior to Anthony Minghella's later remake. Two different but worthy artistic adaptations of a terrific story.
Purple Noon (1960) dir. Rene Clement
Starring: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Lafloret, Bill Kearns, Erno Crisa
By Alan Bacchus
The effect of watching a remake of a film you've already seen and enjoyed is often confusing. Purple Noon of course was famously remade by Anthony Minghella as The Talented Mr. Ripley, the same title as Patricia Highsmith's novel but generally considered less faithful. I haven't read the book but admire greatly Minghella's film. And so watching Purple Noon years after Ripley has me subconsciously connecting both films.
In this case, both films line up very closely but with a few significant additions of Minghella's which had created a divided camps between the versions. Both have their merits, both are great films, from different filmmakers, great filmmakers even, from different eras.
Purple Noon joins the journey of Tom Ripley (Delon), an American (though speaking French), hanging out with the suave Philippe Greenleaf (Ronet), a smooth playboy living the highlife on his father's old money. While Minghella's film showed us the series of happenstance events that lead to Ripley finding Greenleaf and this falling under his spell of attraction, Clement parachutes us into the fun loving European adventure of the pair. We're only told in dialogue of Philippe's father's hiring of Ripley for a sum of $5,000 to bring him home. And same with Tom's lies about being a former schoolmate of Greenleaf's. As such we believe at the beginning of this genuine friendship, and with a gradual unravelling of Ripley's deceptions. Thus without this background knowledge Ripley comes as even more cold, enigmatic and psychopathic.
Clement and Delon's ability to have us sympathize with Ripley under Clement's streamlined narrative is all the more admirable and impressive. And though the homosexual subtext is less overt here, it's delicately inferred by the homoerotic glare his camera gives to Delon.
Clement's tonal and visual aesthetic is superlative. The film was made at the time of the influence Nouvelle Vague films, but instead Clement chooses the formal/classical look and feel of his French contemporaries Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jean-Pierre Melville. After Greenleaf gets knocked off my Ripley in fit of rage aboard his boat, thus sending Ripley into a frenzy of deceipt in order to cover his tracks, Clement kicks the film into high gear. Clement lasers in tight on the procedural details of Ripley's actions, the task of evading the police and the psychological effects of assuming the identity of Greenleaf.
Delon performs the task with a different kind of stone cold efficiency than Matt Damon's. Though emoitionless and dispassionate, our sympathy derives from Delon's magnetic performance, devilishly handsome, but still aloof and alien to Greenleaf's world. Thus, in the end, both Anthony Minghella's film and Clement's arrive at the same place, Highsmith's strong themea of class and desire.
Purple Noon is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection