Purple Noon January 13, 2015
Looking like a picturesque walk on the beach on the outside but resembling a rotting, maggot-infested organ system on the inside, Purple Noon is a two-faced thriller that receives its pleasures through evil, greed, and lust, all wrapped up in fiendishly scenic locales and intangibly sexy characters.
Purple Noon was the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s now legendary The Talented Mr. Ripley, a crime novel so seasoned, so subtly facetious, and so astute that it still manages to ring with a timeless edge. Notably, the novel was adapted by Anthony Minghella in 1999, starring Matt Damon as the icy Tom Ripley and placing Jude Law as his first murder victim, Dickie Greenleaf. That film exuded with uncomfortable verisimilitude that worked wonderfully within its realm, but Purple Noon is the better of the two, devising such an authentic illusion of beauty that the jolts of Ripley’s crimes hit with a tidal wave of surprise.
Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is an American in Italy, traveling not for pleasure but because the father of his wealthy friend, Phillipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), has hired him to bring his son back home after months of solitude. Though he is paid steadily, Tom has no incentive to bring Phillipe back to San Francisco with immediacy — why rush a free trip to Europe?
Tom and Phillipe enjoy the sights and sounds that they are so easily able to afford, yachting by day and drinking martinis by night. Tom has lived a humble life, but his taste for luxury is rapidly mounting into a bite. When it suddenly becomes clear that Phillipe isn’t planning on traveling back to America anytime soon, Tom is willing to go to deadly lengths to maintain his newfound fortune.
Purple Noon wouldn’t have the same peerless cool if not for Alain Delon’s performance, which is surely one of his career defining moments. In Highsmith’s novel, Tom Ripley always felt like a monster — he seemed faceless, a porcelain piece of unsettling sadism. Delon, an actor with startling good-looks on his side, makes Ripley not only a criminal mastermind but an appealing salamander of sin. His impressive tan and pointed smolders make him look like an intellectual Hitchcock wrong-man; we’d never expect that, sneaking behind those symmetrical features, is a snake of venomous aspiration. Ripley gets away with murder, identity theft, and more with an implausible slither, but, yet again, who would turn towards Alain Delon when a more obvious creep is strolling down dimly lit alleyways?
René Clément moves the story along with a mercilessly slow pace, but if it lifted into a sprint, would there be as many kicks and punches? Certainly not. Purple Noon is the sort of thriller that receives its suspense not through long slash and stalks but through drawn out tension that is smashed into bite-sized pieces with a metaphorical hammer. Clément bathes the film in Technicolor exoticism, bringing a new warmth to the scenery of Italy, but even with countless beach umbrellas, sun-kissed cafés, and rustic villas at every corner, blood still ruins fluidly. It’s a distraction, but it’s a distraction that makes Ripley all the less human.
Though the ending steers clear of Highsmith’s ballsy closure, which left room for a number of ferocious sequels, Purple Noon is a fantastic exercise in style that turns the tables on us and becomes much more than an exercise in style. Murder has never looked quite so vile, even if the murderer's the male Brigitte Bardot. A-