Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Plein Soleil / La Piscine / The Fascinating Mr Ripley

1960 was such a key year - not only PSYCHO and L'AVVENTURA but also PLEIN SOLEIL (PURPLE NOON), my introduction to continental movies, when I was 14 - its been a lifelong love affair! It was a whole new way of seeing movies for the young me. Left: that classic Delon pose; above: Delon and Marie Laforet - they look so good together.

Did the blue mediterranean ever look more attractive than as captured here by ace cameraman Henri Decae? Its the look Anthony Minghella tried to re-capture for his version, THE TALENTED MISTER RIPLEY in 1999, but there they are self-consciously designed to look '50s period, whereas in the original its that real 1959/1960 look. Alain Delon at 24 though as the cool killer is aeons away from the needy nerd portrayed by Matt Damon - though the later film is also a fascinating spin on the Highsmith original.

Patricia Highsmith's orignal, for a novel published in the mid-50s, is fascinatingly explicit about her anti-hero's psychology and its one of my favourite books which I can happily re-read every few years and led to my endless fascination with Highsmith and her works, including those other Ripley novels. Clement's film is a stripped down, more enignatic telling as Tom, Dickie Greenleaf (the very under-rated Maurice Ronet) and Marge (dazzlingly attractive Marie Laforet) play out the drama in that perfect setting and on the boat. Bright, complementary hues and high color contrast translate into eye-popping reds and yellows. And there's the deep blue color of the sea, and a brilliant sunlit sky, as Clement allows the amorality of his characters to run loose. I was fascinated by it at the time. I still love that introduction to Marge as the camera pans over those Fra Angelico prints while Laforet strums the guitar and sings in that terrific decor, as we just see her eyes initially in closeup.

The film remains fascinating as Tom twists and turns to avoid the law and those looking for the real Dickie. The one flaw is the ending though I dare say its perfect in its way for that time.
Minghella's expanded version in 1999 makes Tom's attraction to Dickie and his lifestyle more obvious with that bathroom scene as the bored Dickie toys with Tom and fatally taunts him about Tom's dependency on him. This Dickie is more of a heel with the (invented by Mingehlla, who also did the script - a labour of love obviously) pregnancy of the local girl who drowns herself - so we don't feel that bad about Dickie's fate - though we miss the charismatic Law. Very intriguing new ending with those expanded roles for Blanchett and Jack Davenport.

Thankfully the 1960 original is still in circulation and looks even better on dvd. It is perhaps Delon's defining role. Antonioni's L'ECLISSE and then Visconti's THE LEOPARD made him the prestige young actor, just as Romy Schneider was becoming the prestige actress of the time, as their romance wound down. He was fun and attractive too in a French comedy FAIBLES FEMMES. He also had a flirtation with Hollywood making a few inconsequential films there, before returning to France and classics like LE SAMURAI and BORSALINO with Belmondo, remaining one of France's most intriguing stars. One could write lots about his later films and scandals. There are several dvd box-sets too, worth investigating. I recently discovered Clement's 1954 KNAVE OF HEARTS (or MONSEIUR RIPOIS) with that pre-Delon charmer Gerard Philipe (reviewed here in an earlier post) - it was worth the wait.
Ronet had a great career too [I particularly like him in Malle's LE FEU FOLLET and in Chabrol's LE FEMME INFIDELE]- he and Delon had a (murderous) re-match in Jacques Deray's 1969 thriller LA PISCINE (THE SWIMMING POOL) also re-teaming Delon with Romy Schneider. Its certainly fascinating (if too long) for those who like these players; Delon and Schneider also team up for Losey's ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY in '72 by which time Romy had become one of the stars of French cinema.
Ripley continued in another favourite: Wim Wenders' THE AMERICAN FRIEND with Bruno Ganz (and, oddly, Dennis Hopper as Ripley) in '77 and in Liliana Cavani's very intriguing RIPLEY'S GAME in 2002 with John Malkovich and Ray Winstone.
Above: Romy Schneider in her one shot appearance at the start of PLEIN SOLEIL.
Below: Delon, Schneider, Ronet and Jane Birkin in the 1969 Deray thriller LA PISCINE. Jane looks like she is still in BLOW-UP mode.


  1. Besides the almost pornographic beauty of Delon in Plein Soleil, can we just mention the gorgeous clothes? It's one of the films on my very short list of iconic male fashion films. Admittedly, Delon looks even better undraped, but when he is clothed, everything is immaculate.

  2. Exactly - in tbe Minghella version they are dressed in frumpy '50s fashions (apart from Damon's yellow speedo) - but the Clement original has those perfect casual clothes of that '59/'60 era, where they are much more casually dressed - and that look works perfectly today 50 years later!