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.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Tom Ripley's purple noon

 "Mercilessly cool, wickedly intense"

PLEIN SOLEIL: Based on the novel by crime scribe Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) Rene Clement's striking study from 1960 of a glamorous and complex psychopath features a career-defining turn from a young, beautiful and ultra-cool Alain Delon.  In a taut, expertly crafted thriller Delon is Tom Ripley, an emissary sent by a wealthy American industrialist to save his son, errant playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) from a life of decadence in Italy. Insinuating himself into Greenleaf's existance Ripley practices his signature, dresses up in his clothes before attempting to steal his life, his girl and of course his money.

Recenly remade as the star-studded THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, PLEIN SOLEIL (PURPLE NOON) is an engrossing meditation on transference and deceit, highly rated by the famously critical Highsmith. The film is a genuinely stylish original.  So says the dvd blurb - but I am sure Highsmith was not pleased that her ending was changed, as back in 1960 our hero could not be seen to be getting away with it.

It is an odd sensation returning to a key movie of one's youth. I saw this circa 1960 in my small town cinema in Ireland when I was about 14 and suddenly I was aware of European glamour and beauty and decadence.  Though I have written about it quite a bit here (see labels) I had not actually sat down and watched it for a long time ... back then I was fascinated by the two boys enjoying their trip to Rome and that fantastic introduction to Marge with the Fra Angelico pictures and her singing that song and strumming the guitar and then we see her eyes ...

Visually, this film could serve as a cinematic poster for a Mediterranean cruise. Cinematographer Henri Decae draws us into the film with its alluring Italian locales and gorgeous panoramic vistas. Bright, complementary hues and high color contrast translate into eye-popping reds and yellows. And, of course, there's the deep blue color of the sea, and a brilliant sunlit sky. 

It is fascinating to contrast with Anthony Minghella's 1999 version, where they are fussily dressed in cliche 1950s fashions: hats, gloves, big dresses - but our glamorous trio in 1960 are wearing casual wear that has not dated at all - all those clothes could be worn now and are still smart and stylish. Delon wears a cream colour suit to die for. The look and style of Clement's film simply has not dated after 50 years. Damon too is a more geeky nerdy type and in the later version Jude Law stole the show. He toys too more homoerotically with Ripley, like in that bathroom scene (below).  What one gets in the 1960 version is how Dickie suddenly realises he is in danger on that yacht ... the later version also has that local girl who kills herself as Dickie has made her pregnant, presumably this is to make him more of a heel so we do not mind too much when he is offed ....In the recent version Dickie seems bored with Marge (Paltrow) and then gets bored with Tom whom he constantly reminds how poor he is ... the murder here is in a rowboat and seems inspired by anger rather than pre-meditated. In the original the scenes on the yacht at sea are very well done, like Tom getting sunburt when exiled to the dinghy when Dickie's prank goes too far...

I love the Highsmith book and have re-read it several times, and for a book published in the mid-'50s it is surprisingly explicit about Tom's background and desires. Minghella broadens the material by bringing in the characters played by Cate Blanchett and Jack Davenport - which is a total departure from the novel and the first version and creates a whole new final section. As I say in earlier posts, even as a teen I loved the look and style of Delon and Laforet and Ronet too, and there is that moment with Romy Schneider. The plot though seems a bit rushed now in the Clement version, with Tom ensuring that Marge gets Dickie's money - but surely he wanted it all for himself ... it still looks astonishingly modern 50+ years later .... it and Melville's LE SAMOURAI (Delon label) and of course Visconti's ROCCO and THE LEOPARD and Antonioni's L'ECLISSE certainly remain Delon's main achievements. Laforet is a wonderful singer too, and Ronet was another leading French actor, as per my post on him and those Louis Malle films like LE FEU FOLLET (Ronet label). and we have reviewed several Clements here: KNAVE OF HEARTS, GERVAISE, and that '58 favourite THE SEA WALL, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Michael thank you for this significant post. The intensity of Delon's scorpio magnetism became his trademark. The combination of darkness and light or of beauty and evil visibly co-existing in his face gave a career which quality film maker's exploited seductively.

    Rene Clement, Henri Decae & Alain Delon make for extraordinary European glamour. I always remember most particularly Marie Laforet character's name pronounced softly as .....Maaarj....not the harsher English sound of Marge. High contrast colour background provides alluring enhancement.