by Allan Fish
(France 1960 116m) DVD1/2
Aka. Purple Noon
A preface on Fra Angelico
p Robert Hakim, Raymond Hakim d René Clément w René Clément, Paul Gégauff novel “The Talented Mr Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith ph Henri Decaë ed François Javet m Nino Rota art Paul Bertrand
Alain Delon (Tom Ripley), Marie Leforêt (Marge Duval), Maurice Ronet (Philippe Greenleaf), Erno Crisa (Riccordi), Frank Latimore (O’Brien), Bill Kearns (Freddy Miles), Elvire Popesco (Mrs Popova), Ave Ninchi (Signora Gianna), Romy Schneider,
By the 1960s René Clément was not a name bandied about in circles of the intelligentsia, far too old-fashioned for the national cinema beating to the rhythm of the nouvelle vague. His last major film, Plein Soleil, based on Patricia Highsmith’s famous novel from 1955 thus became if not forgotten, then at least marginalised. Cut forward the best part of forty years and another director, Anthony Minghella, decided to do a remake, and all of a sudden, as is the wont these days, any previous version of the story became hot property. Those who believed Delon came to prominence in the films of Visconti and Antonioni were forced to take stock. Could the remake top the original?
The Talented Mr Ripley is a fine film in its own right, perhaps overlooked at the time because the tone was so different to the preceding Minghella epic The English Patient, but offering fine acting opportunities to Matt Damon (the first in a strain of coldly conditioned characters that would prove his metier in the upcoming years), Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, especially, Jude Law. What made Law so perfect was that he could have been Ripley himself, as that’s essentially the plot’s premise. For here was Tom Ripley; wastrel, moocher, leech, call him what you like, but employed by Philippe Greenleaf’s father to persuade him to come back from his playboy Mediterranean lifestyle to San Francisco. Ripley has bigger ideas, though, using his knack for thinking on his feet and forgery, and the fact that he looks quite like Greenleaf, to kill him, steal his identity, his money and, perchance, his girl.
A bastard then; yes, but in truth all the lead characters are flawed, some of them indeed little more than parasites. And if some find the opening expository scenes a little slow, it’s deliberate, for the slow build-up of tension that results is essential; Clément’s narrative must build as remorselessly as Ripley, who has no remorse. There’s something disturbing in the relationship between Ripley and Greenleaf, and while the homoerotic undertones of the later film are largely absent, the faint aroma is still there. Clément, for his part, does a masterful job, especially on the set-pieces, such as several last ditch escapes from the law, the murder on the yacht, the signature forgery scene, and that ending. Highsmith hated the ending, as she would, for it stunk of middle-class morality, with Ripley getting found out as he never does in the book, but I think she’d be hard pushed otherwise to say that it wasn’t the best adaptation of her work on screen, probably even edging out Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Yet Clément is helped by various collaborators, with Ronet superbly dissolute as Greenleaf and Delon a sensation as the steel-nerved Ripley (his best roles would all be in this ultra-cool vein). It’s the little details, the looks, the mannerisms, the calculated imitation of someone studying an entire lifestyle for a most searching practical exam. To this add Nino Rota’s score, which may just mark the mid-point between his Fellini fantasias and his operatic dirges to the Corleone clan, and the photography of Henri Decaë (no DP made Delon look better). One hesitates to call it sun-kissed, though it is, but there’s something toxic in the solar lipstick. Don’t turn up late for you may miss Romy Schneider as one of Freddy’s friends in the opening scenes; face it, she could have been Marge, but she would have her own dates with Mr Delon in the upcoming years. And finally, with sad irony, as Soleil was in post production, news came of the death of Clément’s friend Gérard Philipe, nine days short of his 37th birthday. Let’s face it, a decade earlier, he would have been Ripley.