Thursday, May 2, 2013

"P" is for Purple Noon

 Here's an helpful nugget for those of you who are unfamiliar with Purple Noon (Plein soleil): in addition to being able to sing the title like it's a Prince song, it's the first cinematic adaptation of a Tom Ripley novel. You might recognize said character from his other appearances on film, most notably in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley, Wim Wender's The American Friend, or Liliana Cavani's* Ripley's Game.

 Instead of Matt Damon or Dennis Hopper or John Malkovich, the Tom Ripley in René Clément (Is Paris Burning?)'s adaptation is the dashing Alain Delon (Le Samouraï). Clément wrote and directed Purple Noon five years after the publication of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and until very recently I must admit that I didn't know that it existed. But I'm glad I do now, because I had the opportunity to watch it and it's pretty damn good.

 While I never did get around to watching Minghella's 1999 adaptation - think of it as a byproduct of a late 90's aversion to Matt Damon that I've long since gotten over - I did read Highsmith's novel many years ago, and remembered enough of it to notice the changes in Clément's film. For the most part, they're minor ones: a character dropped here or there, changing a few names and locations, but mostly the story is intact through the middle of the film.

 The biggest changes come at the beginning and the end, one of which I'm more comfortable addressing than the other. Normally the Cap'n could care less about spoiling movies for you, but as I imagine some of you might actually want to see Purple Noon - and enjoy it, too - now that you know its background, I'll skirt cautiously around how the ending differs from the novel (and, since I looked it up, the ending of the 1999 version). Just in case.

 Rather than start in the U.S., Purple Noon picks up with Tom Ripley (Delon) already in Rome with Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) - not "Dickie" in this version - where they've been bumming around and picking up women by pretending to be blind. They also run into Freddy Miles (Billy Kearns), who is probably still supposed to be American, but as everyone is either speaking French or Italian in the film, we'll give that a pass. That wasn't the primary distraction with Kearns, as despite my best efforts, I couldn't help but see Freddy Miles as Patton Oswalt dressed up as Jack Nance for Halloween.

 Tom and Philippe eventually return to Mongibelo, where Greenleaf''s girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt) - who IS French (and implies will be going back to Paris later in the film) - is, living in the carefree playboy's house. Ripley is still trying to bring Philippe back to San Francisco to collect $5,000 from Greenleaf's father, but a taste of the good life gives him an idea. On a boat ride to Taorima, Italy, Ripley takes advantage of a prank gone awry to drive a wedge between Marge and Philippe, and when they're finally alone on the boat, he kills Greenleaf and buries the body at sea. Ripley - a master con artist - assumes Philippe's identity, forges letters and impersonates his victim well enough to fool Marge into thinking that her boyfriend ran away without her. Eventually, Ripley's game runs into a few hiccups as he must contend with Philippe's friends and Italian police interested in a murder of desperation.

 It's been long enough since I read the book that there were still a few nice surprises, ones I can't remember whether they came from the novel or not. Philippe essentially seals his fate by exposing Ripley's plan on the boat, and once Marge demands to be left at a nearby port, he and Tom sit down and play out the logistics of murdering someone and stealing their identity, up to a fatal game of very high stakes poker. While the murder is easy, Ripley nearly takes himself out with the body, falling into the choppy waves and just barely climbing back onto the yacht (named, of course, Marge).

 Delon is certainly a more handsome Tom Ripley and looks less like he'd be trying to imitate Philippe (Ronet only looks slightly older and more tanned) than simply assume his personality. I don't necessarily buy that this Tom Ripley could easily physically slip into the role - even during a scene early on where Tom is wearing his clothes and imitating his voice and hairstyle - but he strikes a more sinister figure. He simply doesn't care about anybody and will drop everything if he thinks his cover is blown, save for one exception.

  This moves us towards the end of the film, so if you want to avoid SPOILERS, just go rent Purple Noon right now.  Clément does downplay the homoerotic undertones of the relationship between Tom and Dickie from the novel, to the point that Ripley instead fixates on stealing Marge away from her dead lover. Of course, she doesn't know Philippe is dead, but Tom takes full advantage of being her only "link" to the man she thinks is hiding from her, and slowly he ingratiates himself into her heart. The major changes near the end have more to do with Ripley choosing Philippe's last act before "suicide" to be to will his fortune to Marge, much to the consternation of Mr. Greenleaf.

 Ripley also decides to return to Mongibelo, despite having managed to clear himself of any serious suspicion from the police, solely for the purpose of wooing Marge. At first, it appears he's succeeded, but when Ripley's insistence on selling the boat of his murdered "friend" turns out to be carrying a surprise, the film takes a more conventional turn in its closing. I suppose it's fair - even for 1960, to let Tom Ripley get away rich, albeit paranoid, is too subversive for conventional cinema. As it is, Clément gets away with a lot as it is - instead of killing Freddy Miles with an ashtray, Ripley clubs him to death with a statue of the Buddha, which I can hardly imagine isn't meant to have some degree of irony attached. While there is a mystery, we suppose, it always seems so easy for Tom Ripley to stay one step ahead, and the more conventional ending serves up an ironic twist for our anti-hero. Justice is served, even if it might complicate the other Ripley stories to come.

 Ah well, Purple Noon is an engaging, at times suspenseful film with beautiful cinematography and some impressive sections in small quarters (in particular, Clément uses the tiny yacht to maximum effect and creates a sense of claustrophobia even out in open water). I was amazed at how quickly the story moved for nearly two hours, and found myself caught up again, despite recalling many of the major beats. Call Purple Noon a happy discovery - rarely am I so glad to have been ignorant of cinematic adaptations, but it did mean I got a pleasant surprise out of it.

 * As I mentioned in the review for The Night Porter, I didn't even realize that Cavani had directed another film about Tom Ripley when I selected Purple Noon for the list. Tenuous connections live on!

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