Almost forty years before Anthony Minghella offered us a tantalizing look at the scheming, murderous Tom Ripley in the person of Matt Damon, René Clément accomplished Ripley’s cinematic debut in Purple Noon, and he had an actor as talented and charismatic as Minghella had to play his nefarious charlatan – Alain Delon. Clément’s film isn’t as psychologically complex or as morally ambiguous as Minghella’s effort, but it’s a crackerjack thriller with measured pacing and picturesque views of Italy that give it real texture amid its twisting plot turns.
Purple Noon (Blu-ray)
Directed by René Clément
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 117 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Review Date: December 1, 2012
Sent by the millionaire father of Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to bring his son back to San Francisco, charming, fun-loving vagabond Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) hatches a better plan: kill Philippe and claim his millions for himself by masquerading as Philippe. With some careful preparations, the scheme begins promisingly but before long, curious friends like Freddy Miles (Bill Kearns) and Philippe’s devastated fiancé Marge (Marie LaForet) begin to look for answers to Philippe’s disappearance leading Tom to have to continually alter his plans to sidestep discovery. Eventually another murder takes place, and Inspector Riccordi (Erno Crisa) begins his own investigations regarding this attractive young man with too many quick answers.
Though fans of the book The Talented Mr. Ripley and its 1999 film version directed by Anthony Minghella will easily recognize the basic elements of Patricia Highsmith’s story, the script by director René Clément and Paul Gégauff smoothes out some of the psychosexual quirks of the characters and adds its own Guy de Maupassant-style ironic ending. Still, the basic story of a loser wanting to become a winner at long last rings true and engages the viewer quickly. Clément stages the murders circumspectly and doesn’t focus on the violence as much as he does on Tom’s indifference toward taking a life (he sits eating a roasted chicken with a body lying in the middle of his living room floor). The first murder scene on a boat with a storm which builds and builds in intensity is filmed in a wild and wooly freewheeling style that’s rather breathtaking (a bonus feature on the disc reveals that the events of the murder’s aftermath with Delon struggling to maintain control of the craft and his being knocked into the water were not scripted but happened during shooting and were kept in the finished film). There’s grisly fun in the aftermath of the second murder as well as Tom must get the hefty body of his victim down flights of stairs and into a car in full view of any passersby, another inspired scene beautifully staged and shot. Clément takes the time to show Tom’s intricate preparations to become Philippe, especially the elaborate means he uses to teach himself how to forge his friend’s signature, and the film comes full circle at the end with a satisfied Tom with the money and the girl and a life of leisure that’s about to slip away again.
This was only Alain Delon’s third film, and it made him understandably an instant star. He’s stunningly handsome, of course, but he also has the kind of twinkling charm that he can turn on and off like a spigot. Marie LaForet had no training as an actress for the part of Marge, and her inexperience shows in some scenes where she’s just a cipher amid so much vivacity going on all around her. Maurice Ronet’s Philippe doesn’t get quite enough screen time to display a fully developed character, but Ronet does well with what he’s been given. Erno Crisa is that most familiar film tool: the smiling policeman whose suspicions are hidden behind a hearty and pleasant veneer. Bill Kearns sneers effectively as the nosy, arrogant Freddy.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is pleasing for the most part, but the image is never as detailed as some of the best Blu-ray discs. Color is very appealing and nicely saturated with skin tones very realistic throughout. Black levels are just acceptable, but the overall image has been beautifully cleaned of age-related artifacts (a look at the trailer on the disc will show what they had to work with) and is free of any dust or scratches. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is very typical of its era. The entire film was post-synched, so there is that expected flatness and aridness to the sound that is emblematic of this process. There is also some low level hiss which comes to the fore during the film’s quieter moments though it’s usually not a problem at all. But Nino Rota’s delightful score has some spunk to it despite a lack of great fidelity.
All of the bonus features are presented in 1080p.
Film historian Denitza Bantcheva discusses René Clément’s career filled with two Oscars and multiple prizes from Cannes, Venice, and Tokyo as well as his denigration by the French New Wave directors. She also discusses the casting of the film, the shooting on location in Italy, and then offers an analysis of the movie’s themes and construction. This runs 26 ¾ minutes.
A 1962 TV interview with Alain Delon allows the actor to talk a bit about his life before becoming an actor and how he got pressed into making films. He also speaks with great admiration and affection of Luchino Visconti and René Clément as the two greatest influences on him as an actor. This piece runs 9 ¼ minutes.
Original author Patricia Highsmith is interviewed in a 1971 piece for French television in which she discusses her work, her writing technique, her opinion of the (then) three film versions of her works, and her complete lack of interest in writing for films or the theater. This runs 19 minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs 4 minutes.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 37-page booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, some beautiful color stills from the movie, author Geoffrey O’Brien’s analysis of the film and career of Clément, and a 1981 interview with director Clément about Purple Noon.
4/5 (not an average)
It’s always fascinating to see how different directors approach adapting a classic piece of thriller fiction for the screen. Purple Noon may simplify and revise some of the more offbeat aspects of Patricia Highsmith’s original novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, but on its own it’s an outstanding effort that’s beautiful to look at and wonderful to contemplate. Recommended!