Career defining masterpiece from the French Hitchcock René Clément
Patricia Highsmith was spot in when she remarked René Clément’s 1960 adaptation of her novel The Talented Mr Ripley was, ‘very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect’. Filmed on location in Rome, Naples and islands off the Italian mainland and featuring glorious sun-drenched cinematography by Henri Decaë, watching Plein Soleil (or Purple Noon) is a transporting experience. No doubt, Highsmith was also referring to the beauty of the film’s male lead, a young and impossibly handsome Alain Delon, whose looks and ice-cold turn as the killer Tom Ripley made him a star.
Clément’s film of Highsmith’s book also gives us plenty to think about. The plot, in which the talented but impoverished Ripley is hired by the wealthy American father of an old friend to bring the rich kid home from an extended vacation in Italy, serves to highlight the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Once Ripley realises his friend, Philippe Greanleaf (Maurice Ronet), has become bored with his company, he hatches a plan to murder him and assume his identity and all the luxuries that come with it. Seizing his destiny in this way remains a provocative notion, although the film fudges it a bit with a tacked on ending that suggests Ripley doesn’t get away with murder, the one aspect of Clément’s film Highsmith was disappointed with.
Nevertheless, Plein Soleil remains a masterpiece. It defined the career of its director, who became known as the French Hitchcock. The extended sequence during which Ripley murders Greanleaf while aboard his yacht on balmy seas is as striking as anything Hitch filmed. Now restored (to celebrate Delon’s career at Cannes this year), Henri Decaë’s photography and Nino Rota’s alternately cool and chilling score look and sound superb.
Limited release from Fri 30 Aug.