Patricia Highsmith’s creation Tom Ripley has had an extensive life. In addition to her novels, many film iterations have been made, and Purple Noon (Clément, 1960) stands as my favorite (The American Friend comes in a very close apples-and-oranges second place). Purple Noon towers over the rest of the competition with an irresistible backdrop of a quaint, sun-drenched, bare-skinned Italy, with an irresistible collection of gorgeous actors, with a top notch director of actors and artist of narrative structure, and with a screenplay that adds layers of delectable ambiguity to a tale of need, identity, and murder.
For something so elegant and so precisely crafted, it’s also a masterpiece of improvisation. Credit director René Clément for knowing when to add the right scenes in the moment, credit cinematographer Henri Decaë for a nimble and expansive camera, credit the actors for rising to the occasion. This improvisation resulted in key, unforgettable scenes, including the completely accidental plunging of Delon into the sea while trying to manage Philippe’s body and that murder itself.
It feels as if Tom is simply making it up as he goes along, seizing each opportunity without thinking much farther ahead. The audaciousness of the two murders comes in part from the fact that the first happens in the middle of the day, in the middle of the ocean. While not exactly a busy thoroughfare, Tom could have been seen, or caught. The second, happening during the day while children play outside, is also a crime of opportunity, with the very real fact of a large body to have to dispose of in the middle of a city. Plein soleil indeed. Both end with Tom ravenously satiating his primal yearning with food.
In his penultimate moment of freedom, Tom basks in the sunlight and in his own self-satisfaction. Or so Clément would have us believe. He did say that this ending, with Tom’s crime about to be punished, “somehow . . . reassures people.” I don’t buy it. I know Tom Ripley got away.
What you’ll find in this episode: what types of crime films we like, an extended disagreement on how personal these crimes may be to Tom, why the New Wave started a beef with Clément, and Ericca mentions Alain Delon’s beauty a lot.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out Purple Noon on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Elevator to the Gallows.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Forbidden Games.
Purple Noon: A superior take on The Talented Mr. Ripley.
René Clément’s obituary.