'Purple Noon,' Réne Clément's sumptuous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel, 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' is one of few moments in cinema where the film version becomes something wholly unique through the director's interpretation of the source material. Like Highsmith's novel, 'Purple Noon' takes the desires of Tom Ripley and makes them the desires of the audience – at least, there is some desire on the part of those viewing to see that all of Ripley's murderous machinations pay off. In a sense, Tom Ripley's – and in a manner of speaking, Alain Delon, the actor who made such an enormous splash in the cinematic world by playing him – pursuit of such tangible, material pleasures is also the pursuit of the audience as the film becomes increasingly voyeuristic in its appeal.
So when the film takes a sharp turn and descends into an ever-deepening, dream-like state of sun-kissed bodies, golden sandy beaches, and the serene greens and blues of the Mediterranean's summertime waters, 'Purple Noon' becomes something not unlike a fantasy played out in Tom's conscious mind. For a time, there's nothing this talented Mr. Ripley can dream up which cannot be accomplished. From the deceptively simple task of maintaining the appearance of membership amongst society's elite, to the more labor intensive pursuits of mastering the signature of his upper-class superior, Philippe (Maurice Ronet), to the murder and subsequent disposal of those who would prevent him from achieving that which he most desires: simply the best of everything.
It's as though the storm Tom sails through while trussing up his deceased friend/tormentor like a stuffed bird, before the wind sends them both tumbling into the choppy sea, was the rabbit hole through which Tom unwittingly traveled to see his plans come to fruition. At that point, Clément takes 'Purple Noon,' 'Plein Soleil,' 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'…whatever you'd like to call it, and transforms the narrative into a unique and exquisite discussion on morality, consumptive ferocity and, most of all, the ephemeral nature of all beautiful and pleasurable things.
At once, Tom slips as comfortably into the world of idle opulence as he does when slipping on one of Philippe's monogrammed shirts. It is both a sense of conquest and a reminder of just what rightful prize the world had denied him simply for being born to the wrong parents. It is the openness of Tom's deception, the way he hides by concealing himself in plain sight, relying on the perception of others to get him through one increasingly more elaborate fabrication than the next that makes him such an intriguing subject, and why there have been so many adaptations of Highsmith's Ripley novels. Tom's enjoyment of the material world is portrayed superbly by Delon, and through Clément's direction. From his playful self-seduction in the mirror, taking on the guise of Philippe, to the lavish hotels and apartments in which Tom further hones his deception, utterly embodying the lifestyle and name he coveted while stuck on the proverbial outside.
And then a stroll through an open-air market lets the viewer know just what is at stake – and here Clément and his co-screenwriter Paul Gégauff set the tone for the remainder of the film. Though, we know he is a criminal, that he is a villain, there is never any outright denouncement of Tom's actions or his desires. There is instead, a balance, an order to things; and no matter how long he runs, no matter how cunning his deceptions, in the end, Tom will face judgment and his wrongs will be righted.
Of course, much of that is still left up for the viewer to decide. Throughout 'Purple Noon,' the audience witnesses a character shrugging off the perception of who he is to embody a person who is at once Tom Ripley and an idea of Philippe Greenleaf, and yet someone wholly new: He is an entity in a state of flux. And Delon, through his long piercing gazes – with which Clément fills the entirety of his frame and lets hang until that intense desire becomes what the audience wants, too – manages to demonstrate all of Tom's desire through the way he effortlessly convinces others he is one of them, that Tom Ripley, as Philippe Greenleaf, is of their kind.
Freeloader, impostor, usurper; Tom Ripley is all of those things and yet somehow the audience roots for him. He is in many ways the worst of what a person can be – all greed and envy and ambition – and at the center of the 'Purple Noon,' Tom somehow becomes the person delivering punishment to others for belonging to a class he can never hope to truly be a part of, and for excluding him so viciously in the first place. Clément takes his character from low-class hanger-on to that of a victorious doppelganger, gradually struggling to remain one step ahead.
As mentioned above, 'Purple Noon' has at its core a dream-like quality, taken both from the idyllic setting and on-location shooting that defines so much of the film, as well as the reverie of it's main character. One that, no matter how well he fakes belonging, or how many others buy into his insistence of identity and membership, it remains something forever unobtainable to Tom Ripley. The genius of Clément's film is that it manages to convey all of this to the viewer regardless their experience with the source material, or even subsequent features like Win Wenders' 'The American Friend' (which is an adaptation of Highsmith's novel 'Ripley's Game) and Anthony Minghella's 1999 adaptation that have also used Ripley as their protagonist.
It may have a young, attractive killer as its lead, but in its heart, 'Purple Noon' is about the pleasures of human existence, and how, no matter the methods one uses in obtaining these pleasures – whether one is born into them, or covets them from afar – they remain transitory and impermanent; like a dream upon waking.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Purple Noon' comes in the standard clear Criterion case marked no. 637 on its spine. This single disc Blu-ray includes a 40-page booklet featuring an essay by film critic Geoffrey O'Brien and selected passages from an interview with director Réne Clément from 1981, as well as several stills from the film itself. As usual, there are some intriguing extras that will help to offer further insight into the making of the film and of its director and stars. The special features are tremendous here, packing a great deal of information into an already great disc.
Clément's 'Purple Noon' is presented with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4-encoded transfer that takes the already luscious cinematography by Henri Decaë, and makes it as gorgeous as fans of this film could have possibly hoped for. Textures and colors stand out remarkably well, as the scenic beauty of the Mediterranean landscape and its spectacular coastline become as enticing an attraction to the viewer as the twentysomething Delon.
As it was released in 1960, there is noticeable grain throughout the picture that is never a distraction, but rather a delightful reminder of the film's age, and how well it has stood up to the passage of time. Still, natural film grain is the only real indication of just how long 'Purple Noon' has been around. The rest of the image is nearly flawless and free of distracting elements like scratches, speckles or other evidence of film damage. In that regard, the image is practically pristine.
Detail is also showcased impressively on this transfer. Everything from the smooth, tanned features of the characters' skin to the patterns in their clothing and the sometimes-crumbling architecture of their not-so-humble abodes are displayed with remarkable quality. Contrast remains consistently high throughout the film, as are the black levels, which never overtake the image's detail, even in low light. There are one or two instances where the image quality dips substantially – mostly during Tom's seduction of Marge (Marie Laforêt) – but it is noticeable only for a few short seconds, and the image quickly returns to a more pristine state.
All in all, this is the kind of transfer that fans of Criterion have come to expect from the company's releases, and 'Purple Noon' certainly does not disappoint. There is a certain joy in watching films from another era being displayed with such stunning clarity and with so much care having been put into their presentation. This is certainly an excellent example of how an older print should be handled.
The sound here is presented in a linear PCM mono that is actually quite robust for its age. One will first notice how effortlessly it handles the task of maintaining the film's dialogue with the occasional atmospheric sound effect, or the addition of original music. In fact, the Nino Rota score actually manages to sound quite nice throughout and displays some instances of real intensity in the sound field. Additionally, though it doesn't contain any dialogue, the scene with Tom Ripley struggling with Philippe's boat while being besieged by a freak storm at sea actually sounds quite good, and gives a real sense of the calamity of the moment.
Other than that, however, there isn't much in the way of exemplary separation between the ambient sounds on the track and the dialogue of the main characters, but, then again, it doesn't really seem necessary. The French dialogue is clean and easily discernible, without any hissing or pitching in the audio normally associated with film's more than 50-years-old.
'Purple Noon' isn't necessarily an aurally inclined film – though it does have its fair share of moments – but those elements that do require a deft hand in the auditory department are given an appropriate chance to shine. All in all the mix here is in line with the rest of the presentation on this very nice Blu-ray.
Most folks have likely seen Anthony Minghella's adaptation, titled simply, 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' and starring the likes of Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but whereas that film also enjoyed the decadence of Italy and the Mediterranean, in the end, it was playing up certain other elements of Highsmith's novel that were excised by Clément and Gégauff in their screenplay. It was, in a sense, much more of a thriller, whereas Clément's 'Purple Noon' feels much more ambivalent and ambiguous in its presentation of Ripley and his actions. This version is certainly worth exploring for those who are fans of Minghella's work, or (hopefully) already fans of Clément's films. Criterion has done a fantastic job with everything on the disc, from the transfer to the audio and the extras, making 'Purple Noon' highly recommended.