1960, PG-13, 119 min. Directed by René Clément. Starring Alain Delon, Marie Laforet, Maurice Ronet, Bill Kearns, Erno Crisa, Frank Latimore, Ave Ninchi, Viviane Chantel.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 26, 1996
Clément's 1960 French thriller is an excruciating exercise in restraint; Purple Noon positively seethes with barely controlled passions, murder, intrigue, debauch. It takes a masterwork like this to shine the harsh fluorescent light of mediocrity on so many suspense films of late, in which the only suspense at hand is, indeed, that burning question, “When will it be over?” Set against the pristine backdrop of Mongibello, on the Italian coast, the film presents viewers with unmitigated evil and pure id cloaked in the guise of sweet youth. The irresistibly gorgeous Delon plays Tom Ripley, an American sent to Italy by a wealthy industrialist who hopes Ripley can lure back his wayward son, Phillippe (Ronet). In exchange for his return of the offspring, Tom is promised the much-needed sum of $5,000. Once there, Tom and Phillippe strike up a friendship, with the hedonistic runaway introducing Tom to the pleasures of the good life amidst the crystal white beaches and strikingly beautiful women who populate the area. Wine, women, and song flow like water, and it soon becomes apparent to Tom that his charge has no intention of returning to America. Desperate for cash and increasingly bewitched by the luxuries that surround him, Tom lashes out, murdering Phillippe and assuming his identity, clothes, voice and all, while Phillippe's father and friends grow increasingly apprehensive. Like fellow Frenchman Henri Clouzot, Clément is a genius at ratcheting up the dark anticipation, increment by increment. And like some horrid spider's web, you never really notice until it's all there, complete, and then, of course, it's far too late. Juxtaposing Tom's mad desires with the beauty of the Italian countryside, Clément reaches peaks of distress few films have since matched. While today's audiences may at first find Purple Noon a tad slow-moving compared to the ricochet pace of most modern thrillers, the film, like insanity, builds at its own languid pace, relentlessly, until it reaches its creepy, wonderful denouement, and leaves you gasping for breath, shocked and elated.