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Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) has been aptly called a color film noir. Film noir, if you recall, is the genre of the late-forties American cinema, of private detectives, femmes fatale, and doomed schemes. But regardless of the definition of any genres it might fall under, Purple Noon is a tense psychological thriller from versatile director Rene Clement.

This Miramax DVD release of Purple Noon cashes in on the success of 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon in the title role. Of course, Purple Noon predates Ripley by about four decades, but Miramax is guessing the DVD audience won’t know or care.

Both Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley are based on a series of books by Patricia Highsmith. Of the two films, Ripley is truer to the source, although Purple Noon may be the better film translation.

Spoilers ahead: if you haven’t seen Ripley or Noon, and you’re interested in watching a good Hitchcock-style thriller, add this to your rent list without reading further.

A Tightly-Wound Spring

The Talented Mr. RipleyTom Ripley (Alain Delon) flies to Rome with his old friend Philippe (Maurice Ronet). Philippe’s dad is paying Tom a lot of money to convince Philippe to return to San Francisco. But Tom confesses his motives to Philippe, and together, they decide to spend their own time and daddy’s money idling in Europe.

Tom is a sociopath with a fragile ego and an envious eye. He’s a tightly-wound spring hidden inside a calm exterior. Throughout the first act, you can see Tom getting wound tighter and tighter. At the bank he witnesses Philippe’s gross wealth. He feels snubbed every time Philippe wants to be alone with his girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforêt). On Philippe’s yacht Tom recalls an insult from childhood, a birthday party where Philippe’s dad said he wasn’t well bred. Philippe doesn’t apologize for, nor even remember the incident, apparently infuriating Tom.

Tom probably reaches his breaking point on the yacht when a practical joke — at Tom’s expense — goes awry. Several scenes later, after Marge disembarks in a huff, Tom kills Philippe and disposes of the evidence.

An expert forger, Tom realizes that he can become Philippe, living with his identity, wealth, and maybe even luck and personality. Only a few people in Europe would know the truth, and using Philippe’s typewriter and forged signature, even they can be kept at bay.

Worthy of Hitchcock

Like some of the best Hitchcock films, Purple Noon tries to demonstrate that there is no such thing as a perfect crime. Guilt, chance, and the law will conspire to, if not catch the criminal, at least drive him mad. But Tom isn’t your average Hitchcock hero. Hitchcock’s leads were ordinary, everyday people caught in unusual circumstances. Tom has the advantage of being a sociopath, and so has a better chance of escape than Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart ever did.

The pace of Purple Noon is a little unconventional. Philippe’s murder is important, but so is getting to know the trio of characters. Therefore, we get to know Philippe pretty well before he’s killed. It’s a surprise (sorry to spoil it) and a distinct break from the traditional murder mystery formula, where the victim is already dead at the beginning.

But the structure is actually perfect for Purple Noon because it is not a typical murder mystery. It’s about Tom’s character and the world of tension that he creates for himself and how he handles that tension. The pressure builds, from Tom putting out small fires at first with great competence, to Tom becoming more and more harried by the mounting evidence against him.

DVD Extras

The DVD presentation is good. The picture was made from as clean a print as could probably be found, although a few scratches remain. The sound is fine, if unremarkable. Finally, the movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio.

Overall, the DVD is nothing to scream about. Criterion released Purple Noon on LaserDisc many years ago, also in its original aspect ratio and also without any extras. I had hoped they’d release the DVD and include some information on the importance of Purple Noon to film history.

Instead, Miramax did not include any interesting supplements. (There are previews for three other recent Miramax releases, but they have nothing to do with Purple Noon.) Except for the clarity of the format, this release is very much like the Criterion LaserDisc.

Conclusion

The lack of extras makes for a pretty dull DVD review. On the brighter side, a DVD release is a good excuse to call attention to this still-too-unknown film noir from Rene Clement.

Next time you’re browsing the thrillers at the Video Station, pick up Purple Noon.