The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Purple Noon

I remember watching 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley with the family, a rental from Blockbuster (YES, a video store) on a Saturday night. Before I could really appreciate what was going on, maybe even accurately describe it, I know I liked the creepy, stylish thriller. It is an uncomfortable, beautifully shot film with a handful of interesting performances. Wouldn't you know it though? It isn't the first film based off Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name. That would be 1960's Purple Noon.

Hired by a rich businessman in San Francisco, young Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) has been sent to Italy with a job, a potentially very lucrative job. Tom has been hired to find Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the businessman's son, somewhere in Italy and bring him home, receiving $5,000 for his troubles if he can pull it off. Upon meeting Philippe though, Tom forms an unlikely friendship with the vain, egotistical and spoiled young man. It is a friendship of extreme highs and lows, Philippe constantly pushing and testing Tom. Finally with a deadline fast approaching, Tom decides he's has just about enough, especially when Philippe flat-out tells him he won't leave Italy to return to San Francisco. Deciding he wants more than just the delivery fee for his services, Tom puts a drastic plan into action, a plan that will need all sorts of luck to pull off. Can he do it? Can he get away with it?

Just another reason to always be on the lookout for those hidden gems that are out there. As a fan of the 1999 Mr. Ripley, I was curious to see how this 1960 French version differed, if at all. I haven't read Highsmith's source novel, but I intend to now. There are differences, but the basic gist is there throughout as the two films follow a similar formula. Director Rene Clement has a movie here dripping with style, a style that's pretty effortless. His camera lingers for long, uninterrupted shots that keep the focus on his stars and cast. The music by Nino Rota is underplayed, adding a sinister touch to the developing thriller, and yes, filming on location in Italy turned out to be a good thing. Who knew?!? The main backdrops are both Rome and Naples, both Italian cities adding a depth and visual look to the story. It is a sun-drenched beautiful movie, beginning to end.

Over recent years, I guess I can say I "discovered" Alain Delon. The French actor didn't star in a ton of American movies, but I stumbled across him as I watched director Jean-Pierre Melville's French heist/crime thrillers, Delon a favorite star to work with. Way back in 1960 though, he was a relative unknown having only acted in a handful of smaller scale movies. Given his first starring role in a major release, Delon doesn't disappoint. This is one creepy, underplayed and sinister performance, Delon doing it with ease and adding a sense of charm to the ever-creepier proceedings. Delon's Tom Ripley is a mystery, a man from a lower class background who sees the potential (however dark and morbid) to better himself. He adds some great touches to that morbidity, reveling in the moment when he should be horrified at what he's just done. A frightening performance, one that pulls you in to see if somehow, some way, Tom can pull it all off.

This was Delon's movie, and what a performance. That said, there isn't a weakness in the entire cast that features a handful of other key parts. Ronet is exceptionally unlikable as Philippe, the worst kind of person who's charming and good-looking and knows it, pushing the limits with everyone and anyone to see what he can get away with, especially Tom. Considering how Philippe treats him, you don't give a pass to Tom, but you at least understand what drove him to do what he does. Marie Laforet plays Marge, Philippe's fiance who is another frequent target of his outbursts, finding a friend of sorts in sympathetic Tom. Also look for Erno Crisa as a police inspector, Frank Latimore as a partying friend of Philippe's, and Billy Kearns as a more polished, suspicious friend of Philippe's.

I love movies like this with a story that's hanging on the edge. Will our protagonist be caught? Will he somehow pull it off? As I mentioned before, it's not that we're rooting for him, but that doesn't take away from the suspense. There are more scenes than I can mention, Tom's delicate plan hanging in the balance, maybe one mistake from everything blowing up in his face. The ending delivers an excellent twist too, one different from the 1999 version, and I'm curious to see what the novel's version is. A beautiful stylish movie with a scene-stealing, sinister Delon. A very easy movie to recommend.

Purple Noon (1960): ***/****

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