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DVD Review: Purple Noon – The Criterion Collection

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Those of you who have only ever seen Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley may not be entirely aware of this, but Patricia Highsmith’s titular character, Tom Ripley, has been portrayed on several other occasions throughout the years by completely different (not to mention different looking) actors. Well, some of them have been actors. Apart from Damon, there were three other contestants in this unofficial race — including Dennis Hopper, John Malkovich, and, uh, Barry Pepper. Now, while each performer possessed his own unique grasp of the fictional fellow (well, two of ’em, perhaps), the possibility of an intense argument has the potential to exist between several really drunk and heavy non-science fiction/fantasy/horror movie geeks as to which one of the aforementioned four was the least talented Mr. Ripley.

There was a fifth actor to participate, however — the very first person to jump into the skin of Mr. Ripley, in fact. And, while the previously mentioned gentlemen (including Barry Pepper) might have been able to shine a little light on the creation in question, they couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the initial performer to administer the necessary style and fiendish finesse Highsmith’s character was written with. His name? Alain Delon, of course. Who else?

In 1960, the late French filmmaker René Clément jumped into the waters of psychological thrillerdom with the first adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Though originally titled Plein Soleil (literal English translation: Full Sun), the movie showed up in the States over a year later under its better-known American moniker, Purple Noon. Here, the one and only Monsieur Delon delivers a unquestionably magnificent first major film role as good ol’ Tom Ripley — who is sent abroad to that far-off imaginary land many scholars sometimes refer to as “Italy” in order to convince his extremely wealthy pal Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to return to America so that he may take over the family business for his father.

But who wants to do such a tedious thing as work when there’s a whole jet-set swingin’ lifestyle to imbibe in? Certainly not Philippe. And that goes doubly for Tom — who secretly envies his old friend’s well-to-do background, as well as his way with ladies such as his girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt). Tom’s obsession grows as Philippe’s spoiled, childlike behavior (the byproduct of his moneyed upbringing, no doubt) begins to cause him to treat his sycophantic supporter and his weird actions (the side-effect of being a real nutter, no doubt) as something of a human joke. It is then that Tom hatches a scheme to kill his friend, and steal his identity.

And you contemporary computer hackers thought you invented such a thing, didn’t you? Well, quite frankly, it was a bit easier back in the time of Purple Noon, before everything was all over the Interweb and security encrypted.

So, anyhoo, with his dastardly plan soon fulfilled, Tom literally begins to act like his now-late companion — right down to his voice and mannerisms. But how long can he keep the charade up, especially when there are other individuals who know perfectly darn well what the real Philippe Greenleaf was? Billy Kearns co-stars in this, the international ’60s hit that made Alain Delon a star — and which Patricia Highsmith herself approved of (though she wasn’t too terribly fond of the ending, but that’s the subject for another drunken argument between a different group of movie nerds). As a side note to you Euro B-Movie fans (like myself), Purple Noon also features up-and-coming horror icon Paul Muller and future sexpot Romy Schneider in bit parts.

The Criterion Collection adds this classic — which had been released before on disc by Miramax, back when digital media was new and exciting, and everyone was issuing one catalogue title after another — to their library in both Standard-Definition DVD and High-Def Blu-ray releases. The video quality here is as exceptional as a movie from 1960 (and which was filmed on that wonderful 1960 filmstock we sometimes see mutate into something less than appealing-looking), possessing mostly natural grain overall, while delivering an image that is both bright and beautiful. The 2.0 French PCM soundtrack is also a very fine item indeed, and the feature film is presented with removable English subtitles (was this ever even dubbed into English for its original American release, scholars?).

Special features for Purple Noon are mostly archival affairs, with the exception of a discussion about the film with René Clément historian, Denitza Bantcheva. Two vintage French television interviews material — one with Alain Delon (from 1962), and another with Patricia Highsmith (from ’71) — are also included, as is the original American theatrical trailer. A 40-page booklet is housed inside the DVD case, presenting an essay on the feature by critic Geoffrey O’Brien; the insert also reprints a 1981 interview with director Clément.

Recommended — just so you can present the winning side of the “Who made a better Tom Ripley?” argument should such a bloody quarrel ever take place in your presence. Delon is a badass no matter who he plays — no two ways about it.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.