Film Title: Plein Soleil
Director: René Clément
Starring: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt, Erno Crisa
Running Time: 118 min
Compilers of film trivia quizzes enjoy asking what links Alain Delon, Matt Damon, John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper and a few others. The answer, of course,
is that they all played Patricia Highsmith’s amoral antihero
Tom Ripley. Ms Highsmith (who was not easy to please) very much liked Delon in Plein Soleil and the film – an adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley – helped that actor become a supernova of French cinema.
A glance at this nicely restored version clarifies what so appealed to the American author. Malkovich and Hopper were, respectively, creepy and intimidating as the Machiavellian murderer. But
you couldn’t say that either was playing the character in the
book. Delon is much closer to Highsmith’s own creation: steadily and obsessively observant, appealing in a self-regarding fashion, convincing when disingenuously modest.
The script is mostly respectful to Ms Highsmith’s writing (more anon). Tom is dispatched to Italy with instructions to lure his wealthy pal Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) back to the family business. After some carousing, the ghastly Tom – who always picks the most appalling option in life – elects to murder Greenleaf and take over his identity.
René Clément, director of Forbidden Games and The Walls
of Malapaga, is partly in love
with and partly repelled by the decadent life the boys live during their seaside jaunts. There has always been something of Edward VIII about Greenleaf (Dickie in
the books) – a good-looking,
solipsistic boozer who cares not a whit for responsibility – and Ronet trades in the same class of blank charisma.
The film was, in its first English run, titled Purple Noon, a reference to the fabulous light that envelops the film’s daytime exteriors. It has been some time since those colours were seen to best advantage. So, this lush new print, screened at Cannes earlier this year, is all the more welcome.
Nothing, alas, could be done to
fix an unfortunate tweak to the book’s ending that Highsmith thought “a terrible concession to so-called public morality”.