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Purple Noon (1960): I Never Meant to Cause You Any Sorrow

Purple Noon (Rene Clement, 1960)

[originally posted 19Jan2001]

The poster for the film features Delon and Laforet.

“Mouth to mouth doesn’t seem to be working, time for the heimlich maneuver.”
photo credit: Wikipedia

First, a warning: do not watch this film before watching the more recent version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, if you plan to see both. The greatest fun of this film is comparing the two versions.

Maurice Ronet piloting the sailboat.

“Most of us in this film spend a great deal of time with our shirts off.”
photo credit: The Criterion Collection

By now we should all know the story. Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) has been sent to Italy by the father of one Phillippe Greenleaf (the late Maurice Ronet) with the objective of bringing Greenleaf back into the family fold in the United States. Ripley, an accomplished forger, takes his job half-seriously until he falls in love with the same woman Greenleaf is in love with, Marge (Marie Laforet), and then, as in most films, complications ensue.

This film is a perfect complement to Minghella’s 1999 failure. Minghella’s film, aside from a few key scenes, is completely lacking in atmosphere; Clement’s film has it in spades. Clement’s film compresses all of the book’s setup into two conversations at the very beginning, and dispenses with a major subplot altogether; Minghella’s film takes us step-by-step through the whole thing. Too bad the two didn’t get together to film this, as they might have managed a film worthy of Highsmith’s classic novel.

Alain Delon lounging in bed, open-shirted.

photo credit:

It’s interesting (perhaps the most interesting thing in the film) to note the differences between the characterizations of Phillippe (Clement)/Dickie (Minghella) Greenleaf in the two movies. Minghella’s version, played by Jude Law, is something of a spoiled libertine, but he never really comes across as menacing, thus making the major plot points of the film black and white. Clement’s Greenleaf, on the other hand, is a nasty piece of work. We never actually see it, but we get the distinct feeling he’s both verbally and physically abusive to Marge; he’s excessively confrontational even with his best friends. There’s much more a sense that Greenleaf is as much the architect of the last two-thirds of the film as Ripley is here. Maybe that, too, is something that Minghella’s film is fatally lacking.

If you’ve seen the newer version of Ripley, this could safely be a three-and-a-half star film for comparison value alone. If not, I’m forced to go with ** ½.


Your trailers may have had subs before…but not this time!

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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