Saturday, August 22, 2009

Olde Review: Purple Noon

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back then a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This Saturday's films in 130 Kane at 7:30 pm are thrillers: one sophisticated; the other unsophisticated, but God, it's neat, and they are Rene Clément's "Purple Noon" and Brian DePalma's "Sisters"

"Purple Noon" or "Plein Soleil" (René Clément, 1960)Clément's "Purple Noon" was shown on TV Thursday night under a different title—"Lust for Evil"—and in a dubbed English version. Even if you saw it on Channel 9,* you should go see it Saturday night because, let's face it, movies always lose something on the television screen,** especially if they're dubbed in a sort of ill-fitting English as the televised version was.

"Purple Noon" is the story of two somewhat irresponsible young men. They tour the streets at night looking for trouble, rousting whoever they can. And in the course of the plot, one of them is murdered by the other. But how can
Alain Delon, who plays the murderer, get away with it? Well, it happened out at sea, they were alone on the victim's boat (the victim's fiancé in a fit of pique had gone ashore), there were no witnesses.

But won't people, especially those close to the victim notice his disappearance?
Delon has a plan for that: he is an excellent forger, he has the victim's belongings, his passport, and he can imitate his voice. And the fascination in this story is in the second portion. Will Delon be detected by those who knew the victim—especially the fiancé? Will he get out of all the close calls? How will he avoid it? It's a run through a maze and it culminates without a nice surprise ending.

And Clément's direction can sometimes come up with pleasant little touches that leave the viewer just a little bit amazed, as in the murder on the boat (that is over so quickly) only to be replaced by the problem of getting rid of the body, a task that is made more difficult by a sudden storm at sea that seems to rise up in moral vindictiveness over Delon's act. It's a nice touch, and "Purple Noon" is a nice, somewhat sedate little thriller.

Broadcast February 12, 1977

I didn't know from Patricia Highsmith in college. I discovered her quite later. Her delightfully dark amoral little tales filled a musty little hole in my heart for years. I did not know Highsmith when I saw "Purple Noon" in college, nor could I know that what I was seeing was the original, slimmed down and altogether superior French version of "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

It's bad form to speak ill of the dead (although Ripley would do it with his usual lack of conscience), but
Anthony Minghella's 1999 version of the tale starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow was too puffed up and proud of itself to make an effective thriller. It felt staged and lethargic (and that is the last thing a Ripley movie should be), whereas Clément is a witty, nimble director who will never let any cruel irony go unexploited.

Highsmith wrote five "Ripley's"—called "
The Ripliad," only three of them have been made into films, two of them twice—and five men have played Ripley, besides Delon. Dennis Hopper played him in Wim Wenders' "The American Friend" (adapted from "Ripley's Game"), Matt Damon in the Minghella film, John Malkovich in the second "Ripley's Game" adaptation, and Barry Pepper in "Ripley Under Ground." Highsmith died in 1995 of leukemia (not foul play).

* Channel 9 was, and is, Seattle's main PBS affiliate—public television—and at the time of writing plays movies on Friday nights. The fare is some package of American movies that might have fallen off the populist radar—for every "Lone Star" there's a "Fiddler on the Roof"—that are old enough that they're not on standard rotation on the so-called "movie channels." I suspect they wouldn't be caught dead playing a foreign film—unless it involved cooking.

** Bear in mind this was the 70's—pre-HD, pre-plasma-screens, pre-home theater—when the ol' cathode-ray tubes didn't do justice to the pan-and-scanned images that were culled from the wide-screen prints—which was because they were 36" in diagonal.

No comments: