Purple Noon is a taut, intelligently written, and well crafted film about an amoral criminal. Tom Ripley (Alain Delon), commissioned to find and bring home an old school acquaintance named Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the errant son of a wealthy San Francisco businessman, is quickly seduced by the lifestyle of the idle rich. Without independent means, the parasitic Tom immediately leeches onto the squandering, philandering Philippe, who only seems too eager to flaunt his wealth and humiliate him. Soon, Tom’s pervasive presence turns a leisurely yachting cruise with Philippe’s girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforet), into a claustrophobic nightmare. After instigating an argument between the two lovers, causing Marge to leave, Tom sets his plot in motion to assume Philippe’s identity. Purple Noon is a highly stylized and insidiously clever film on committing the perfect crime.
René Clément uses engaging visual imagery in order to create incongruity throughout the film. Note the idyllic panoramic shots of the Italian landscape, and the deep, rich color of the Mediterranean Sea. As in Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the setting is a thematic foil to the gravity of the story, resultin in an atmosphere that is disquieting and foreboding. Moreover, the film’s inherent lightness serves, not only as a reflection of Tom’s charismatic persona, but also his wanton disregard for moral consequence. Unlike Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, there is no affliction of guilt or hunger for atonement, only the exhilaration of the conquest. Purple Noon is a subtly disturbing film, as is the guileful mind of a man without a conscience… or a soul.
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