Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Purple Noon

(Plein soleil, France, 1960)

During the last few years I read all five of Patricia Highsmith’s books about Tom Ripley, known collectively as the Ripliad. They are a delight, if you don’t mind amoral mass murders as protagonists. (I don’t mind.) Over the years several of the books have been made into movies, some of them twice. We had seen two of them, and decided to fill in the blanks, starting with this one, the earliest.

It’s based on The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first of the series, a book that was re-made in 1999 starring Matt Damon. Where they got the title Purple Noon is beyond me. The French title translates as “Full sun,” which is equally puzzling. Even metaphorically I can’t make sense of it. I went to Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the book and found that there were many changes, plot elements eliminated, characters expanded, and so forth, but the bones of the story were still intact. That is, until you get to the end … I’d issue a spoiler warning, but since there were five books, it’s pretty obvious that, in the books, Tom gets away with his crimes. I’m sad to say that he doesn’t in this movie. There is an ending here that looks tacked on, and while it is nicely ironic and will satisfy those who haven’t read the books, it outraged me. The whole point of the Ripley books is that he gets away with it! Having him about to be caught (as this movie does) is like Sherlock Holmes not solving the crime, or Perry Mason not wringing an emotional courtroom confession from the real killer. It is, to put it simply, wrong. And sad to say as well, even the director of the remake could not bring himself to let Ripley go, though it is a little more honest than this one.

However, I will agree that the journey to get to those fucked-up last two minutes is a real delight. The director, René Clément, is a real master, and has made a movie that Hitchcock would be proud of. There is meticulous attention to detail, and some real moments of suspense and surprise. Here’s what I’d recommend: Watch this movie up to the point where Tom is reclining in a beach chair. He has gotten away with killing two people, and is now the lover of the former girlfriend of one of them. He mutters to himself, “All the best. All the best.” Then eject the DVD. You’ll thank me.