Purple Noon (Blu-ray Review)17 Dec, 2012 By: Mike Clark
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet.
Every time a copy of it shows up in a fresh rendering, I like to check out Rene Clement’s resonant psychological thriller about opportunism in one of screen history’s most physically handsome manifestations — a close-to-movie-classic that I was originally lucky enough to catch during a one-shot Sunday night screening in my Ohio hometown maybe six or seven years after its release. It was common tradeoff of the day, something I also went through with An American in Paris and Luchino Visconti’s Senso, to name two more visual treats: First seeing a scratch/splice-prone print that nonetheless had original color values intact (in Noon’s case, fade-prone Eastman) — and later more pristine versions where the labs didn’t get the color quite bullseye enough, at least to my eye. Well, Criterion almost always does get the color right (unless, of course, it’s a black-and-white movie), and Noon is again the kind of movie that makes a guy want to get out on the Mediterranean, brandish snappy clothes and romance continental beauties. It does not, though, make you want to get murdered, which is also part of the narrative package.
The picture is, of course, based on Patricia Highsmith’s same The Talented Mr. Ripley novel that Anthony Minghella turned into another very good night at the movies in 1999 — an interpretation significantly different in terms of emphasis supporting characters and (oh, yes) the ending. A lot of people take sides, even strongly so, in terms of one over the other — though I like both for different reasons. There’s major spoiler potential if one gets too far into the plot of what became lead Alain Delon’s star-maker. So suffice it to say that it involves a rich father who employs an impoverished on-the-make type (the kind who trades on his looks) to retrieve a playboy son (Maurice Ronet) who is perhaps enjoying too much of the same said water, pricey duds and femmes. It doesn’t take long for this hired hand to start taking to these fringe benefits perhaps a little too much himself — but without the sociopathic by-products that ensue in a story that ends up bisecting itself at roughly midpoint. Largely gone (Noon came out in the U.S. the same red-meat-ish summer as The Guns of Navarone) is the gay subtext that was apparently part of Highsmith’s original, which I’ve never read.
After Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Clement’s earlier Ripley take is probably the one that battles it out with Minghella’s version or maybe Wim Wenders’ The American Friend as the most durable movie made from the author’s work. As Geoffrey O’Brien points out in his excellent Criterion essay, Noon is decidedly not noir — and, in fact, sun is such a part of its decadence that in the pre-SPF days, Coppertone could have used it in some kind of cross-promotion scheme (“buy two bottles of our tanning lotion and win the chance to smoke a cigarette with Alain Delon”). We come pretty close to sharing that smoke via one of Criterion’s supplements: an early-‘60s interview of the actor in which he is very forthcoming about work, his favored directors (Clement was among them) and how he stumbled into acting after four years of army service — though you just can’t envision this guy cleaning latrines or peeling potatoes. Criterion has also unearthed an interview with Highsmith — how do they even hear of this stuff, much less find it? — in which we get a real sense of the solitude that writing demands and how certain people seem to feast on it to the minimization of other things in life.
You can argue with the direction this film goes in terms of whether criminals should necessarily be caught in a work of art as opposed to real life or the police/court system. But I wouldn’t trade Noon’s wrap-up for anything — one of more satisfying comeuppances since Joan Collins got hers in Land of the Pharaohs. I think I gasped the first time I saw it, but I know it sent me out of the campus art house with a smile.