Purple Noon (1960)

Directed by René Clément. Written by Paul Gégauff. 

The azure water of the Mediterranean is the real star of Purple Noon, but Alain Delon is a damn close second as he stars as Tom Ripley, con man extraordinaire, hellbent on living the good life at whatever cost and moving up in society by any (sordid) means necessary. 

He’s a body man of sorts to a rich playboy by the name of Philippe Greenleaf. They’re having a grand time in Italy: drinking, partying, smooching paramours, and confirming most negative stereotypes about wealthy young men. It means we don’t feel too bad watching Tom hatch a scheme with Greenblatt as the mark, but the gambit goes further than you’d expect, and soon he’s hustling around Italy with authorities and acquaintances asking uncomfortable questions. It’ll take some serious ingenuity to stay ahead. 

Good thing Tom does possess it in spades, and a lot of the fun of Purple Noon is watching him deploy it like Gromit laying down train tracks in front of the train as it’s going full tilt. It’s fun, exhilarating, and Clément detailing the steps to every hoodwink and con has you feeling a certain level of complicity that you don’t get in other sleek con man movies, like the Ocean’s-trilogy, which still reserved the right to hoodwink its audience too. 

The airtight story would be enough, but Purple Noon sparkles as one of those rare movies that can inspire a tourism craze. The water off Italy’s coast has never looked more inviting, the tiny streets never more charming. The weathered coastal towns has its rustic charm, the life of big-city Rome impossible to not be drawn in by. 

To watch Delon, dressed in a white shirt and pants, as he strolls through a plaza past the many booths selling anything from fresh fruit to fish is to feel a sense of wanderlust that a million travel influencer posts could only dream of conjuring. It’s ironically also one of the few scenes where enjoyment isn’t predicated on being rich – imagine that! This impeccable atmosphere is what enthralls you, and if travel wasn’t such a prohibitive exercise in the 60s, I’d imagine Naples and Rome would have seen an even greater influx of tourists than these cities usually do come summertime. 

Clément’s greatest trick is that we root for Tom much of the way, despite his morally onerous behavior, and in part that’s because the movie feels like an unforgettable summer vacation and that comes with a certain laissez-faire and sense you’re living outside your everyday life and its implications. It could also be because the perpetrator is Alain Delon, and if anything, us not condemning Tom on sight is proof that beautiful people can get away with anything. 

Delon announces himself to the world here, looking dashingly handsome, but already shrewd. He’s boyish, sure, but the ability he projects makes him a fully-formed star. Purple Noon released in 1960, the same year as Rocco And His Brothers, Luchino Visconti’s black-and-white neorealist epic, and the two films couldn’t be further apart, but Delon shines in both. Where Rocco saw Delon prove himself in tragedy, Purple Noon is his coming-out-party as the decade’s European sex symbol, and the performance fully justifies it in a film that is one of the ultimate escapist getaways. 

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