Essential: PURPLE NOON (1960)

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There’s something unique about PURPLE NOON, which gives it a distinct advantage over the 1999 remake. And that’s Alain Delon who brings a special quality to the role of Tom Ripley. In an early scene we are shown that Tom emulates his French friend Philippe with whom he is carousing around Italy.

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Philippe comes in and discovers Tom wearing his clothes and admiring himself in front of a mirror. At one point Tom becomes so entranced with his image as “Philippe,” he kisses himself in the mirror. It’s more than mere narcissism, it’s a charming sort of adoration, where he is not in love with himself but with the image of what he can become. This leads him to commit murder and assume Philippe’s identity.

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In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, first published in 1955, Tom gets away with his crimes. But in PURPLE NOON, it is suggested that he has been caught– or is about to get caught at the end of the story. It’s a simple plot, really. One man covets another man’s life, has somewhat been used and abused, then takes over. Though there are greater complexities hinted at in the material.

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After Tom has eliminated Philippe in the physical sense, he becomes “Philippe,” which means psychologically the murder victim lives on. People get fooled by Tom/”Philippe”– including Marge, who is Philippe’s girlfriend in the beginning, then Tom’s girlfriend after the murder.

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Does she even know which man most satisfies her? Of course, she will never receive full attention, because he is playing a game with the police, and anyone else that might figure things out. Soon a guy named Freddy arrives from America and starts to put it all together. Tom murders Freddy, too. And in a clever twist, he pins Freddy’s killing on the dead Philippe.

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PURPLE NOON has glossy production values, but it’s also a hard-hitting psychological crime drama. The main character is a rich grifter; a man who switches from one locale to the next, and from one identity to the next. Ultimately, Tom Ripley gets what’s coming to him. When the police summon him at the end, he goes forward  without full knowledge that evidence of “Philippe” will be where he’s going. And that he will probably lead yet another life– in prison.

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PURPLE NOON is directed by Rene Clement and can be streamed on FilmStruck.

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