Wednesday, 28 October 2015
Patricia Highsmith’s fictional fraudster, Tom Ripley has been interpreted by a number of actors on film over the years; Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), Dennis Hopper in The American Friend (1977) and John Malkovich in the inferior US remake, Ripley’s Game (2002). Yet nobody brings the character to life like Alain Delon in Plein Soleil (1960), his first major film and the first and most superior adaptation of Highsmith’s 1955 novel where Mr Ripley, is brought to life with limitless charm.
Tom Ripley arrives in Italy to convince his playboy friend, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to return to America and take care of the family business. Wrapped up in a world of European excess, Philippe ignores his orders and instead both he and Tom spend their days and nights partying and living in the lap of luxury. Tom, accustomed to his lavish new lifestyle becomes obsessed with Philippe and his girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforet) and begins to emulate his friend and fantasise about taking his place in the world. Phillipe becomes frustrated with Tom’s uncomfortable level of attraction, particularly after catching him wearing his clothes, and he becomes increasingly derogatory towards him.
During a yachting trip, three becomes a crowd when Tom constantly disrupts moments of intimacy between the lovers. Philippe tricks Tom into stepping onto the dinghy where he loosens the rope and leaves Tom floating behind in the blazing sunshine for hours.
Following his rescue, Philippe finds copies of his bank statements among Tom’s belongings and confronts him regarding his motives. Whilst Tom is sleeping Philippe confesses to Marge that he does not know Tom from his childhood at all and he is in fact stringing him along to find out how far he will go. This is both the first Marge, or the audience find out about this, adding a new dimension to the film that creates great suspense in Tom’s simple and innocent picking up of a knife to slice through some salami.
The rescued Tom comes back aboard with strength and a blatant openness on his purpose, first he ensures that Marge finds a ladies earring, that sparks a huge argument between the lovers. Marge demands to go ashore, leaving Philippe to confront Tom, who confesses to his plan flagrantly. Philippe believes his murderous intentions are nothing more than a joke but he is quickly proven wrong. As he returns to shore Tom visits Marge and tells her that Phillipe has decided to stay behind. Tom then proceeds to travel around Italy adopting both Phillip’s personality and the contents of his bank account. Suspicions begin to arise over Phillip’s absence and as the net gradually begins to close in on Ripley, he becomes increasingly precarious.
The initial friendship between Philippe and Tom appears blessed and their drink fuelled intimacy, especially with the lady the pair pick up is wholly convincing. However, without the drink and the excess of city living, the film abruptly tells a different story. Physically, Ripley and Greenleaf are very similar and indeed in personality, as both men willingly fuel one another’s lies. There is a crucial tension that unfolds upon the yacht as the solitude and silence of the ocean helps to reign in the action and makes for a tumultuous and intense journey. Director, Renè Clement in his study of the dangers of affluence, ensures that Ripley’s dark intentions are well hidden, so that when Marge is shocked by Phillipe’s confession, the audience genuinely experiences the same surprise. As Ripley moves further towards the identity theft, the director pits the characters against one another, as they become almost symmetrical in situ and identical in appearance but there can only be one winner in this dangerous game.
Shot in sumptuous sunshine and vivid technicolor, Plein Soleil is an absolute beauty to endure. The locations are lavish and excessive and the crystal cool style of the era flows from start to finish, in costume, design and demeanour. Clement’s influence can be read in other features including The Passenger (1975) , Minghella’s remake and Dead Calm (1989), but none quite capture their contemporary’s virtuoso. Alain Delon is utterly beguiling, and casts his charm on the viewer in the same hypnotic manor that he transfixes the cashier in the film’s bank scene. It’s an understated performance from Delon, cleverly matched by Ronet during their brief and fatal friendship but never touched upon by Ripley’s further incarnations. Ripley’s controlled composure and blatant open-secrecy make for an altogether different beast. Delon, with his effortless charisma adds a remarkable nuance to his role, that literally enables him to get away with murder.