This Wednesday, July 9 at 6PM we will be screening the film Purple Noon as part of our biweekly noir double feature series. Each event features a screening of a noir film based on a classic of the genre.
Purple Noon is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 classic chiller and best-known work, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Purple Noon was made in 1960 and directed by Rene Clemont. Patricia Highsmith collaborated with French screenwriters to bring the book to the screen. Together, they created a vision of The Talented Mr. Ripley that drastically
departs from the book in its details yet preserves much of its tone.
Patricia Highsmith rose to prominence in 1950s America as the master of psychological drama. She captured the fears, obsessions, and compulsions of a hypocritical post-war society in her work. The inner lives of her protagonists are drastically at odds with their surface personalities. At any moment in her work, a terrible thought can turn
into an irreversible action. Her killers are complex and her victims are far from innocent. This is never truer than in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
As the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley begins, Tom Ripley is a small time crook mooching off his blue-blooded New England friends. When an acquaintance’s father approaches him with a strange proposition – go to Europe and convince his son Richard to come home – Ripley jumps at the thought of an all-expense paid vacation. Ripley joins Richard and his girlfriend, Marge, in Southern Italy. Soon, however, his friendship with the couple soon sours, and is replaced by jealousy and dark ambitions.
Purple Noon begins with Tom and Phillipe [Richard in the novel] already fast friends. The two engage in an ugly night about town, pulling cruel pranks for their own amusement, before heading back home to a distraught Marge, who immediately accuses Phillipe of cheating on her.
The film and the novel differ greatly in their characterizations of Richard and Tom. The film portrays Tom as a full-blown con man from the start, and Phillipe as menacing and manipulative. The novel, written from Tom’s point of view, delves continuously into his
justifications for his actions. The novel portrays Richard as more entitled and unconcerned than mean.
Marge, too, has a very different role on-screen than in the novel. Film Marge is sultry, erotic, an object of desire for both Tom and Phillipe. Tom, in the novel, finds Marge to be repellent, obnoxious, and representative of everything he hates about America. In the film, Marge’s relationship with Phillipe is defined as emotionally abusive, while in the novel the two treat each other with semi-platonic tenderness and she is Richard’s best friend.
Aside from characterization, the film only loosely bases its structure on that of the novel. Major plot points are preserved, but with infinite small variations. Purple Noon does, however, successfully integrate The Talented Mr. Ripley’s menacing tone and hovering potential violence. The film preserves the playfulness and desperation of Highsmith’s narrative, but presents a drama in which the characters are cynical, hardened versions of their book selves.
Both the book and film are ripe for analysis. I like to read The Talented Mr. Ripley as a metaphor for the plasticity of identity in a world where appearances mean everything. In such a world, to deceive is to achieve success.
The story can also be read as an exploration into the ways in which repressive societies can twist desire into unhealthy obsessions. In the novel, Tom refuses to acknowledge his attraction to Richard, but remains fixated on the object of his affections, with dire
Yet another way to read the novel, and the film, is as parody of the American dream. Ripley is a con man and an identity thief, obsessed with the luxurious possessions of those wealthier than him. He gains status through impersonating those with higher status, and he feels that he has earned this status through hard work.
However you interpret Highsmith’s writing and the films based on her novels, her themes are as fresh and intriguing now as they were fifty years ago. Come join us Wednesday, July 9 at 6PM for the screening and discussion of Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s sure to be a great evening out of the summer heat.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to book (Scale of 1-5) – 2
Adherence to quality of book – 5
Knife in the Water, The Third Man, Coup de Torchon