Sunday, February 27, 2022

No Name on the Bullet (1959)

No Name on the Bullet is a 1959 Audie Murphy western, and is generally considered to be one of his best movies.

John Gant (Audie Murphy) rides into a quiet little town and spreads fear and panic. How does he do this? By taking a room at the hotel, drinking countless cups of coffee and playing the odd game of chess.

What terrifies the townsfolk is not Gant’s behaviour but his reputation. He is reputed to have killed thirty men, and he’s killed them all for money. He is not a wanted man. He has never been convicted of a crime. He is always able to persuade his victims to fight, in front of witnesses, and all his killings have technically in self-defence.

Almost every man in town is convinced that Gant has come to kill them. Every man has at least one enemy.

Pretty soon there are a lot of frightened men doing crazy things and becoming severely paranoid. A paranoia that can even lead to a man killing himself. A man who never was Gant’s intended victim. It can lead frightened men to start killing each other. It can tempt normally sane men to consider vigilante justice. The town is being torn apart.

The sheriff has no clue what to do. He can’t order Gant to leave town. The man has committed no crime.

The town’s do-gooder doctor Luke (Charles Drake) feels that he has to do something to stop the madness but he has no idea how to do it.

The idea of a hired killer who taunts his victims into drawing first and then guns them down was far from original but it is used here in an original way, and having such a cold-blooded killer as the protagonist, played by a very popular star, was certainly daring.

Audie Murphy was a war hero who had a troubled life, having never fully recovered from his wartime experiences. It’s ironic that he become so revered as a war hero, given that his wartime military service to a certain extent wrecked his life. He’s not generally all that highly regarded as an actor and is usually dismissed as a guy who really wasn’t much good in anything but westerns. His performance here suggests that there was more to him than that. He may have had a limited range as an actor but he certainly knew how to project menace in an impressively subtle way. He really does make John Gant seem very very dangerous, but without doing anything overt. This is a guy who terrifies people by sitting around drinking coffee and playing chess.

What is really impressive is that Murphy manages to make us like Gant. We care what happens to him.

Gant justifies his work by arguing that all the men he killed deserved killing. If someone hires a killer to kill a man then that man has probably done something pretty bad, and society might well be better off without him. Gant has the psychology of a 20th century hitman rather than a Wild West gunfighter. He kills scientifically and goes to incredibly elaborate lengths to ensue than no innocent bystander gets hurt. Gant kills for money, not because he likes killing. It’s just a job.

Luke can’t help liking him as well.

The ending is rather clever. The film was of course constrained by the Production Code but it gives us an ending that is not quite the predictable Production Code ending that we expect. There’s a nice ouch of ambiguity.

There are a few speechifying moments and Luke gets a bit tiresome with his self-righteousness.

Gene L. Coon’s screenplay is however intelligent and fairly complex. It throws some moral and ethical dilemmas at us without suggesting that there are easy answers. Even Luke’s self-righteousness gets shaken a little.

Director Jack Arnold was renowned as a director of 1950s science fiction movies that were usually a cut above the usual run of such movies.

It often amuses me when people talk about how revolutionary the so-called revisionist westerns of the late 60s and 70s were. There’s really not a single revolutionary thing in those movies that isn’t to be found in the classic Hollywood westerns of the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. If there was a clever twist that could be given to classic western themes then John Ford, Howards Hawks, Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher had almost certainly already thought of it. Moral ambiguity, flawed heroes, tortured heroes, ethical dilemmas, sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans, a questioning of the mythology of the Wild West - the old masters of the genre had given us all of these things.

And in No Name on the Bullet we get a genuine anti-hero.

Universal’s Region 1 DVD offers a very pleasing 16:9 enhanced transfer (the movie was shot in colour and in the Cinemascope aspect ratio).

I watched this movie based on a glowing recommendation at Riding the High Country.

No Name on the Bullet is an excellent grown-up western with an extraordinary charismatic performance by Audie Murphy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Death Whistles the Blues (1964)

Death Whistles the Blues (La muerte silba un blues) is a very early film (released in 1964) by notorious Spanish director Jess Franco and for those who are only familiar with his later output this one will come as a surprise. It’s a technically well made movie that demonstrates that Franco was perfectly capable of making conventional movies with conventional narratives.

Death Whistles the Blues is a film noirish crime thriller which belongs to one of my personal favourite genres, a genre I call Tropical Noir. Dark moody noiresque crime movies with exotic settings that add extra steaminess to the already overwrought atmosphere of film noir.

In this case there is some question as to where exactly the events of the movie are supposed to occur. There is a kind of prologue somewhere in the vicinity of New Orleans but later scenes may be set in New Orleans or possibly Jamaica, and possibly Spain. There was a slightly recut French version of this film and the French and Spanish versions don’t agree on the setting. 

I think this confusion is actually an asset to the movie. After all film noir doesn’t really take place in our reality, it takes place in a more interesting variant of reality that we can call Film Noir World. In Film Noir World all women are femmes fatales and all men are either villains or patsies. In Film Noir World people pretty much live in night-clubs. And everything is fuelled by jazz and sex.

This is definitely true of Death Whistles the Blues. And given that Jess Franco was a major jazz aficionado (and an accomplished jazz musician and composer) and that he loved shooting scenes in night-clubs, preferably night-club scenes with at least some erotic charge, it’s not surprising that Franco captures exactly the right mood.

Ten years before a couple of petty crooks, a guy named Castro and a jazz musician named Julius Smith were betrayed by a man named Vogel. Castro is presumed to be now dead. Julius Smith is in an American prison. Vogel is still alive. He’s now married to Castro’s widow Lina (his desire to steal Lina from Castro seems to have been the motivation for his betrayal. Vogel has changed his name to Radeck and he’s now quite respectable.

The problem is that Julius Smith is out of prison, and he’s talked and what he’s said is a threat to Vogel/Radeck. Even worse, it seems that Castro may still be alive. And after vengeance.

Lina can be seen as a femme fatale of sorts. She’s certainly a dangerous woman if she’s pushed. There’s another potential femme fatale as well, Moira Santos (Danik Patisson). She’s a singer but she’s taking a keen interest in Radeck’s affairs. Radeck clearly wants to get Moira into bed and Moira does not seem unwilling. Moira is a bit of a schemer and there’s plenty of potential for sexual jealousies and betrayals and suspicions.

Perla Cristal is excellent as Lina, playing her as a mysterious and complex and ambiguous woman whose real agenda can only be guessed at.

Georges Rollin as Vogel/Radeck is quite good in the sense that he makes the guy apparently a genuinely reformed character. He’s done bad things but now he just wants to be left alone. We feel some sympathy for him. He’s now a cornered animal, but perhaps Rollin needed to make it a bit clearer that Vogel/Radeck is as deadly as a cornered animal. Whether Radeck was intended to be vaguely sympathetic is something we can’t be sure of, and if so it can be debated whether it was the right way to play the character, but for me it works reasonably well.

Franco didn’t just love jazz. He made movies in which jazz is an absolutely essential ingredient and a major influence on the narrative. In this case there’s a song, Rooftop Blues (written by Franco), which plays a crucial rôle in the story.

Severin have released this movie and another early Franco film, Rififi in the City, as a Franco Noir double-header (on both DVD and Blu-Ray). The anamorphic transfers are excellent and there’s a lengthy featurette with Stephen Thrower discussing both movies.

These early noirish crime thrillers are interesting because they show the direction in which Franco’s career could have gone. By the mid-60s he was well established in the mainstream of the Spanish film industry and was starting to become known outside of Spain. It’s clear that the fact that he ended up having such an unconventional career was a deliberate choice on his part.

Death Whistles the Blues is a pretty decent film noir. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Rough Shoot (1953)

Rough Shoot (released in the U.S. as Shoot First) is a 1953 British spy thriller.

A U.S. Army colonel named Taine (Joel McCrea), stationed in England, is living the life of an English country gentleman albeit on a rather modest scale. He rents a shoot from a neighbouring farmer. He sees what he assumes to be a poacher. Taine has been assured that the local custom, when confronted by such a situation, is to give the poacher a load of buckshot in the seat of the pants to teach him a lesson. This is what Taine proceeds to do. He fires at the poacher. Strangely enough, after the shot, the poacher falls and doesn’t get up. When Taine wanders over to investigate he discovers to his horror that the man is dead.

What Taine doesn’t know is that at the exact moment he fired someone else fired as well.

Taine is pretty badly spooked. It would appear that he is now a murderer and they hang people for murder in England. He might get off with manslaughter but it would still be very unpleasant and would almost certainly mean spending some time in one of Her Majesty’s prisons. He doesn’t fancy that idea at all.

He waits until nightfall then goes to look for the body, presumably intending to conceal it.

Other people are looking for that body as well. The body in question belonged to a man named Reimann.

Taine’s wife (played by Evelyn Keyes) notices that her husband is behaving very strangely.

Taine also has a new acquaintance, Sandorski (Herbert Lom). Sandorski claims to be a retired Polish Army Colonel-Commandant and claims to be now working for the British Government on security matters. Sandorki lives in the local mental hospital so he’s obviously a harmless nut. Except that he isn’t.

Randall (Roland Culver) then arrives on the scene. He’s a proper British intelligence operative, obviously quite senior. He’s looking for Reimann. And he wants Taine’s help in dealing with a ticklish intelligence problem. The smart thing for Taine to do might be to tell Randall the whole truth but Taine is still badly spooked so he doesn’t.

Randall is interested in the activities of a man named Hiatt (Marius Goring), currently staying with Taine’s neighbours the Hassinghams.

There’s a mysterious rendezvous with an aircraft, assorted sinister spy types and a briefcase containing secret papers which serves as the primary McGuffin. There’s a risky plan to foil the foreign agents, a plan based largely on bluff, there’s some suspense on a train and a decent action finale in a waxworks. That risky plan becomes more risky when Scotland Yard starts blundering about.

The movie is based on Geoffrey Household’s novel A Rough Shoot. Household is best known as the author of the classic thriller Rogue Male (filmed by Fritz Lang as Man Hunt). Eric Ambler wrote the screenplay. That’s some heavy duty writing talent there. And a perfectly decent spy thriller plot.

This is a case where bringing in an American star for a British production works. The fact that Taine is an American, not entirely familiar with British laws and customs and not having friends and family in whom to confide, makes his actions more believable. And Joel McCrea gives a creditable performance as a man who is basically decent but badly out of his depth. Evelyn Keyes is fine. Marius Goring was always reliable, especially as a villain.

Herbert Lom could handle serious rôles and comic rôles with equal aplomb. Here he gives a semi-comic performance and it works since it makes it more believable that confiding in Sandorski does little to calm Taine’s anxieties. He has to trust Sandorski, he has no choice, but he isn’t happy about it. He still thinks Sandorski could be crazy. Lom of course is delightfully entertaining. As is Roland Culver.

Robert Parrish directed and does a solid job.

Unfortunately Rough Shoot is not available on DVD and doesn’t appear to have ever had a VHS release either. You can find it online without too much trouble.

This movie really deserves a proper DVD release (a Blu-Ray release might be too much to hope for). It’s absolutely typical of British thrillers of its era - well-constructed, professionally executed and with a fine cast. The British just had the knack for making these sorts of movies. Highly recommended.

I watched this movie on the strength of a very favourable review at Riding the High Country.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Secret Man (1958)

The Secret Man is a British spy thriller made by Amalgamated Productions in 1958.

Dr Cliff Mitchell (Marshall Thompson) is a brilliant Canadian scientist working on a top-secret missile project (known as Q7) for the British Government. It’s a matter of national security. Now the testing has been successful and all Dr Mitchell has to do is to complete his report and the project can be funded and work can begin. Dr Mitchell has to prepare the report alone because he is the only man who really understands the project. You would think that under those circumstances he’d be well protected by Special Branch men but apparently such an idea has never even occurred to the geniuses in charge of security for the project. They don’t even assign a single policeman to protect him.

So it will come as no surprise whatever to the viewer when Dr Mitchell, driving alone on a deserted country road, is kidnapped by foreign agents.

Things are however not what they seem to be. Mitchell finds himself reluctantly drawn into the world of spies and counter-spies. Espionage is a grubby game and counter-espionage can be an even grubbier game. It’s also a confusing game if you’re an amateur. You can’t trust anybody. Surely he can trust Jill Warren, his fiancée. But he’s not so sure about even that.

And being the bait in a trap is no joke.

This is very much a 1950s spy movie, in the tradition of “reluctant spy” stories. Cliff Mitchell is no James Bond. He’s just an ordinary guy who wants to get on with his scientific work. He’s not used to playing a game in which people get killed. And people do get killed. He isn’t a debonair man of the world and he doesn’t know anything about guns. He doesn’t have women swooning over him.

There are no gadgets (apart from some low-tech surveillance equipment). There’s a bit of action but it’s not the non-stop action of spy movies of the following decade.

There is however a glamorous lady spy. At least she could be a spy. Cliff is not very good at recognising spies. He’s not really all that familiar with glamorous females in general.

Mitchell does prove to be able to handle himself in a fist-fight, which is one of the unrealistic elements that are more or less unavoidable in reluctant spy movies.

It’s all played very straight and very serious, and it’s rather earnest. National security is at stake!

Marshall Thompson makes a good reluctant spy. He’s likeable and convincingly ordinary without being too dull. John Loder is solid enough as a British spook. Solid is the best word to describe the whole cast - no-one is particularly impressive but they all get the job done competently enough.

Competent is the best word to describe the job done by director Ronald Kinnoch. This was his only directing credit. The most notable thing about the movie might be the fact that it was an early screenwriting credit for Brian Clemens.

This film is one of the nine features included in the Renown Pictures Crime Collection Volume 1 boxed set (a set well worth investing in). The transfer is acceptable, with a bit of print damage here and there.

The Secret Man is a decent low-key spy thriller. A few short years later Dr No would be released and movies such as this would start to look like quaint period pieces but I quite like the low-key 50s style of spy movie. Recommended.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Collector (1965)

William Wyler’s Anglo-American production The Collector was based on the bestselling novel of the same name by John Fowles. It was subject matter that was going to need careful handling in 1965. It was an odd choice for Wyler but apparently he was very keen to do this movie. It’s a kind of horror movie, but a very low-key subtle horror movie with the emphasis on psychological horror.

Gerald Franklin (Terence Stamp) is an odd young man. He’s very shy, very solitary and very lonely. He collects butterflies. Butterflies are beautiful and he likes beautiful things. It occurs to him that there may be more interesting things to collect than butterflies. Girls for instance. He’s already spotted a specimen who would make a fine start to his collection. Her name is Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar).

Catching butterflies requires skill and patience, and careful preparation. You need the right equipment. And you have to know what to do with them when you catch them. The stalking and the catching are challenging and enjoyable. It’s the same with girls.

Franklin makes very careful plans indeed. And he has a place to put her when he’s caught her. He’s bought an isolated house and it has a large basement that he has turned into what he fondly imagines will be an ideal environment in which to keep a captive girl. He has no intention of hurting her. He just wants to keep her, as a sort of pet. Of course the trouble with girls as pets is that you can’t really release them. Not that he wants to release her.

Franklin is not your usual movie psychopath. He’s clearly a very troubled very disturbed young man. He’s obviously psychotic. But he’s not a killer. He likes Miranda. He wants to be kind to her. Girls are like butterflies. They’re fragile.

Which is of course what makes the movie so disturbing.

Naturally Miranda is not very happy about being kept as a prisoner. At first she assumes that she’s been kidnapped for ransom but Franklin doesn’t want money. So she assumes he wants sex but he assures her that he has no intention of forcing himself on her. Then she discovers the truth, which is even more horrifying. He’s in love with her. He assumes that if he keeps her a prisoner she will learn to love him.

Franklin obviously has no experience at all with women. He also obviously lives in a fantasy world. He really believes that his intentions are honourable. He really believes she will grow to love him.

Of course there is sexual tension. Miranda is a beautiful young woman. Franklin is clearly sexually attracted to her although it’s equally clear that he has no more understanding of his sexual feelings than he has of anything else. Miranda figures that eventually he will be unable to resist the sexual temptation. She asks him to at least not use violence on her - if he cannot control himself she will not resist, but she won’t respect him.

They make a deal. She agrees to stay for a month. She makes various escape attempts, but they are unsuccessful.

A weird relationship develops between them. She almost feels sorry for him, although she also feels contempt.

There’s a definite class dimension to this movie. Miranda is middle-class and privileged with all the self-confidence and unconscious arrogance that entails. She doesn’t have to work. She’s an art student. Franklin is working class. He was a clerk in a bank until he won a fortune on the football pools. He is very conscious of his lack of education and polish. Franklin is the sort of young man that Miranda would never dream of having anything to do with under normal circumstances.

The power dynamics are interesting. On the surface he has the power - he has her locked in the cellar. In practice, most of the time, she has the power. The fact that he is so desperate for her approval, and that she can hold out to him the possibility that she will be nice to him, and perhaps even grant him her sexual favours, gives her the edge. He needs and wants her. She neither needs nor wants him. And of course there’s that class dynamic - her effortless middle-class assumption of superiority.

Franklin is at times almost a sympathetic character. When he tells Miranda that under normal circumstances she would never even speak to him much less go out with him, that she and her friends would make fun of him, he is of course correct. What makes the film more interesting is Miranda’s unawareness of her own incredibly privileged position in society and the extent to which people without her privileges lead lives of misery and despair. She cannot understand how much the contempt of people like her hurts people like Franklin. She cannot put herself in his shoes. She is not only financially secure and middle class, she is also young, female and beautiful. She has the world at her feet. She has men at her feet, if she wants them. She has no idea what it’s like for someone like Franklin to look at a girl like her knowing that such a girl would never even give him a chance.

Obviously Franklin is mad and his behaviour is appalling but while the movie doesn’t attempt to exonerate him it does allow us to understand him.

And while Miranda is the victim she’s oddly unsympathetic. Her contempt for him is so vast that most of the time she doesn’t even fear him.

In the 60s both Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar seemed destined for brilliant careers. They made successful high-profile movies. They were talented. Eggar was nominated for an Oscar for The Collector and won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The brilliant career just never happened for her. The box-office fiasco that was Dr Dolittle may well have sunk her career. Stamp was a major star in the early to mid 1960s then just walked away from the film business. Ten years later he attempted a comeback, but by that time he’d been forgotten.

They both give brilliant nuanced performances.

The Collector is a psychologically and socially complex movie, disturbing but with a slight black comedy edge to it. It’s not a horror movie or a thriller but it has some affinities with the psychological horror and psychological thriller genres. Great movie. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Seijun Suzuki had a lucrative career going making inexpensive crime thrillers for Nikkatsu but his movies gradually became weirder and more stylistically extravagant. Things came to a head with Branded To Kill in 1967 but you can already see signs of his desire to break away from the standard crime movie formula in Tokyo Drifter in 1966.

Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari) is a heavy for a yakuza gang but when his boss Kurata decides to go straight and disband the gang Tetsu decides to go straight as well.

It’s not going to be so easy. Otsuka, a rival yakuza from Karuta’s past, wants to take over Kurata’s legitimate businesses. If it’s going to be difficult for Kurata to go straight then it will be just as hard for Tetsu. His loyalty to Kurata is absolute.

Otsuka comes up with an elaborate plan to force Kurata’s hand. During the execution of the plan there are two murders, and either Kurata or Tetsu might be manoeuvred into taking the rap for one or both murders.

Tetsu decides it would be better for everyone if he wasn’t around any more. So he leaves and becomes a drifter. Like the Tokyo Drifter in the song that his girlfriend Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) sings.

Of course his yakuza past keeps catching up with him, and Otsuka is still out to get him. A killer named Tatsu the Viper is stalking him.

In the course of these adventures and misadventures he encounters Kenji (Hideaki Nitani). Kenji saves Tetsu’s life. Kenji is also a drifter. A yakuza who becomes a drifter is a bit like a masterless samurai. He no longer has a sense of belonging. There is however a difference between the two men. Kenji had been Otsuka’s man but has abandoned his loyalty to his old yakuza boss. This deeply upsets Tetsu. Tetsu would never give up his loyalty to Karuta. A yakuza just doesn’t do such things. So two men who should become friends become at best uneasy allies.

Otsuka goes on plotting and eventually there must of course be a showdown.

We have to confront the question of genre. A lot of the Japanese crime movies made from the late 40s to the mid 60s get labelled as film noir and many do indeed have strong affinities to film noir. That’s especially true of Nikkatsu’s late 50s/early 60s offerings and several of Seijun Suzuki’s movies are often described as film noir. It’s obvious that Suzuki was heavily influenced by American crime movies of the 40s. The basic plot outline of Tokyo Drifter could come from a 40s American crime thriller. It does however have quite a few distinctively Japanese features. This is very much a movie about loyalty and betrayal, but it’s loyalty in a sense that owes more to the code of the samurai than to anything that you’d find in an American gangster movie. Tetsu is not Karuta’s loyal employee. They have a kind of father-son relationship but also the kind of relationship that would have existed between a samurai and his lord.

Stylistically this is a movie with its own unique flavour. It’s shot in colour, and vibrant colour. There’s a lot of film noir atmosphere but there’s a very strong 1960s vibe. In fact there’s a blending of 40s and 60s style. The nightclub in which Chiharu sings looks very 1960s but she doesn’t sing pop songs. She sings the kinds of songs that a chanteuse in a 1940s Hollywood movie would sing.

I thought initially that Tetsuya Watari was a bit too young to play Tetsu. I’d have been inclined to go for an actor who looked a bit more world-weary. He was forced on Suzuki by the studio and was apparently quite a problem, being too nervous and inexperienced to remember his lines. In a normal movie his performance might have been a disaster but in this movie his non-acting acting works. In a Suzuki movie clothes make the man. Literally. Suzuki thought the key to characterisation was to choose the right costume for the character. If the costume was right nothing else really mattered.

There are also touches of the surrealism that was a Suzuki trademark. This is not the real world. This is not Tokyo in 1966. This is a world created by Seijun Suzuki. The rules are different. It’s a totally artificial world that doesn’t even try to resemble the real world.

There’s a wonderful scene set in a western saloon (it’s a bar in Tokyo in the style of a wild West saloon), with an all-in brawl just like in a western. It’s played for comedic effect, it’s totally crazy and it comes out of nowhere but it works.

When you watch the two interviews with the director included on the Criterion DVD you start to get a handle on what it is that makes Tokyo Drifter so appealing. Suzuki wasn’t trying to be arty. He had no artistic pretensions at all. He was simply trying to be non-boring and fun. He hated the idea of shooting any scene in a conventional way. It was much more fun to do it in a totally unconventional and original idea. The movie looks like it was made as an art film, in a very Pop Art way, but this was entirely accidental. It was simply a product of Suzuki’s determination to keep trying something different. This is a kind of naïve art. Unlike too many self-consciously arty films it is never boring. You never know what Suzuki will throw at you next.

There are so many excellent visual set-pieces. The climactic shoot-out is the wildest most outrageous shoot-out you’ve ever seen.

Suzuki didn’t agonise too much over continuity. The important thing was to avoid being boring. He was much more interested in the production design than in the plot. And the production design in this case is stunning and outlandish.

Predictably Nikkatsu hated the movie. After two more films they fired him. Branded To Kill, usually regarded as his masterpiece, was the last straw for Nikkatsu.

Tokyo Drifter is a wild ride but I can promise you that while you might be mystified you will not be bored. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Purple Noon (1960)

René Clément’s 1960 French crime thriller Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) was based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is a bit of a drifter and a bit of a grifter. He has no money but he’s always been pretty successful at living off other people’s wealth. At the moment he is working on what should be a very easy job. A Mr Greenleaf in San Francisco has offered him $5,000. All Tom has to do is to bring Greenleaf’s son Philippe (Maurice Ronet) back to San Francisco. It seemed like easy money. Although Tom has always been poor and Philippe has always been rich they have been friends since boyhood. Convincing Philippe to return to his father should present no difficulties.

But Philippe has no interest in returning to San Francisco.

Philippe wants to head off to Taormina to meet his friends. He will reach Taormina on his yacht. His girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforêt) will accompany him. Tom is certainly welcome to come along too.

Tom has plans. The $5,000 from Philippe’s father, even if he could get that money, would not be enough. Nowhere near enough. Tom does not intend to remain poor. He confides his plan to Philippe, who considers it a joke.

Tom and Philippe have an uneasy relationship. Philippe is a spoilt trust-fund brat with no sense of responsibility and no great interest in other people’s welfare, or other people’s feelings. He is regular condescending and insulting towards Tom. Tom accepts this sort of treatment because he has those plans and if they come to fruition no-one will be able to condescend to him again.

Hurting other people seems to amuse Philippe. He treats Marge rather badly but she’s crazy about him and believes that he loves her. It's unlikely that Philippe has ever loved anybody in his life.

Tom puts his plan into action but it turns out to be much more complicated than he’d expected. He’d thought that he’d considered every possibility but annoying little things go wrong. Tom is however quick-witted and treats these setbacks as interesting challenges to his improvisational skills. The question is whether he can go on successfully improvising.

Patricia Highsmith was notorious for her indifference to plausibility which necessitated some fairly important changes to the story. As Clément explained in an interview, a lack of plausibility is more noticeable in a movie. The ending was also changed, not because it had to be changed but because Clément intensely disliked Highsmith’s ending.

This movie was Alain Delon’s big break and he makes the most of it. He somehow manages almost to make us feel empathy for Tom Ripley. He makes Ripley an oddly magnetic charismatic figure, which is essential since the plot relies heavily on Tom’s ability to bluff his way out of tight corners. Maurice Ronet and Marie Laforêt give fine performances but this movie belongs to Alain Delon.

René Clément was one of the established names in the French film industry in the mid-50s and as such he became the subject of the derision of the up-and-coming Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Truffaut was particularly scathing. The hostility of the New Wave crowd clearly owed a lot to jealousy. They wanted to tear down the reputations of established directors so that they could become the big noises in French cinema. In fact Purple Noon is considerable more impressive and more entertaining than most of the New Wave offerings of the same time period.

The Criterion Collection release includes a mini-documentary plus copious liner notes which include a very perceptive essay on the film and a 1981 interview with Clément.

Purple Noon, like the movies of the New Wave crowd, taps into the zeitgeist of its time. Tom Ripley is very much an anti-hero. He’s a cynical charmer, he’s ruthless and amoral, but somehow he’s not entirely unsympathetic. We admire his determination to play a very dangerous game in which the odds are stacked against him and we can’t help admiring the way he plays that game.

It’s also in touch with the zeitgeist of the 60s in its emphasis on style, and its emphasis on surfaces. It has a very definite early 60s look.

Purple Noon is also wildly entertaining. And of course it offers us the chance to see Alain Delon on the brink of major stardom. He already has charisma, he already has that incredible Delon coolness. His star quality shines out. Purple Noon is highly recommended.