Restored and rereleased this year to celebrate the centenary of Oscar-winning director René Clément’s birth, PLEIN SOLEIL is a cracking thriller about a glamorous and complex psychopath, Tom Ripley, an American played by a cold-eyed but undeniably gorgeous Alain Delon. This was his first major cinematic role – and the one which was to make his name.
The film begins in Italy, where Ripley has been sent by the wealthy Greenleaf family to persuade his friend, errant playboy Philip (Ronet), to return home to San Francisco. Ripley soon ingratiates himself into the carefree lives of Philip and his fiancée Marge (Laforêt), but you quickly sense the chasm in their social standing, and Ripley’s desperate need to conclude his mission and claim the $5,000 for bringing Philip home. However, he soon realises that Philip has no intention of returning to the States…
It is interesting to ponder the fact that today it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pull off an identity theft like Ripley does – the technology of mobile phones, DNA fingerprinting and the internet would conspire against him. However, the story does not suffer from the march of time, and the film is still impressive with the vigour, energy and chic of the 1960s. Nino Rota’s unnerving score is gloriously evocative of the decade.
PLEIN SOLEIL was the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, and of course one is drawn to compare it with Anthony Mingella’s version, made nearly 40 years later, in which Matt Damon takes the role of Ripley, and Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow play the couple. THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY is a stylish remake, and perhaps more rounded than Clément’s adaptation, but nothing compares to the magnetism of Delon’s Ripley – perfect… and yet unencumbered by conscience.