An absolutely smashing classic psychological thriller from 1960, "Purple Noon" has long been unavailable on film or video. That's unfortunate, because it is one of the great unseen treasures in movie history.
Henri Ducae's dazzling photography of this beautifully restored French-Italian film is only one of the reasons for fans to rush to the Flint Institute of Arts for its screenings Saturday night and Sunday.
The others: Rene Clement's perfect direction, Nino Rota's superb jazz score, Paul Gegauff's brilliant adaption of the novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote "Strangers on a Train"), and a star-making performance by a young Alain Delon.
Delon plays Tom Ripley, a young American hired by a wealthy father to get his playboy son, Phil Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), to stop bumming around Italy in his 40-foot sailboat and return home to San Francisco.
Instead, Ripley joins Greenleaf's hedonistic holiday, tagging along and alienating Greenleaf's friend, Freddy Miles (Bill Kearns) but falling for Greenleaf's sexy fiance, Marge (Marie Laforet).
When things get tense, and the party starts to fall apart, Ripley realizes he doesn't need to tag along with Greenleaf at all. He can just be Greenleaf.
So begins as excruciatingly suspenseful a game of cat and mouse as the movies have ever seen. It's as though "Strangers on a Train" were being told from the point of view of the Robert Walker character - except instead of a blunt-talking slug, this amoral sociopath is an impossibly good-looking, silver-tounged charmer.
Rarely in film has evil seemed so attractive. We are made to identify with this character despite ourselves. He's so audaciously amoral, we simply can't wait to see what he will do next. Two scenes in which bodies are disposed of - one in which Ripley is being towed by a boat and has to use a corpse as a surfboard, and another in which he has to haul the body of a much heavier man down three flights of well-lit stairs - are macabre classics.
Delon's performance is the equal of Anthony Perkins' in "Psycho," and Clement's direction is up there with Hitchcock's in "Vertigo." If "Purple Noon" (which was released the same year as "Psycho") were a Hitchcock movie, it would rate in the top 10, with a final twist that is chilling and satisfying.
Clement would go on to make some good movies, but he was no Hitchcock. For just this one time, however, he played on the master's turf as an equal.
It's easy to see the influence this film could have had on future thrillers like Phillip Noyce's "Dead Calm," Barbet Schroeder's "Single White Female" and, especially, John Dahl's "The Last Seduction."
Now, thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorsese and others to re-release this suspense classic, the rest of us can see the perfection these great directors were aiming for. Don't miss your chance.