Alain Delon did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tom Ripley in Purple Noon.
I first began writing this review by saying what's wrong with Matt Damon's and that later film's approach to the character of Tom Ripley, but I went back and noticed I had done the exact same thing for Dennis Hopper's portrayal of the character in 1977's The American Friend. Nevertheless I still feel I need to bring some of that up again as I examine the very first cinematic portrayal of the character by Alain Delon. This version actually begins in a rather interesting way. We jump right into the relationship between Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, Phillipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) in this version. We don't see Ripley lead into his plan, they've already spent some time together, and the film actually takes the style as though the story might be something a little lighter. That's not to say the film seems tonally wrong but kind of brilliantly the film hides its true intents from us just as Ripley hides his true intent from Greenleaf. As the film begins its breezy tone as does Delon who just seems to have Tom fulfilling the role of the hanger on, just happy to be around a rich "cool" guy like Greenleaf.
There is of course more to Ripley than what we gain from the first glance. In fact it is soon afterwards that Delon begins to reveal more about the man. Delon takes a far more subtle approach, than the overt awkward creep that Damon would later do, in these moments. We see Ripley go along with Greenleaf on his little escapades, and although whenever he is in Greenleaf view Delon presents just a good party friend, there's a bit more when he looks away. There's a great moment when Greenleaf is romancing a random woman, and Ripley tries to do the same. Delon does not present this as a jealous attempt by Ripley but rather something far more interesting. There is a mimicry in the very act as Delon has Ripley taking notes as he tries to kiss and caress the woman in the same manner as Greenleaf. Delon does not do this as a man just simply trying to act like the other person, but rather there is a more severe intensity that Delon brings. That intensity of a man who quite simply wants to be the other man, and again this is still not so simple due to Delon's intelligent portrayal.
Ripley's plan continues as he architects Greenleaf's fall by ensuring his philandering is known by his fiancee Marge (Marie Laforêt) all the while setting up everything for his personal replacement of Greenleaf. What I love about Delon's approach though is he portrays this inherent fascination in Ripley towards Greenleaf, though in a rather unique. He portrays an attraction not necessarily to the man, but rather the life. Again not as just a man being greedy or anything like that, but rather he conveys Ripley's motivations as a method for the man to find an identity for himself. When there is a scene early on of Ripley play acting out his replacement of Greenleaf, Delon is terrific by not showing any pleasure in this exactly rather a strange contentment of being this alternative self. Delon manages to show the more of the natural sociopath in his Ripley. In that Delon does not actually portray ever a maliciousness in Ripely at any point, instead he depicts him as a man who is essentially being himself, even if that means being someone else.
When we get to the first murder Delon does not show it to be a vicious attack, rather a specific undertaking of Ripley simply going through with the plan. Now Delon's approach here has a curious effect, something that Hopper also accomplished, Damon failed to accomplish, and I believe was always the intention of the character. The effect being he becomes the bizarre "hero" for the story. Now this is in more of a Richard III sort of way, as we see to become Ripley's accomplishes as he goes about his crimes. Delon does this a few ways. One is that there is a certain sense of fun he brings to the proceedings. Delon never winks towards the camera, but he capitalizes so well on the state of his character. There is a wonderful moment where Ripley, pretending to be Greenleaf, is told by Marge over the phone that she had an affair with Ripley. Delon's reaction is priceless as he's humorously at being used as the lie.
Delon is always true to the nature of the man he's developed, and this strange honesty, in a man who is always lying, is quite captivating. Delon always has Tom Ripley being Tom Ripley. As we follow him through the plan Delon which he never undercuts. There are technically moments of humanity, humanity in that he presents the right fear in his close calls with the police. It does not seem wrong for the character yet Delon brings in all the more into Ripley's plan. A fascinating thing about Delon's work is that he never cheapens the character for an easier explanation. In the end when Ripley has everything lined up, all of Greenleaf's wealth, and even his fiancee, Delon shows that strange contentment in the imitation. Again though Delon never reveals overt lust for the woman, or desire for the money. It rather Tom Ripley just getting to be exactly what he wishes to be. This is an excellent performance by Alain Delon as he succeeds in finding and creating the needed complexity for the character. Delon's chilling at times, humorous at times, but most importantly is always compelling in his portrayal of such a unique character as Tom Ripley.