Noon isn’t the only thing that’s purple in this continental ode to Alain Delon’s crotch.
Some “classics” earn that status from innovative mise en scene, others from memorable performances, still others because they capture the spirit of their era. A film like Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (1958) lingers in the mind because either the director or the producers, the Hakim brothers, were so obsessed with Alain Delon that they simply abandoned all taste, talent, and logic for an extended “meditation” on the fetching actor’s smooth flesh. This is a European summer fashion show featuring Delon in a variety of g-strings, bikini briefs, and painted-on pants. (Butt thongs must have been invented later.) Determining who issued the command that the camera firmly fixed on Delon would take major detective work, and judging from the work of Visconti and Pasolini, who also spent an inordinate amount of time gloating over male flesh, maybe this is just a “European thing.”
Purple Noon comes with a fantastic pedigree. It’s based on a controversial novel by noir diva Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train); director Clement is considered a major French auteur, revered for works like Forbidden Games; it was filmed in several countries and stars the incomparably sexy Delon. Even its re-release is noteworthy as another of Martin Scorsese’s foistings on the public — I mean, glorious resurrections — of films that made a strong impression on him as a child.
Highsmith’s plot is complex and convoluted. Instead of “exchanging murders” as in the more celebrated Strangers on a Train, Purple Noon’s mismatched pals exchange identities — but one does so unwillingly, as he’s stabbed to death by the other and thrown into the ocean. The film becomes a dull cat-and-mouse game as Delon leaves a fake trail all over Europe, pretending to be his rich, late pal in order to take over his fortune and his girlfriend. Performances are uniformly tedious, and the “bright noir” look of the film induces ennui. The critic who called it a “deceptive and repulsive travelogue” won’t get any arguments from this corner.
Director-star affairs are de rigeur in film, but it isn’t known whether Clement and/or the Hakims were actually fucking Delon. From the visual evidence of radical crotch-zooms and lingering surveys of Delon’s radiant flesh, we can theorize that this nest of Delon-lovers was thwarted in its courtship and forced to settle for second-best — turning the camera into a cocksucker and the audience into willing, worshipful voyeurs.