Patricia Highsmith had already garnered fame in 1951 when her first novel, 'Strangers On A Train', became fodder for Alfred Hitchcock, but it wasn't until 1960 that her work was again adapted for cinema with René Clément's Plein Soleil. A French version of the first in her series of Tom Ripley novels, 1955's 'The Talented Mr Ripley', it features a young Alain Delon as the enigmatic villain who's not adverse to murder and identity theft.
The film opens with Ripley in Rome, having been sent over to retrieve Philippe Greenleaf (Ronet) and return him to his parents in San Francisco. Philippe has other ideas and wants to continue his hedonistic adventures in Italy with his girlfriend Marge (Duval), and Tom temporarily along for the ride. It's only when he catches Tom trying on his clothes and mimicking him in the mirror that Philippe decides he and Marge would be better off alone. But by tricking Marge into thinking Philippe has been unfaithful and prompting her to leave, Tom sets into motion his sinister plot to dispense with Philippe and assume his identity in order to attain his lavish lifestyle, his money, and eventually his girlfriend.
Played by a sleek and beautiful Delon, Ripley isn't an archetypal psycho, but this is not an archetypal thriller. As in Highsmith's novels, Ripley is an extremely appealing character who's continually pushing the mark to see how far he can go without getting caught. And therein lies the horror; the quietly unfolding notion that Ripley is not just acting out of self-preservation, but out of a narcissistic indulgence of his own cleverness. Watching him flawlessly improvise his way out of precarious situations makes us root for this amoral man, and at some points it's almost as if he knows this too.
Beautifully photographed along the incongruously picturesque Amalfi coast, the film is characterised by Henri Decaë's elegant cinematography as well as Nino Rota's excellent score. Two elements that more than compensate for Clément's decision to change Highsmith's ending.