Meurtre et mode sur la Méd

Originally featured in Issue 38 of The Rake, the 1960 French thriller Plein Soleil – remade for a modern audience as The Talented Mr. Ripley – was a sartorial celluloid spectacle, a kind of anti-noir for which the adage ‘clothes maketh the man’ (or, in this case, the murderer) has never been more apt.

The French actor Alain Delon in a scene from Plein Soleil, written and directed by René Clément.

Plein Soleil is a film about clothes and killing – in that order. The basic premise of the 1960 French thriller – based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel and remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley almost 40 years later – is a simple one: the poor Tom Ripley becomes friends with the rich Philippe Greenleaf, bumps him off, and seeks to pass himself off as the dead man in order to clean out his bank account and, for that matter, his entire life. Central to this extended holiday bromance gone very wrong, set against various postcard Italian vistas of yachting, piazza cafés and bachelor apartments, is Ripley’s wearing of his victim’s clothes.

Indeed, the meta-narrative (for those who like such things) is this: beneath the actors wearing costumes to become characters are characters wearing costumes to become other people. Never has the expression ‘clothes maketh the man’ (in this case the murderer) been more apt. In one scene, Greenleaf catches Ripley – played by Alain Delon, the benchmark of French reserve and icy masculinity, tie undone and Gauloise sticking to his bottom lip – trying on some of his duds, the first hint of a creepy imitation. In another, the investigating police officer is questioning Ripley in his bedroom and leans against the wardrobe. Its door pops open, so accidentally as to make the viewer wonder whether this event is, in fact, off-script. Revealed briefly are all of Greenleaf’s clothes – the makings of Ripley’s alter ego, his Superman-about-town outfits. The officer closes it behind him without looking in, allowing Ripley’s sartorial front to retain its magic power.

Published

April 2021

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