Featuring the first leading performance of screen legend Alain Delon, René Clément’s Plein Soleil was an adaptation of a novel by American author Patricia Highsmith. Released in some countries under the title Purple Noon, it stars Delon as Tom Ripley, a young American in Italy, sent to convince a wealthy wastrel to return to the States and take over his father’s business. When he meets Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the playboy takes the impoverished Ripley under his wing, seducing him with his life of luxury: he introduces him to his socialite girlfriend Marge, spends vast amounts of money and shows him the best that Italian nightlife has to offer.
Things start to go wrong when Philippe grows tired of Ripley’s sycophancy. On a whim, he cruelly strands him on a dinghy for hours, leaving him there to bake in the midday sun. And as he soon finds out, the last thing you ever want to do is piss off a psychopath like Ripley. (Did we mention that he was a psycho? Well he totally is, as it turns out.)
Notable for its lush photography, gorgeous locations, a beautiful score by Nino Roto (The Godfather) and Delon’s smouldering lead performance, Plein Soleil has become an all-time classic of French pulp cinema. With a newly restored 4K print now making its way back into cinemas, the film has never seemed more glamorous, foreboding and utterly beautiful.
Of course, many of you will have seen Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley with Matt Damon in the title role. His version presents a more complex interpretation of the character: he’s a self-loathing sociopath with overt homosexual urges. Ripley’s obsession with Greenleaf (first name now Dickie) stemming in some ways from his dual desires to be him and to be with him.
It’s hard to fault either version, even if Plein Soleil features a more moralistic ending that deviates from Highsmith’s original novel. But if you’re only familiar with the Matt Damon/Jude Law incarnation, we seriously recommend you go back to the French original.
To honour this new restoration of Plein Soleil, we’re taking a look at a few more notable American remakes of French films.
1. Taxi (1998) & Taxi (2004)
From the blockbuster factory that is the mind of Luc Besson came this 1998 action comedy about an inept cop and a taxi driver with dreams of becoming a racer. Set in the city of Marseille and featuring an early performance from Marion Cotillard, this international hit received an American remake in 2004. It starred Jimmy Fallon as the bumbling police detective and Queen Latifah in the Samy Naceri role. Transposing the action to New York City, much of the humour from the original was lost in translation along with any semblance of acclaim or blockbuster success.
The remake eventually made its money back (and then some) but the critical drubbings all but ended Fallon’s film career, though he would later find success as a successful talk show host.
2. A Bout de Souffle (1960) & Breathless (1983)
An undisputed icon of French cinema, Godard’s debut film (and greatest masterpiece) stars John-Paul Belmondo as a Bogart-worshipping petty criminal who hides out with his American girlfriend (Jean Seberg) after he guns down a policeman in a panic. Sexy, enigmatic and impossibly charismatic, this movie taught a generation of film lovers what it meant to be young and troubled in the early 60s. In front and behind the camera, the film almost serves as a Who’s Who of French directors. Godard co-wrote the script with Francois Truffaut and the pair of them also appear in small roles; Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai) appears as a writer being interviewed by Seberg’s character; Claude Chabrol even lends his talents as a technical supervisor and production designer!
So how could they remake a classic? Would anyone dare to ‘reboot’ Citizen Kane, Casablanca or Psycho? (Oh, wait…)
Well, believe it or not, Breathless was remade in an American version starring Richard Gere in the Belmondo role. But this time, he’s a comic-book loving hustler who hides out in the LA apartment of his French girlfriend (reversal!). But you know what? The film is actually not half bad. BBC film critic Mark Kermode (a notorious Richard Gere apologist) is one of the remake’s most vocal champions. Check out this entry of his film club from last year.
3. Little Indian, Big City (1994) & Jungle 2 Jungle (1996)
You may remember this fish out of water comedy from the 90s that starred Tim Allen as a New York commodities broker whose high-flying life is disrupted when he discovers that he has a 13 year-old son from a previous relationship. The only catch is: the boy has been raised in as an Amazon tribesman with no exposure to modern city living!
Closely adapted from the French film Un indien dans la ville, both films were aimed squarely at family audiences with big broad gags and somewhat crass humour. It should be noted though, that while famed film critic Roger Ebert gave Jungle 2 Jungle a damning 1 star review, it was still one star more than what the French version recieved!
Ebert finished his review with this final comment: “If you, under any circumstances, see Little Indian, Big City, I will never let you read one of my reviews again.”
4. The Birdcage & La Cage aux Folles (1978)
Boy meets girl. They fall in love and decide that it’s time for their parents to meet. The only hitch is that her parents are super-conservative while his parents are a gay couple, the owner and star of a popular drag cabaret. Hilarity ensues when they attempt to conceal their true colours so as not to ruin their son’s impending nuptials. Both La Cage aux Folles and The Birdcage stuck pretty closely to the stage farce by Jean Poiret and they both became incredibly successful in their own terms. The Franco-Italian original eventually spawned 2 sequels while the Nathan Lane/Robin Williams remake grossed over $185 million worldwide.
Champagne for everyone!
5. Dinner for Schmucks (2010) & Le Dîner de Cons (1998)
Starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, the American remake of Le Dîner de Cons (literally: ‘The Dinner of A**holes’) played on a popular urban myth where rich snobs would compete by trying to bring the biggest buffoon to dinner.
But where the 1998 original became a beloved hit in its home country, winning Cesar awards for Best Actor, Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay, Dinner for Schmucks left English-speaking critics cold.
Despite leading performances from the ever-likable Rudd and Carell, the American version received a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and only just made its budget back at the box office. The best part of the film is perhaps title sequence: tracking shots of a taxidermy mouse diorama to the sounds of The Beatles ‘The Fool on the Hill’. It’s less creepy than it sounds.
6. The Next Three Days & Anything for Her
Both films –made a scant 2 years apart– are eerily similar: a normal married couple find their domestic bliss shattered when the wife is arrested for murder and sentenced to twenty years in jail. Unable to fathom living without the mother of his child, the husband –a simple school teacher—starts to hatches a daring plot to break his wife out of prison. Despite the outlandish setup, both films are made with an earnest desire for realism and they both work equally well as thrillers.
Which one should you watch? Well, that depends on how much you like Russell Crowe…
Plein Soleil is in limited release from Friday 30th August. Do try and catch it if you can!