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« DVD Review: Crown Court Volume One (1972) | Main | DVD Review: Jean-Paul Belmondo Boxset (1959 - 1981) »


DVD Review: Alain Delon Boxset (1960-1975)

Delon_boxset_2 You could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of male Hollywood leads that have had the attributes that make up the Holy Trinity of an acting career – namely longevity, talent and looks. Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Jack…most get two out of three, if they’re lucky. Even then, part of their back catalogue is taken up by roles so undercooked you’d need several gallons of Newman’s special vinaigrette to make them palatable.   

In France, it’s no different, but they tend to afford their elder statesmen (and women) with a great deal more respect. In an era where the BBC are sacking anyone over thirty from their news and current affairs just in case they lapse into senility live on camera, it’s refreshing to see the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon still getting stacks of screen time. Okay, Delon’s had to ham it up as Julius Caesar in another live-action Astérix adventure, but the point remains.

The Alain Delon Boxset goes some way to help you find out why he’s still in demand. Acting legends become legends for specific reasons, not because they’re in the right place at the right time (unlike Nicholas Cage). Currently celebrating fifty years as a screen icon, Delon is chiefly known in Britain for his role as an album cover for The Smiths’ classic The Queen Is Dead.

Plein Soleil (translated in the collection as Purple Noon, 1960) is a film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which had a glossy Hollywood remake a few years back. This remains the original and best, and Delon’s performance as the titular Tom is reportedly Highsmith’s favourite. In case you don’t know the tale, Ripley has been sent to Italy by a very rich man to retrieve his playboy son Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) and stop him spending the family fortune. Trouble is, Ripley very much likes the high life, and has designs on bumping off Philippe and taking his name and bank account.   

Tom also fancies Marge, Philippe’s girlfriend (Marie Laforêt), and soon drives a wedge between them. Alone on a boat in the Adriatic, Tom admits his plan to Philippe and impulsively stabs him. The rest of the film is taken up by Tom’s attempts to get away with what he thinks is the perfect crime, and it involves deception, lying, forgery, and another murder.   

Because it’s so surprise-driven, it would be unfair to reveal to newcomers what exactly happens, but it’s all about Delon’s performance. His ice-cool sociopathy and complete lack of morals manifests itself brilliantly in his pretty-boy features, to an extreme that you actually want him to get away with it all. It’s in marked contrast to the overblown Anthony Minghella version, where you don’t care whether Matt Damon makes it or not, and who hasn’t had designs on pushing Jude Law off a boat? This version reigns supreme in every department.   

L’Eclisse (Eclipse, 1962) is the final part of a loose Michelangelo Antonioni trilogy dealing with doomed relationships. Vittoria (Monica Vitti) has just seen her last relationship with a tedious intellectual go down the dumper, and it’s no surprise that she’s looking for fun and danger from her next man. Delon’s Piero fits the bill – he’s a stockbroker and full of zest. But things don’t turn out the way they thought, and it ends in very cinematic tears.   

Antonioni, more famous for the iconic Blowup, imbued L’Eclisse with a drifting narrative and gorgeous cinematography, but it’s not enough to hold the interest. Musings in a modernist style are all very film-maker, but it doesn’t make for a riveting watch. It’s like giving one of those sliding puzzles to a man with no hands – too much effort and not at all worth it. A waste of time when they could have chosen another Delon cracker.   

Un Flic (A Cop) was released a decade later, and it tells the story of a copper Coleman (Delon) on the trail of a group of dangerous thieves. They’re highly-skilled, and to add to his troubles, he’s having it away with the girl of the gang leader, played by Catherine Deneuve.   

There are some great scenes in this flick and some not so great ones. It’s a pretty good storyline, but when it comes to the audacious robbery on a train using a helicopter, you can’t help but laugh at the fact it’s a model chopper hanging over a train set. Okay, special effects hadn’t reached their zenith, but it’s laughable. It also feels as if there is more to it than what we see – a film chopped in half. A bit more back-story would have gone amiss. Delon is ace, as usual, and Deneuve steams up her scenes, showing us exactly why all British blokes wanted to find a French wench in their Christmas stocking in the sixties and seventies.   

Traitement de Choc (Shock Treatment, 1973) sees Annie Girardot as Hélène, who travels to a swanky resort for the rich to help rid her of stress. Doctor Devilers (Delon) has pioneered a brilliant treatment that isn’t all that it seems, and Hélène is the only one that’s bothered. It involves Portuguese boys and sinister laboratories, and is very much like Coma, that Michael Douglas-schlock horror.   

This film isn’t great. It starts out interesting, but when thinks start to come to a head it goes off the boil in a big way. You can tell what the twist is virtually straight from the kick-off, and the end is just so badly-realised I can hardly bring myself to remember it. Delon and Girardot make the best of the material, but it’s too poor. An opportunity missed.   

Last up, we have Flic Story (Cop Story, 1975), a hard-boiled stab at noir based on a famous French case from just after World War II. Delon plays detective Roger Borniche, an unconventional copper who plays by his own rules. He’s ordered to track down Emile Buisson (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a ruthless gangster who’s escaped from an asylum and started waving his big gun around again.   

Buisson keeps giving our hero the slip and killing innocent stool-pigeons, and it’s going to take something special to stop him. Needless to say, it ends up as a result for Borniche. It’s quite dull in places, some of the scenery looks amateur, but it’s the interplay between Delon and Trintignant that holds the whole thing together. It’s not exactly The Maltese Falcon, but it’s more fully realised than the other detective effort in the collection, and it takes a well-deserved place in Delon’s canon.   

With a fifty-year career to choose from, you feel Optimum have wasted an opportunity to create a truly magnificent boxset. Delon is an icon, which much is fair, but we’re missing the best known Delon, namely Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge. At best, we’ve got two great Delon films and three mediocre ones, and that’s a generous assessment. True, Robert De Niro has made stinkers in his time and is still rightfully feted, but those films are always forgotten. This collection should have focussed on Alain Delon’s triumphs and not just been a grab bag of things that were available. He’s so much more than an album cover.

Soleil_2

Extras: Trailers and a few interviews with directors and Delon contemporaries. Flimsy at best.

Find out more about the Alain Delon Boxset at Amazon.co.uk

Chris Stanley

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