review for The Purple Plain on AllMovie

The Purple Plain (1954)
by Craig Butler review

The Purple Plain is one of the best movies that you have probably never seen, so when it's on, make sure to grab it. A significant box office flop which has never really made the leap from obscurity, Plain is one of those films that once seen never leaves you -- and which makes you wonder how it is not more widely known and appreciated. Plain accomplishes something that very few films can do -- two things, actually, that very few films can do: it manages to be both a feature-length character study that reveals its character subtly rather than in a ham-fisted way, and it is a film that manages to maintain a definite literary "feel" while being undeniably and intuitively cinematic. Credit for this has to be spread around widely, but chiefly among four men: cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, scenarist Eric Ambler, star Gregory Peck and director Robert Parrish. Unsworth's contribution is stunning, not merely because he successfully captures evocative and stirring visuals but, more importantly, because he creates -- with the help of director Parrish -- visuals that are truly psychological and dramatic, advancing both the story and our understanding of the lead character in ways that amplify, enhance and -- frequently -- replace what we learn from his words. Those words, however, are well chosen by Ambler, whose ability to know when words are important and when they just get in the way is unparalleled here. Peck is astonishing, giving the sort of layered, intense yet nuanced performance that deserves major awards yet rarely receives it. And Parrish turns in work that is brilliant from start to finish, making you wonder why he rarely demonstrated such a command of the form in his other work. Plain is a startling yet quiet film that truly and deeply deserves the words "haunting" and "lyrical."