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Patricia Highsmith On Film



Patricia Highsmith’s works have long proven cinematic goldmines from her debut novel Strangers on A Train becoming a 1951 Hitchcock classic through multiple iterations of Tom Ripley, including Matt Damon, Alain Delon and John Malkovich. With Deep Water starring Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas released last Friday, it seems an appropriate moment to take a deep dive into some of the greatest cinematic versions of the acclaimed thriller writer’s work.

Tom Ripley’s shadow leaves an indelible mark over many of Highsmith’s works, but not without reason. The career criminal and his nefarious exploits have captivated readers since 1955, with four sequel novels following over the next four decades. The first film version of The Talented Mr Ripley was 1960’s Purple Noon, a loose adaptation of the novel. This French take on the story turned leading man Alain Delon into an international star and one of French Cinema’s pinups.

Wim Wenders of Paris, Texas fame produced one of the more interesting takes on Highsmith’s Ripliad with his adaptation of Ripley’s Game, The American Friend, in which Tom Ripley convinces a dying German man to commit murder on his behalf. The plot bears similarities to Strangers on A Train. Still, Wenders turned the already strong source material into a gripping and dark European Noir with Dennis Hopper’s take on Tom Ripley in contrast to say Matt Damon’s. Ripley’s game was later adapted in 2002 under the novel’s original title with John Malkovich as Ripley, earning strong reviews but middling box office. It is to date the last cinematic outing of the character.

Perhaps the best known and most loved iteration of Tom Ripley is 1999’s The Talented Mr Ripley starring Matt Damon with Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf. The easy-going lifestyle of the latter Ripley becomes infatuated with. This adaptation is true to the spirit of the original novel with the addition of some minor characters that doesn’t detract from the thrills of the main story. The film oozed style and was directed by the late great Anthony Minghella. It was nominated for multiple awards, including the Oscars for Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor for Law. Minghella’s film managed to get to the crux of Highsmith’s original work making audiences side with Ripley in spite of his dastardly acts, making the most of its Italian Riviera setting adding a sense of glamour and allure.

Outside of Ripley 1951’s Strangers On A Train remains one of Hitchcock’s definitive works, adapted for the big screen with help from Raymond Chandler, the man behind the Phillip Marlowe novels. As with Highsmith’s novel, the story sees a mysterious man sharing a train carriage with Tennis star Guy Haines played by Farley Granger, who had also starred in Hitchcock’s Rope, the man tries to convince Haines to commit a murder on his behalf, and he will do the same for Haines making it the perfect crime. As with many of Hitchcock’s 50s works like Dial M For Murder, North By Northwest and Vertigo, Strangers on A Train is thrilling and has aged immaculately over 70 years from its release and is arguably still one of the strongest Highsmith adaptations.

2015’s Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara was an awards darling earning both actresses some of the best reviews of their careers. The film was adapted from Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which was later reprinted under Highsmith’s own name. Carol sees a relationship between Mara’s Therese and Blanchett’s Carol, it is a stunning film visually and one of the most loved from Todd Haynes, who has built a cult following over 20 years. It is a far cry from the thrills of the Ripley series and Strangers on A Train and shows a different side to Highsmith away from Psychological Thrillers of Noirs.

While Deep Water has not earnt the plaudits of some other Highsmith adaptations, her oeuvre remains one of the most engrossing literary to screen translations with many captivating films across the past 70 years and with no signs of a slow down with Amazon’s Ripley series with Andrew Scott in development and many of her books that remain solely on the page and surely ripe for adaptation.

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