Patricia Highsmith — too good for the movies?

Apr 11, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: Financial Times (by Nigel Andrews).

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The punishment for those who love Patricia Highsmith’s best novels is that every work of thriller fiction by others can seem humdrum and sublunary by comparison. This Sweet Sickness, The Blunderer, A Dog’s Ransom, Edith’s Diary and the Ripley books are works of wonder: not just tales of crime, murder or detection (sometimes not even that) but intricate structures of fear, self-doubt and double personality.

The perennial questions for a Highsmith hero are: “Who am I?”, “How did I get into this?” (whatever “this” may be — crisis, imbroglio, criminal act) and “What must I do, or who must I become, to get out of it?” We might all love to have a choice of lives and personalities. This author’s heroes and anti-heroes seize that choice or manufacture it. In their heads, they feel they have to.

Not even cinema has quite done justice to the mazes of this writer’s imagination. There is no great Highsmith film, though Strangers on a Train (1951) comes close: Hitchcock was her nearest match in the movie world. And there are moments of magic in two versions of The Talented Mr Ripley (1955): Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), René Clément’s 1960 French twist on the tale starring Alain Delon, Highsmith’s favourite Ripley; and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film, with its sprawly relish of scenery and the ornate psychological scenario. More cockeyed, if collectible, Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich made fruitily miscast Ripleys in two interesting Euro-Highsmiths: Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977) and Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Game (2002).

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