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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Plein Soleil vs The Talented Mr. Ripley

I saw that a friend of mine was reading a book by Patricia Highsmith with the title En Pleno Sol.  He described what he had read thus far and I thought that perhaps it was another in the Mr. Ripley series but after reading the first page I learned that this is another title for El Talento de Mr. Ripley which I had just finished in Spanish. It is common to change titles of translated books with different publications or different translations but I wondered how they came upon this odd variation of the original title. On the back cover of this edition I learned about the French film Plein Soleil (1960) directed by René Clément and staring Alain Delon in the role of Tom Ripley. If you think this French title is odd (it means “full sun”) the English title of the movie is Purple Noon so everyone is guilty of massacring titles in translation.  I loved the book, both when I read it as a very young man in English and even more the second time around in Spanish. I also enjoyed the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) directed by Anthony Minghella.

The French movie isn't bad but I had some problems with it. Four minutes of precious movie time is spent showing how Ripley forges Dickie’s passport and signature when the book dealt with this matter in about two brief sentences.  He simply forged the signature and used Dickie’s passport without any alterations.  There’s another precious minute lost showing Ripley wandering around the market in Naples while waiting for Marge to write a letter to Dickie whom Tom has already eliminated— yet another scene of the director’s imagination and not from the book.  Was he out to make a crime thriller or a travelogue of scenic southern Italy?

Minghella copied directly from the French film. A case in point is when Freddy goes to visit Dickie only to find Tom living in the apartment. He leaves and then Tom is betrayed by the signora who sees him from a few flights below on the stairwell.  In the book she simply mentions to Freddy as he is leaving that Signor Greenleaf had not left the apartment that day which is why Freddy returns and is subsequently murdered by Tom. Minghella copies another scene from Clément when Dickie, Tom, and Marge are on the boat and Dickie and Marge have sex in the cabin below while Tom fumes on the deck above. In the book Marge and Dickie weren’t really even lovers.  

The French movie is so divorced from the book that it reminds me of the children’s game of telephone where a story is told in the ear of the person sitting next to you and passed around until the last person. Why bother to base a film on a great book if you are going to make such radical changes?  I suppose that if you separate the film completely from the novel it could actually be decent; the trouble is that I actually read the book. The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of the best crime novels of the 20th century so it puzzles me that anyone would stray so far from it when making a film adaptation.  My biggest complaint with Plein Soleil is that there isn’t anything in the way of character development.  

This wasn’t a problem with the Minghella version. As was the case with the novel, I had a perverse desire to see Tom get away with his theft of Dickie’s life. I grew to detest the character of Freddy Miles (played superbly by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film) that I practically cheered when he was brained with a statuette and summarily tossed along the roadside.  There was nothing in the way of tension in the French version while in the novel and the modern remake you are on the edge of your seat for most of the ride. 

It’s not as if Minghella was incredibly faithful to the novel but he wasn’t too off-the-mark. He took the whole homosexuality thing and ran with it whereas Highsmith only hinted at in the novel. Times change and it’s the director’s movie but I would have to fault Minghella most of the times his story drifted too far from the book. When Tom kills Dickie in the book it is completely premeditated but in the movie it is almost an accident, a crime of high passion (in the French version it was something out of a Freddy Kruger movie).

If you haven't read the book already I highly recommend it. It beats the hell out of both films.   

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