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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thomas Ripley in Books and Films

I’ve never been a big fan of crime novels. I’ve read my fair share of the detective genre and noir thrillers from Sherlock Holmes to Phillip Marlow to James Elroy. My associations with crime fiction were always intermittent and fleeting…until I met Tom Ripley, or at least when I came upon this character for the second time when I read El Talento de Mr. Ripley in Spanish. I had read the novel in English many, many years ago and I remember that I liked it very much. Perhaps it was the added attention I was forced to give the novel while reading it in Spanish that made me sit up and take better notice.

What I noticed most of all was how much damn fun it was to read this story. The tensions were sometimes so high in the story that I would practically scream at my real life for interrupting my reading whenever I had to stop to attend to lesser matters like work and friendships. I just wanted to be locked in a room somewhere until I finished every last word. I read quite a bit slower in Spanish than in English but apart from looking up a few words here and there my comprehension is total. I gushed about the book to everyone I know and everyone I casually bumped into on the street.

I’m sure that a lot of you have seen the fine movie by Anthony Minghella which shouldn’t keep you from reading the book. There is also a French film version of the novel. And then there are the rest of the books and movies in the series. This is the way the series goes:

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
Ripley Under Ground (1970)
Ripley’s Game (1974)
The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
Ripley Under Water (1991)

While I was stumbling around Granada I happened upon a great second-hand shop with lots of books. I picked up a copy of Ripley en Peligro (Ripley Under Water). Reading this book out of sequence was a bit confusing at times but my reading regimen is usually dictated by the books I happen upon rather than some conscious effort I make to actually choose what I read. In fact, I really never thought much about reading another book in the Ripley series until I came upon this book in a dusty shop in a back street in Granada. This book wasn’t nearly as fun (or as good) as the first one but I have my hopes up for other books in the series.   

Film adaptations of the novels began with Plein Soleil (1960, aka Purple Noon or Blazing Sun) with Alain Delon, whom Highsmith thought was the ideal Ripley. Anthony Minghella’s version came out in 1999 and starred Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Cate Blanchett.

Ripley's Game was filmed twice, once by Wim Wenders as The American Friend (1977) and then under its original title in 2002 and directed by Liliana Cavani with John Malkovich in the title role.  Ripley Under Ground (2005) stars Barry Pepper as Ripley. All of these films are worth watching but they lack the great story of The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Although Minghella took a few liberties with the novel, his film is a masterpiece of crime drama and is, in my opinion, the best of films.

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