The Talented Ms Highsmith: A guide to Patricia Highsmith’s novels on the big screen

May 15, 2014, Article by Beau Merchant in Books, Film & TV

Tomorrow sees the cinematic release of The Two Faces of January, adapted from the novel of the same name by the influential and iconic Patricia Highsmith.

With their vibrant and sun drenched settings, double-crossing, gripping plots and superbly written characters, her books are perfect for the big-screen treatment. With such acclaimed directors converting her work as Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Minghella, Wim Wenders and Todd Haynes (directing next year’s Carol), there is an obvious appreciation and respect for her novels and studios can see the potential her stories have. Below, we take a look at how Highsmith’s novels have fared in the transition to film.


Strangers on a Train (1951). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock was the first to adapt Highsmith on the big-screen, with the thrilling tale about a psychotic socialite who convinces a pro tennis star he can get away with the perfect murder.
This is vintage Hitchcock, and it’s full of some of his most iconic shots (the face-in-the-crowd at the tennis match a wonderful example). The combination of Highsmith and Hitch was a match made in heaven.


Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)
(1960). Directed by René Clément
The first reworking of Highsmith’s most famous novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Clément directs Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the ultra-cool and sharp 60’s thriller. It looks gorgeous, it zips along and Delon is suave and seductive.
As stylish and crisp as a new linen shirt.


The American Friend (1977). Directed by Wim Wenders
Based on the third novel in the Ripley series, Ripley’s Game, this is maybe the least successful of all Highsmith’s adaptations. Set in Germany, The American Friend sees the late Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley get caught up in a twisted game of murder in a gritty, and sometimes confusing thriller.


The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Directed by Anthony Minghella

Matt Damon leads an all-star cast in this sleek and taught thriller. The 1950’s European locations look stunning and the supporting cast, includeing Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, are perfect in their roles. Probably the most well-known (and well made) of all the Highsmith adaptations (so far). Even Matt Damon arriving in a small pair of lime green swimming trunks can’t spoil the film (see the clip above).


Ripley’s Game (2002). Directed by Lilana Cavani
A far superior version of the book than the 1977 Wim Wenders effort although it slipped by without many people noticing it upon release. John Malkovich plays a more sinister and creepy Ripley but to great effect. He’s more menacing and knowing and makes a nice companion piece to The Talented Mr. Ripley (although it’s not a direct sequel as the trailer above would have you believe).


The Two Faces of January (2014). Directed by Hossein Amini
We are off to a preview screening tonight followed by a Q&A with the director and the actor Oscar Issac so there will be a review next week, but from the trailer it looks like it will be another Highsmith classic.