May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Book Review

The Talented Mr Ripley By By Patricia Highsmith
(first published 1955); Vintage Books (Random House) Paperback 250 pages
ISBN 0-009-28378-6

Ripley Underground By By Patricia Highsmith
(first published 1970); Vintage Books (Random House) Paperback 264 pages
ISBN 0-009-28358-1

Ripley's Game By By Patricia Highsmith
(first published 1974); Vintage Books (Random House) paperback 256 pages
ISBN 0-099-28368-9

Set of all three books Amazon UK  £19.99  Amazon US  $20.80

Having enjoyed the film of The Talented Mr Ripley, and having read, in the film media, that Pierce Brosnan is to star as an older Tom Ripley in the projected sequel, Ripley's Game, I hastened to acquire the first three of Patricia Highsmith's five Ripley novels to read whilst vacationing, in the sun, on the Neapolitan coast. In fact, I visited Amalfi, which, as many of my fellow holidaymakers reckoned, was where the early scenes of the film were filmed for "Mongibello". Many will recall that Patricia Highsmith's first novel (of many), Strangers on a Train was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock (with a wonderful score by Dimitri Tiomkin) in 1951.

Interestingly, Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley differs considerably from the both the recent Minghella film and the earlier French film version Plein Soleil (1960) that starred a youthful Alain Delon who was mesmerising as Tom Ripley. In that film, Ripley is brought to book at the end when the body of Dickie Greenleaf is found entangled in the propellers of the sunken motorised yacht in which the murder had taken place. In both films and in the book Freddie Miles has to die. The book however concentrates on Tom's psychology and his extended travels through France and Italy under his two personas. The Kate Blanchett character is an invention for Minghella's film and Peter Smith Kingsley is very much a minor character and is not killed off. In the book Marge, Dickie's girl friend is far less sophisticated and more gullible than the character portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow. Having said all that, all three versions of this tale are very enjoyable in their own right and one must salute the excellence of the Minghella film's screenplay for creating such suspense.

The anticipated Brosnan film is actually a filming of the third of the Ripley novels, although one wonders if something of the second might be included too? The second novel, Ripley Underground, begins some six years after the events in Italy. Tom Ripley has been enjoying the proceeds of the Greenleaf will, and he has married and settled down in a villa just south of Paris. But he is involved in the shadier side of the art world. When an art connoisseur threatens to expose the fraud at the centre of the Derwatt enterprises in which Ripley has a slight involvement, he is forced to kill again to protect his shaky reputation and the livelihoods of many of his friends. Highsmith shows a warmer, more attractive side to Tom, by now a much more cultivated and sophisticated man. Again, Ripley has to spend much energy in keeping one step ahead of the police in France and England. As the story develops, his life is very nearly taken (he is left for dead and buried alive) by a friend, a deranged artist who has been forging the paintings of Derwatt, the painter who had disappeared some years before. Full of thrills and macabre humour, this is a rattling good read and the sort of book that is hard to put down.

So too, is Ripley's Game which is set soon after Ripley emerges triumphant from the Derwatt crisis. This time, a colleague who had helped him extricate himself from that debacle needs a hit man to despatch two Mafia soldiers. Ripley declines but nominates Jonathan whom he knows is terminally ill with leukaemia and is in financial difficulties with a wife and young son to support. After some hesitation, Jonathan succumbs to the bait of £40,000 for the two hits to support his family after his death. His first hit, a shooting in a crowded underground station, is successful but the second is much more difficult - using a garrotte to kill a Mafioso general with two bodyguards on a crowded train. At the last moment Tom, conscience-striken, turns up on the train and helps Jonathan with the killings. The Mafioso general is garrotted (Highsmith spares us no detail) and one of the henchmen wounded and both thrown from the train. But then things go wrong and the Mafia come looking for both Tom and Jonathan. As if this was not bad enough they also have to cope with the suspicions and hot-headed indignation of Simone, Jonathan's wife a staunch Catholic with an inflexible moral code. This is an excellent sophisticated crime novel, brilliantly and unusually plotted, full of suspense with good rounded characters. It should make the basis of another excellent thriller film. It is to be hoped that the direction is as assured as for The Talented Mr Ripley and that a good 'A' list composer is selected to score it!


Ian Lace
All three books:

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