Patricia Highsmith’s work translates brilliantly well to the screen, so it’s no surprise that it has been adapted so many times – far more, indeed, than we could include in this season. Rod White, Head of Filmhouse, explores the adaptations that didn’t make the cut.
The Cry of the Owl (Jamie Thraves, 2009)
Whilst there are some things to admire about Jamie Thraves’ 2009 adaptation (which stars Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles), it’s no match for Claude Chabrol’s 1987 adaptation. Whilst it may have been included in the series were it the only adaptation of the book… it isn’t.
Ripley Under Ground (Roger Spottiswoode, 2005)
This adaptation of the second of the ‘Ripliad’ features Barry Pepper in the Tom Ripley role (and a decent cast alongside him – Ian Hart, Claire Forlani, Tom Wilkinson, Alan Cumming), though the film itself could be said to bear witness to the troubled production history that reportedly plagued it. Pepper can’t quite carry it either. The film targets the thriller elements above any psychological depth and whilst it does grip on occasion, lets itself down in the script department on too many occasions.
Edith’s Tagebuch (Hans W. Geissendörfer, 1983)
The German director returned to Highsmith with this adaptation of the novel Edith’s Diary, after very successfully adapting The Glass Cell (Die Gläserne Zelle, included in this season) back in 1978. The book tells of Edith, whose entries in her diary paint a much rosier picture of her life than the reality, in particular as concerns the behaviour of her uncontrollable son, Cliffie. The film unfortunately gives young Cliffie something of an Oedipal complex which was not present in the book and which played a part in Highsmith herself describing the film as “dreadful”. Her word, not ours. Oh, and that mullet!
Die zwei Gesichter des Januar (Wolfgang Storch, Gabriela Zerhau, 1986)
The first screen (made-for-TV) version of The Two Faces of January is rather eclipsed by Hossein Amini’s near-definitive version (included in our series) from 2014.
Trip nach Tunis (Peter Goedel, 1993)
A German TV adaptation of the novel The Tremor of Forgery, Highsmith’s most Graham Greene-like novel (it is in fact Greene’s favourite Highsmith book!), it is, perhaps surprisingly, the only adaptation of the book to date. By all accounts (the account in Joan Schenkar’s excellent Highsmith biography in any case) director Peter Goedel was given a bit of a runaround by Highsmith in tying up the rights for a film, ending up with only the rights to make a film for TV – the natural home for the film.
The Story Teller ( Der Geschichtenerzähler) (Rainer Boldt, 1989)
The Story Teller transposes Highsmith’s Suffolk-set A Suspension of Mercy to Sylt, an island off Schleswig-Holstein’s north coast, and is a rare foray into feature films by time-served TV director Rainer Boldt. The only film version of this book, it’s rather too much ‘of its time’ for inclusion here.
Once You Kiss a Stranger… (Robert Sparr, 1969)
Only really of interest (to some) as a campy product of its time, Once You Kiss a Stranger… transposes Highsmith’s first novel, Strangers on a Train, to the world of US Pro Golf, with the kind of results that that move might suggest. (Highsmith is actually only credited thus in the film: “suggested by a novel by…”). Bruno, the psychotic main character in the book and Hitchcock’s film, is now a woman-child, Diana (played by Carol Lynley, perhaps best known for playing Mrs Lake in Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) and her role in The Poseidon Adventure (1972)), but the film is ridden with cliché, redundant scenes, and spends way more time on the golf course than really it ought to.
Incidentally, the director Robert Sparr was killed shortly after making the film in a plane crash whilst scouting locations with a fellow Star Trek crew member – Sparr had previously directed episode #15, Shore Leave, of the original series of the sci-fi show in 1966. Once You Meet a Stranger, a second film adapting Strangers on a Train this time for TV, appeared in 1996 and this time changed the gender of both main protagonists (played by Theresa Russell and Jacqueline Bisset) to further diminishing effect.
A Dog’s Ransom (David McWhinnie, 1978)
In 1978, Thames TV series Armchair Thriller (some viewers may recall the series opening credits featured a shadow appearing to sit down in an armchair) featured a six-part adaptation of the 1972 Highsmith novel of the same name. Terribly dated, it’s a long 3 hours, for sure…
Mistress of Suspense (1990-92)
A TV series (a British/French coproduction) known in the UK as Mistress of Suspense (and “Chillers” in the US) and which ran from 1990 to 1992, featured 12 adaptations of Highsmith’s short stories and is almost the definition of a mixed bag. Three of these episodes are wonderful, and have made it into our series of double bills at Filmhouse (A Curious Suicide, The Cat Brought It In and Sauce for the Goose) but the others range from the bland to the truly awful. Sauce for the Goose was also adapted for Tales of the Unexpected TV Series (1979 – 1988) but not even the presence of Hollywood royalty in the shape of Gloria Grahame could save it from the rather feeble, broad comedy on display.
There were also a number of adaptations we simply couldn’t track down or arrange viewing copies of:
- A very recent adaptation of The Blunderer, retitled as A Kind of Murder (2015), directed by Napier University-trained Dr Who veteran Andy Goddard and starring Eddie Marsan and Patrick Wilson. The film world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April 2016 but the producers could not be persuaded to let us see it.
- La rançon du chien (Peter Kassovitz, 1996), a French TV Movie of A Dog’s Ransom.
- Petits contes misògins (Pere Sagristà, 1995), a Spanish/Catalan TV compendium of the short story collection Little Tales of Misogyny.
- A German TV adaptation of The Cry of the Owl, Der Schrei der Eule (Tome Toelle, 1987).
- A two-part TV adaptation of Deep Water, Tiefe Wasser (Franz Peter Wirth, 1983).
- ITV Summer Playhouse #1: The Sleeping Partner (1967), on which Highsmith was a writer.
- The Wednesday Thriller episode The Cellar (1965), on which Highsmith was a writer.
- 77 Sunset Strip episode One False Step (1958), a loose reworking of Strangers on a Train.
- Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre episode The Perfect Alibi (1957) from a story by Highsmith, written by Gene Roddenberry.
- Climax! episode To Scream at Midnight (1956), based on a story by Highsmith.
- Studio One in Hollywood episode The Talented Mr. Ripley (1956) directed by Planet of the Apes’ Franklin J. Schaffner!