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This book is the first full-length study to focus on the various film adaptations of Patricia Highsmith’s novels, which have been a popular source for adaptation since Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1952). The collection of essays examines films such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January, and Carol, includes interviews with Highsmith adaptors and provides a comprehensive filmography of all existing Highsmith adaptations. Particular attention is paid to queer subtexts, mythological underpinnings, philosophical questioning, contrasting media environments and formal conventions in diverse generic contexts. Produced over the space of seventy years, these adaptations reflect broad cultural and material shifts in film production and critical approaches to film studies. The book is thus not only of interest to Highsmith admirers but to anyone interested in adaptation and transatlantic film history.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Patricia Highsmith on Screen

The introduction traces Highsmith’s status in contemporary scholarship and her long adaptation history, starting with Hitchcock’s film version of her novel Strangers on a Train (1950). Strangers not only paved the way for nearly seven decades of Highsmith cinema (including works by renowned auteurs like Wim Wenders and Claude Chabrol), but it also started a long and difficult relationship between Highsmith and the medium of film. The chapter not only explores the consequences of Highsmith’s association with Hitchcockian cinema for her adaptation history, it also summarizes the author’s rather divergent reactions to adaptations made of her novels and introduces the structure of the book.
Douglas McFarland, Wieland Schwanebeck

Chapter 2. The Dark Side of Adaptation

The plot of Highsmith’s novel The Blunderer (1954) offers a model of adaptation as compelling as it is perverse: adaptation as copycat murder. Beginning with an analysis of the way this analogy is developed in The Blunderer and its subsequent adaptations (Le meurtrier [Enough Rope] and A Kind of Murder), this chapter makes a case for maladaptation—criminal adaptation, unsuccessful adaptation, the calamitous refusal to adapt, and a fatal facility for adaptation—as the central subject of Highsmith’s fiction and traces some of the leading implications of the position that just as crime and love are metaphors for the adaptive impulse that runs throughout Highsmith’s fiction, adaptation itself may be considered both an act of love and a criminal act.
Thomas Leitch

Correction to: Patricia Highsmith on Screen

Wieland Schwanebeck, Douglas McFarland

Doubles, Copies, and Strangers


Chapter 3. “I Meet a Lot of Guys—But Not Many Like You”: Strangers and Types in Highsmith’s and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train

Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock were kindred spirits in more than their mastery of suspense. This chapter examines a shared fascination with one of the definitive experiences of modernity: how modern life means co-existing with a mass of strangers who have alternative or mysterious motivations and personalities, and the effect this has on one’s perception of oneself, others, and the social world. Strangers on a Train’s basic premise enables Highsmith and Hitchcock to offer their contributions to the modernist tradition of exploring the thrills and dangers of urban modernity. The chapter considers how both of their versions explore two related ideas: how to understand the modern stranger in the age of mass travel and communications, and whether or not this understanding can be enhanced by grouping individual strangers into recognizable ‘types’, especially criminal or sexual categories.
Bran Nicol

Chapter 4. Strangers on a Park Bench: From Patricia Highsmith to Alfred Hitchcock to Woody Allen

Critics of Woody Allen’s 2015 film Irrational Man have commented on its echoing of themes treated in his previous films, most notably Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Match Point (2005). Others have found the film to be reminiscent of the works of Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock. This chapter explores the exact trajectories that allow us to read Allen’s Irrational Man against the backdrop of Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train as well as Hitchcock’s 1951 eponymous movie adaptation. While Allen’s film is not an adaptation of Highsmith’s novel in the narrow sense, Irrational Man reveals a subtle and intricate relationship to it.
Klara Stephanie Szlezák

Chapter 5. Tom Ripley’s Talent

This chapter elaborates on the notion of the performance in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Minghella’s beautifully photographed and exquisitely composed film not only encourages the recipient (along with the protagonist) to fall in love with Dickie Greenleaf’s luxurious lifestyle, it also suggests that performance may be the only way out of his circumstance, condition, and history. It is Ripley’s ever-shifting, mendacious performance that makes him a high priest of Baudrillard’s ‘cult of the ephemeral’ and thus a reflection of contemporary man.
Murray Pomerance

Chapter 6. Ripley Under Ground and Its Illegitimate Heirs

Ripley Under Ground (1970), the lesser known sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), interrogates the notions of forgery and lack of authenticity, as the hero gets involved in an art forgery scam. Much of the novel’s Derridean spirit (where each new ‘artistic’ signature is already contaminated by the possibility of its forgery and the notion of the ‘original’ is severely put into doubt) permeates its film adaptations, all of which are haunted by the specter of illegitimacy. The chapter traces this ‘dubious legacy’ in Roger Spottiswoode’s official adaptation of the novel (2005), but also in films as diverse as Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977), The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), and A Gift for Murder (1982), a Highsmith pastiche produced for British television.
Wieland Schwanebeck

Queer Encounters


Chapter 7. Queer Ripley: Minghella, Highsmith, and the Antisocial

This chapter focuses on the representation of homosexuality in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley and more specifically on Slavoj Žižek’s argument that the film’s explicit take on homosexuality is a distortion of Highsmith’s more subtle engagement. While Highsmith provocatively thematizes class desire and anxiety, Minghella literalizes the hints of homosexuality in his source material, but by examining the novel more closely, this chapter shows that Highsmith provides enough evidence for reading Ripley as a closeted character and also for reading the novel as an exploration of the closet. As a consequence, Minghella brings 1950s anxieties over homosexuality into dialogue with the 1990s and the simultaneous push toward gay rights acceptance and homophobic re-entrenchment that defines the era.
David Greven

Chapter 8. The Price of Salt, Carol, and Queer Narrative Desire(s)

This chapter offers a brief narrative history of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt and its origins, marketing, and contemporaneous reception in order to provide a backdrop for its reading of the narrative dynamics of queer female desire in the Phyllis Nagy/Todd Haynes film adaptation, Carol (2015). Arguing that the latter’s articulation of cinematic point of view and space glosses a meta-textual queer erotics in the form of desire as both subject and engine of the narrative itself, the chapter is theoretically grounded in the work of literary and cultural critics Peter Brooks and Roland Barthes, among others. It presumes that source materials and their subsequent reworkings are equally significant cultural texts, neither holding primacy over the other and existing as independent (though related) products.
Alison L. McKee

Chapter 9. “Easy Living”: From The Price of Salt (78) to Carol (EP)

This chapter adopts a musical structure in order to riff on the representation of desire and sexuality in Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt and Todd Haynes’s adaptation, Carol (2015). While the A side of the first ‘record’ glosses Billie Holiday’s recordings of “Easy Living”, the B side delineates Highsmith’s recourse to “Easy Living” in her novel. The second, ‘extended playing’ record (EP) charts, via a series of four ‘cuts’, the progression of Therese and Carol’s affair in Carol. The coda reflects on Anthony Minghella’s recourse to the classical European music in his 1999 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley and the import of this source music in order to point up Haynes’s use of popular American music in the conclusion to Carol.
Robert Miklitsch

Aesthetic, Mythic, and Cultural Transactions


Chapter 10. Adapting Irony: Claude Chabrol’s The Cry of the Owl

Claude Chabrol’s Le cri du hibou, his 1987 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl (1962), reveals an affinity between novelist and filmmaker that relies less on an atmosphere of menace and an array of aberrant psychologies than on an understanding that irony informs the human condition. But while Highsmith exercises a modernist, existential mode of irony, and an attendant authorial detachment, Chabrol deploys a style of playful wit that inverts thematic motifs and undermines generic roles and yet concurrently expresses an acceptance of the human foibles and ironic entanglements that characterize his cinematic realm.
Douglas McFarland

Chapter 11. With Friends Like These: Wim Wenders’ The American Friend as Noir Allegory

This chapter examines Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977) in the context of European late modernity in the 1970s and the history of film noir. If noir typically offers a negative allegory in which neither the position of the criminal nor that of the law is a positive option, the Ripley series marks a striking mutation in this allegory of failure, with the protagonist occupying a position both within and against the system. Highsmith’s undoing of noir allegory is in turn reworked by Wenders in order to stage an allegory about the false promises of American-style modernization, as Ripley drives the plot forward in a manner suggestive of the power the U.S. has had in shaping European modernity from the Marshall Plan forward.
Christopher Breu

Chapter 12. Hans Geissendörfer’s Psychological Noir: West-German Adaptations of Patricia Highsmith Novels

This chapter argues that Hans Geissendörfer’s films Die gläserne Zelle (1978) and Ediths Tagebuch (1983), adaptations of the Patricia Highsmith novels The Glass Cell (1964) and Edith’s Diary (1977), constitute postmodernist neo-noir typical of New German Cinema. Geissendörfer’s approach to noir consists of psychological and social motifs echoed by aesthetic and editorial decisions such as lighting and shadows, and especially voice-overs to approximate the private thoughts of characters. Geissendörfer transfers much of Highsmith’s institutional criticism to a subtler criticism of the everyday politics of social structures including the family. He maintains Highsmith’s Kafkaesque thematics of exile and imprisonment within the family homestead, and at the same time, transfers Highsmith’s plots to specifically German settings, contexts, and unfoldings, including Freudian undertones.
Erin Altman, William Mahan

Chapter 13. Authorship and Scales of Adaptation in Chillers

In the late 1980s, a joint French-English venture set out to produce authorized adaptations of a number of Patricia Highsmith stories for a TV series called Chillers (Mistress of Suspense in the UK). All twelve episodes were hosted by Anthony Perkins and adapted by a different writer and directed by a different director; consequently, the series varies in thematic concern and artistic achievement. While the series evokes a certain continuity in adapting Highsmith’s themes into a European context, this chapter indicates the ways multivalent authorship—as in a television production—operates more palpably and more chaotically in adaptations than in other narratives.
Kristopher Mecholsky

Chapter 14. The Two Faces of January: Theseus and the Minotaur

As both director and screen writer, Hossein Amini uses the myth of the Minotaur as the force behind the accelerating energy of the relationships in his 2014 film adaptation of The Two Faces of January. This powerful ancient Greek tale, lurking beneath the realistic surface narrative of Highsmith’s novel, shows its frightening contours more clearly in the film and supplies the novel’s sordid noir narrative with the weighty psychological significance of an ancient myth. Theseus, the monstrous Minotaur, Ariadne, and the vortex of the labyrinth exist as faint undercurrents in Highsmith’s narrative, but are made explicit in the film, imparting a psychological depth to each scene and fashioning a climax in which the principle characters acquire archetypal significance.
Catherine Schultz McFarland

In Conversation with the Adapters


Chapter 15. Memories of The American Friend

In this piece, written for the original press materials that accompanied the release of The American Friend in 1977, director Wim Wenders looks back upon what sparked his initial interest in the writings of Patricia Highsmith and his problems in adapting the novel Ripley’s Game to the screen. Remembering that it was Highsmith’s plot that drew him to the material, as well as her truthfulness as an author, Wenders admits that as an adaptor, he had to come to terms with wanting to follow the characters and the story beyond the confines of the novel.
Wim Wenders

Chapter 16. “Highsmith Really Writes Films”

A conversation with renowned German writer/director Hans W. Geissendörfer, who adapted two of Highsmith’s novels for the big screen: The Glass Cell (1978) and Edith’s Diary (1983). Geissendörfer talks about how he initially came across Highsmith as a reader, the process of adapting her works to the screen, and memories of his personal encounters with the author.
Hans W. Geissendörfer

Chapter 17. “An Interesting Lack of Sentimentality”

Screenwriter Hossein Amini, who made his debut as a feature-filmmaker with an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Two Faces of January (2014), talks about his infatuation with the source material and the process of bringing the book to screen. By reflecting upon his work, Amini gives some insight into the process of adaptation and the difficult relationship between source material and film adaptation.
Hossein Amini

Chapter 18. “Highsmith Was the Queen of Guilt”

Playwright, screenwriter and director Phyllis Nagy, who adapted Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley for the stage (1998) and The Price of Salt for the screen (Carol, 2015), talks about her experiences in adapting those texts. She also provides some insight into her screenwriting process, her favorite Highsmith adaptations, and the unique qualities of a cinema based on Highsmith.
Phyllis Nagy


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