As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Weekend Double Feature: Ripley

Posted by Hedwig on March 19, 2008

I know, I know, Wednesday very early morning is a bit late for a weekend double feature, but I had some trouble finding a suitable pair. I could have gone for McCabe and Mrs. Miller/Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, but truth be told, they don’t have that much in common, aside both being slow, meandering westerns from the early seventies. As for pairing the latter with I’m Not There, the Billy the Kid segment might have sprung from the Peckinpah movie, but it has very little in common with it. I considered Plein Soleil/The Lady From Shanghai, for the boat scenes, mostly, but I couldn’t find many other correspondances. After all, Orson Welles and his embarrassing Irish brogue want the lady in that movie, and doesn’t care about the money, while Ripley in Plein Soleil only wants the lady because she’s part of the lifestyle he aspires to.

Of course, the logical pairing for Plein Soleil is The Talented Mr. Ripley, the director of which, Anthony Minghella, sadly passed on yesterday. While that’s the double feature I’d recommend, I already discussed it a while ago, and I’d like the weekend double features to include at least one truly new feature. And so, tonight, I watched Ripley Under Ground.

Barry Pepper seems an odd choice to play Ripley. After all, Patricia Highsmith always wrote Ripley as being an everyman, in appearance at least. An everyman, Barry Pepper is not: his face is too angular, sharp, too remarkable. Of course, Alain Delon in Plein Soleil hardly has an ordinary face either, gorgeous as he is, but we’re used to our leading man having pretty, symmetrical faces. We’re not used to them having such extraordinary faces. And this Ripley certainly would stand out in a crowd, call attention to himself.
Then again, Pepper is a Ripley under construction. An odd Ripley, amoral but not immoral. In fact, he doesn’t actually murder anyone in the whole movie (notice I use the verb “murder”, not “kill”). He’s just good at dealing with situations as they come along, at seeing the opportunities, and at solving problems in the nick of time.
I wonder what Patricia Highsmith herself would have thought. I read the books, all of them, but I can’t remember: does Ripley fall in love with any of them, like he does in Ripley Under Ground the movie? (and yes, sure, he falls in love as much with the girl’s estate as with the girl, but if we counted that, Pride and Prejudice wouldn’t be considered one of the great romances either.) And how do you make an adaptation of a Highsmith Ripley novel, with Alan Cumming, and not have any homo-erotic subtext?This subtext is definitely there in Plein Soleil, and not just because Alain Delon spends about half the movie shirtless. Fact is, the interaction between him and Philippe is fascinating and tense, while Margo is little more than window-dressing. The line between wanting Philippe and wanting to be him is thin, while wanting Margo is just an extension of wanting to be rich and privileged.

I have to say, I liked Ripley Under Ground a lot, more so, even, than Ripley’s Game with John Malkovich as the titular character. I loved the little twist at the end, and I liked the alternative take on the character. But Plein Soleil or The Talented Mr. Ripley this is not. It’s a neat little thriller, but it lacks the psychological complexity of the two movies just mentioned, alas. Still, Tom Ripley is a fascinating character, and I hope there will be more films about him. And unlike in Plein Soleil, I don’t think he needs to be caught in the end.


3 Responses to “Weekend Double Feature: Ripley”

  1. Chuck said

    Thank you for this Hedwig, I love The Talented Mr. Ripley and enjoyed Ripley’s Game, but have not yet caught Ripley Under Ground or even (shame shame) Plein Soleil. Perhaps a quadruple feauture is in order.

  2. I didn’t even know Ripley Under Ground even existed. Perhaps I’ve been under ground myself.

  3. Kaj said

    McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid do have more in common, actually. They’re also both dark, very revisionist westerns that deal with the deconstruction of the myth of the American west and the death of it, they’re made by true 70’s authors, the music in both films consists of popular music made by popular artists, and there’s probably more of you start looking for it. My point is: I would just love it if you did a write-up on those movies. 🙂

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