A Guide to Every Patricia Highsmith Movie Adaptation
TPatricia Highsmith is the High Priestess in the field of psychological thrillers. Her novels explore the darker side of human nature. Lust, repressed desire, jealousy, suspense, class anxiety, rage—and usually at least one murder—are all recurring elements in her work.
The dramatic nature of Highsmith’s work, embodied by complex, riveting characters— from the charming but murderous grifter Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley Carol Aird is a charming, yet aloof housewife. The Price of Salt—It lends itself to being shown on the big screen. A Train with Strangers, Highsmith’s suspenseful first novel, was published in 1950 and made into a film just a year later by Alfred Hitchcock. It is full of intrigue and blackmail. A Train with Strangers was the first of many film adaptations that would be made of Highsmith’s work, which comprises 22 novels and stories.
Though it’s been more than 70 years since her first novel was published, the thrills of Highsmith keep coming—her stories, though dark, tap into universal themes like moral conflict and forming identity, making them both apropos and timeless. The new movie adaptation of Highsmith is a good example. Deep WaterThe film, featuring Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck, will be released on March 18. Though the film updates some elements of the story to situate it in contemporary times (Affleck’s character is a tech entrepreneur), Highsmith’s deft touch can clearly felt in de Armas’ adulterous and sharply observant housewife Melinda Van Allen, a classic Highsmith character: flawed, complicated, and yet somehow endlessly, discomfitingly relatable.
Below is our guide to every movie adaptation made of Patricia Highsmith’s work.
Strangers in a Train (1950).
Highsmith’s debut novel, A Train with StrangersHer notable career began with the publication of, in 1950. This reputation was bolstered the next year, when Alfred Hitchcock, known as the “Master of Suspense,” adapted the book to screen. In Highsmith’s novel, a fateful chance encounter between two disgruntled strangers on a train has deadly consequences; architect Guy Haines wants to leave his cheating wife Miriam for his new love, Anne, while Bruno Antony, a wealthy psychopath wants to be rid of his overbearing father. Antony suggests that the men “swap” murders—Antony killing Miriam and Haines killing Antony’s father—since neither would have a motive, freeing them both from becoming suspects, while Haines considers the proposition nothing more than a joke. The murder of Miriam by Antony sets off a series of events. This includes blackmail, homoerotic obsessiveness, investigation and even more murder. The high-octane drama of Highsmith’s novel provided rich fodder for Hitchcock’s now-iconic film adaptation (the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2021), with a few key changes for the two main characters: in the movie, Haines is a celebrity tennis star who is incapable of murder, instead of an architect who kills to keep his secrets; Bruno Antony, meanwhile, was renamed by Hitchcock as Charles Bruno Anthony, whose homoerotic tendencies were heightened for the film. Hitchcock’s adaptation wasn’t the only reworking of Highsmith’s novel for film—director Robert Sparr’s 1969 thriller Kissing Strangers is EasyHe was influenced a lot by A Train with StrangersThe film has a gender change for its principal characters.
Watch out for these people: A Train with StrangersIt is also available to rent and purchase via YouTube Kissing Strangers is EasyYou can rent it or buy it on YouTube
The Price of Salt (1952).
Highsmith is most well-known for her cold-blooded crime novels that are filled with deception and murder, but she also wrote a 1952 romance novel. Salt Price One of her greatest works is about the forbidden romance between a woman and shopgirl. The book centers on the obsessional romance between Therese Beleit, who is a set designer and Carol Aird. Carol Aird is a wealthy, unhappy housewife. It has been hailed as an important work of queer literature because it had a happy ending, which was rare in lesbian literature. Highsmith did not want to be pigeonholed and discriminated for her work as a writer in lesbian pulp fiction. The book was first published under Claire Morgan. CarolIn 1989. Director Todd Haynes gave the book the silver screen treatment with his highly-acclaimed adaptation in 2014. Starring Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet, the film stayed mostly true to Highsmith’s text (an exception being that Therese is a photographer rather than a set designer in the film), thanks to an excellent adapted screenplay by Phyllis Nagy.
What to Watch: Pluto
The Blunderer, 1954
Mariticide—or at least the appearance of it—provides the drama for Highsmith’s third novel, 1954’s The Blunderer. Walter Stackhouse is a bumbling and sloppy lawyer, and amateur writer. He has been having it with Clara for a decade after a decade full of marital bliss filled with Clara’s demands and neuroses. Triggered by Clara’s insinuation that he’s having an affair with a music teacher, Walter pursues a relationship with the woman in question, prompting Clara to attempt suicide unsuccessfully. Undeterred, Walter files for divorce, but before proceedings can begin, Clara is found dead, raising suspicions about his possible role in her death—especially since he’s just befriended the local bookstore owner, whose wife was killed in a similar fashion to Clara. The BlundererTwo film adaptations of the story have been made over the years. Le meurtrier (or There is enough rope), was a French thriller film that was loosely inspired by the novel, released in 1963 by the director Claude Autant-Lara; the second is the 2016 film, The Art of Murder, which closely follows the themes and characters of Highsmith’s original work, save for some minor changes, such as Walter working as an architect and amateur crime instead of a lawyer. Directed by Andy Goddard the film stars Patrick Wilson as Stackhouse, Jessica Biel as Clara, and Vincent Kartheiser as the dogged detective investigating Clara’s death.
What to Watch: The Art of MurderYouTube
The Talented Mister Ripley (1955).
Perhaps the most famous of Highsmith’s novels, The Talented Mr. Ripley The novel introduced readers to Tom Ripley the charming and psychopathic killer. Highsmith also wrote four books about Ripley. The novel begins when Ripley, a scrappy young man resorting to scams to survive in NYC, fakes a friendship with Dickie Greenleaf that results in Dickie’s father sending him to Italy to bring Dickie back to the U.S. Instead of returning home, Ripley grows his grift—he impersonates a wealthy acquaintance and gallivants around Italy with Dickie, developing a deep and homoerotic obsession with him that disarms Dickie once he realizes it. Ripley’s obsession leads to his greatest impersonation of all: he assumes a new life as Dickie Greenleaf, reaping all the benefits of his wealth and social standing. Ripley decides to commit murder in order to attain and sustain his new lifestyle. This sinister tale has been adapt into three films: the French movie from 1960, and the second, the American film. Purple Noon, was a loose adaptation of Highsmith’s novel that was directed by Réné Clément and starred Alain Delon as Ripley. The most well-known adaptation of the novel is Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version, The Talented Mr. Ripley, which follows Highsmith’s text far more closely. The film starred Matt Damon playing Ripley and Jude Law portraying Dickie. It also featured an all-star cast including Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett. The third adaptation of the novel is 2012’s NaanJeeva Shankar directed and wrote the Tamil film ‘The Movie in Tamil’, which was loosely inspired by the novel and its 1999 adaptation.
What to Watch: Purple Noon Amazon Prime is available for rent and purchase The Talented Mr. Ripley, Hulu; Naan, Amazon Prime Video
Deep Water (1957).
Highsmith revisited the themes of marital infidelity with her fifth book. Deep Water. Suburban couple Vic and Melinda Van Allen have long established that their marriage is devoid of love, but in order to avoid the scandal of divorce, they’ve come to an agreement that seems to work: Melinda can have as many affairs as she wants, provided that she does not leave their family. However, once Melinda’s lovers begin mysteriously dying, she has a sinking suspicion that Vic is responsible for the murders, setting off a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the couple, which is only heightened once a local pulp fiction writer also suspects that Vic is behind the killings. This dramatized tale about marital strife lends itself well for the big screen. It was originally adapted as a film. Eaux profondes in 1981 by director Michel Deville, who rewrote the story to take place in France and changed Melinda’s name to Melanie, played by Isabelle Huppert. On March 18, a second adaptation was released, this time in modern times. It starred Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck. It marks director Adrian Lyne’s return to directing after a 20 year hiatus.
What to Watch: Deep Water, Hulu
The Cry of the Owl (1962).
A divorcée’s wandering eye sets off a murderous chain of events in Highsmith’s eighth novel, The Owl Cry. Robert Forester splits with Nikki after an uneasy divorce. He moves to Pennsylvania’s suburbs and becomes obsessed with Jenny. Jenny is his neighbor, whom he watches from his kitchen window. What Robert doesn’t anticipate, however, is Jenny’s own obsessive advances towards him, including breaking her engagement to her jealous fiancé Greg, whose thirst for revenge, mirroring that of Nikki, who reappears in Robert’s life, has fatal consequences for more than one person. Robert’s trials and tribulations played out on the big screen in two film adaptations of the novel—first, in Claude Chabrol’s 1987 French film, Le Cri de HibouIn 2009 Jamie Thraves wrote and directed the adaptation, starring Julia Stiles & Paddy Considine.
What to Watch: Le Cri du HibouAmazon offers the option to purchase a DVD The Owl CryYouTube
January, The Two Faces (1964).
Highsmith uses romantic and destructive passions to create a complicated love triangle that leads to murder. American conman Chester MacFarland is traveling with his wife Colette in Greece when he meets Rydal Keener, an American expat. MacFarland’s mistakenly kills a cop, and the three escape the law by hiding across the country. But the plot turns tragically after Keener and Colette fall in love. Die zwei Gesichter des Januar, In 1986, Wolfgang Storch directed a German version of the movie. The 2014 adaptation was written and directed in the style of Hossein Amini. Hossein also wrote and directed the adaptation.
What to Watch: January: The Two FacesYouTube, Pluto
The Glass Cell (64).
Highsmith got her inspiration from prison inmate fan mail. Deep Water and John Bartlow Martin’s 1954 account of his time in the Michigan State Prison, Demolish the Walls to critique the prison industrial complex for her tenth novel, 1964’s The Glass Cell. Highsmith illustrates the devastating effects of wrongful imprisonment by focusing on Philip Carter. A gentle engineer is innocent but was falsely convicted. Carter is traumatized after his only friend in jail is killed, falling into a deep depression and exhibiting violent behavior, like what he’s witnessed in jail, all while obsessing over whether or not his wife Hazel is having an affair with his lawyer, David. Carter gets an early release, and discovers his suspicions of infidelity are rooted in fact. This has devastating consequences for him as well as his family. One of the most disturbing themes in The Glass CellThis film was the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated German film “The Greatest Showman” (1978). Die gläserne ZelleHans W. Geibendorfer was the director of the production.
What to Watch: Available only for purchase or streaming
Ripley Under Ground (1970)
The sequel novel to Highsmith’s wildly popular The Talented Mr. Ripley and the second novel in her “Ripliad” series about Tom Ripley, focuses on the wily and sinister Ripley, who is now living a luxurious new life in France with his new wife Heloise, thanks to Dickie’s fortune, which Ripley bequeathed to himself by forging Dickie’s will. The novel’s first chapter is a forgery. Ripley continues to live his life with an art fraud scheme, but it soon spirals out of control and forces Ripley back to murderous impersonations. It was used as an inspiration to the German neonoir film of 1977. American Friend Roger Spottiswoode’s 2005 adaptation of the story, which, while sharing the title with the novel also featured the author.
What to Watch: American Friend Amazon Prime is available for rent and purchase Ripley Below GroundAmazon has the DVD, ‘The Greatest Showmanship’ available to purchase
Ripley’s Game (1974)
In the third installment of Highsmith’s series about Tom Ripley, the murderous grifter’s affluent lifestyle in France is interrupted by a request for a hit job from a former associate in America. Ripley attempts to avoid the fray but he is drawn back into the violence and subterfuge after an act of revenge leads him to a confrontation with the mafia, and an unplanned murder. The film was adaptated, with many of the same liberties as the book, by Liliana Cavani, and featured John Malkovich playing Ripley.
What to Watch: YouTube is available to rent and buy
Edith’s Diary (1977)
Highsmith returns to suburb life’s darker side in her 1977 novel Edith’s DiaryEdith Howland is a sad look at domesticity from the perspective of Edith. She’s a Pennsylvania housewife who lost her husband and son to a young man. Her bleak reality becomes clear in what she describes in her cheerful, but untrue, diary entries. Highsmith drew on her own habits as a devoted diary keeper as part of the novel’s inspiration. The novel was published by New Yorker praised as Highsmith’s “strongest, her most imaginative, and by far her most substantial” work, was adapted for film by Hans W. Geibendorfer in 1983, his second adaptation of one of Highsmith’s novels.
What to Watch: You cannot stream or buy this video.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME