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The Talented Mr Ripley [P Highsmith]

1921 – 1995

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, is the first of five books featuring the con man Tom Ripley. As the story begins, Tom is a twenty-three-year-old living in New York. He comes from a fairly disadvantaged background, but has aspirations to a better life. An accomplished liar and fraudster, he is currently impersonating an agent of the income tax office and collecting supposedly overdue and unpaid taxes from his unsuspecting victims. However, this scam, apparently the latest in a series of dishonest schemes, is more of a silly game than a serious attempt to get money, as he cannot cash the checks he receives. Furthermore, it appears to have gone wrong and he is expecting imminent arrest when he is approached in a bar by Herbert Greenleaf, the wealthy father of a casual acquaintance.

Mr. Greenleaf hires him to go to Italy to try to pursuade his son Dickie to come home. Dickie is living a bohemian life as a painter and sailor in a small Italian village called Mongibello.

When Tom tracks Dickie down, he finds that Dickie has what seems an enviable life. A trust fund gives him enough to live on and he owns a house by the sea and a boat. Tom quickly insinuates himself into Dickie’s life but kills him when he fears Dickie is growing tired of him. With his talent for impersonation and deceit, Tom is able to pass himself off as Dickie and completely takes over the lifestyle he has come to love and need.

A superficial resemblance between Tom and Dickie is enough to take in strangers, and Tom tricks Marge as to Dickie’s whereabouts. Tom is forced to shuttle back and forth between his two identities and avoid all Dickie’s former friends. A stroke of luck or sheer genius saves Tom from getting caught, even when he dares to pull of his most radical and desperate final scheme.


¤          ¤          ¤

◊  There have been several film adaptations of this book: it appeared first under the title Purple Noon (directed by René Clément and featuring Alain Delon) in 1966, and more recently in 1999 by Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwynyth Paltrow.

In the clip below, Tom (Matt Damon) introduces himself to Dickie (Jude Law) and Marge (Gweneth Paltrow), pretending to be an old acquaintance.

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY 1st November 1999 -  Screenplay By  ANTHONY MINGHELLA
EXT. MONGIBELLO. DAY. Ripley emerges from one of the beach cabins, and stands on the edge of the sand on a wooden walkway. He’s wearing A TINY LIME-GREEN BATHING SUIT. He loathes beaches. A couple of boys turn laconically and watch him. Ripley puts on his shoes and scurries to the sea. He feels ridiculous, his skin alabaster against the brown bodies. Finally, the shame is too great and he pulls off his shoes and dashes to the water, where he luxuriates in the coolness of it before wading out of the sea, and walking straight up to Dickie.

RIPLEY – Dickie Greenleaf?   (Dickie squints at Ripley, who holds his shoes, lamely)

DICKIE  – Who’s this?

RIPLEY  –  It’s Tom. Tom Ripley. We were at Princeton together.

DICKIE  –  Okay. (he sits up)  And did we know each other?

RIPLEY  –  Well, I knew you, so I suppose you must have known me.

DICKIE  (to Marge)  –  Princeton is like a fog, America’s like a fog  (…to Ripley)   This is Marge Sherwood. Tom – sorry, what was it?

RIPLEY  –  Ripley. Hullo. How do you do.

MARGE  –  How do you do.

DICKIE  –  What are you doing in Mongi?

RIPLEY  –  Nothing. Nothing much. Passing through.

DICKIE (finds this idea absurd)  –  Passing through! You’re so white. Did you ever see a guy so white, Marge? Gray, actually.

RIPLEY  –  It’s just an undercoat    (Marge laughs)

DICKIE  –  Say again?

RIPLEY  –  You know, a primer.

DICKIE  –  That’s funny. (He shares some intimacy with Marge, makes her laugh. Ripley stands as they wrestle around him. Marge looks up)

MARGE  –  You should come and have lunch with us, before you go – Dickie?

DICKIE  –  Sure. Any time.

MARGE  –  And be careful in the sun. Your gray’s in danger of turning a little pink.

RIPLEY  –  Thanks. Well, a coincidence.

DICKIE Can you mix a martini?

RIPLEY (hesitant) Sure.

MARGE (going inside) I’ll do it. I make a fabulous martini.

DICKIE Everybody should have one talent.     (to Ripley)  What’s yours?

RIPLEY (without a beat) Forging signatures. Telling lies. Impersonating practically anybody.

DICKIE (enjoying this banter) That’s three. Nobody should have more than one talent. Okay, do an impression.

RIPLEY Now? Okay. Wait a minute. Talent – (his voice ages, his face changes) The only talent my son has is for cashing his allowance.

DICKIE (absolutely thrown) What? What’s this?

RIPLEY I like to sail, believe me, I love to sail! Instead I make boats and other people sail them.

DICKIE (incredibly impressed) Stop! It’s too much! You’re making all the hairs on my neck stand up!

RIPLEY (relishing it) Jazz, let’s face it, it’s just an insolent noise.

DICKIE I feel like he’s here. Horrible. Like the old bastard is here right now! That’s brilliant! How do you know him?

RIPLEY I met him in New York.

DICKIE Marge! You’ve got to hear this!

MARGE (returning with the drinks) What? What?

DICKIE Meet my father, Herbert Richard Greenleaf 1st.

RIPLEY Pleasure to meet you, Dickie’s made a fine catch. I know Emily thinks so.

MARGE What’s going on?

DICKIE Uncanny!

MARGE I don’t get it.

RIPLEY Could you ever conceive of going there, Tom, and bringing him back?


RIPLEY I’d pay you. If you would go to Italy and persuade my son to come home. I’d pay you $1000.

(INT/EXT. MONGIBELLO CHURCH AND SQUARE. DUSK…  A christening is over and now the whole village is pouring out of Church for the Passeggiata in Sunday best. Girls arm in arm parade. Boys arm in arm evaluate. New babies are compared and fussed over. Old people smoke, talk, shrug. Dickie is walking with Ripley, seething about his father’s scheming)

DICKIE I’m never going back. To actually hire somebody to come all the way here to drag me back home – got to be insane, hasn’t he?

(SILVANA comes out of church arm in arm with a man, her fiancee, as part of a foursome which includes Dickie’s pal FAUSTO. Silvana’s eyes flick towards Dickie, otherwise there’s no acknowledgement as they all greet each other. Dickie introduces Tom, then they move on)

DICKIE (cont’d) I’m never going back!

RIPLEY No, I think your mother, her illness –

DICKIE It’s got nothing to do with my mother!

RIPLEY (volcanic)  The funny thing – I’m not pretending to be somebody else and you are. I’m absolutely honest with you. I’ve told you my feelings. But you, first of all I know there’s something – that evening when we played chess, for instance, it was obvious –

DICKIE (incredulous)  What evening?

RIPLEY  Sure – I know, that’s too dangerous for you, fair enough, hey! we’re brothers, fine, then you do this sordid thing with Marge, fucking her on the boat while we all have to listen, which was excruciating, frankly, plus you follow your cock around like a – and now you’re getting married! I’m bewildered, forgive me…you’re lying to Marge then getting married to her, you’re knocking up Silvana, you’ve got to play sax, you’ve got to play drums, which is it, Dickie, what do you really play? Dickie, furious, gets up, and lurches towards Ripley.

DICKIE   (attacking him, administering tiny slaps as punctuation to his tirade)  Who are you – some imposter, some third class mooch – who are you to tell me anything? Actually, I really really really don’t want to be on this boat with you, I can’t move without you moving, which is exactly how it feels and it gives me the creeps. (he goes to rev up the engine) I can’t move without – «Dickie, Dickie, Dickie» – like a little girl. You give me the –


RIPLEY  Shut up! Just shut up! Just shut up! The boat slows as Dickie releases the tiller. Dickie looks up at Ripley wearily and slides onto his back.

DICKIE  For God’s sake.

(Ripley, shocked at himself, goes to Dickie, rocking the boat, catches him up, then is horrified to see Dickie’s face, apparently unmarked, SUDDENLY SPLIT OPEN, a line of blood and then a peeling like a fruit bursting. Ripley’s appalled. A terrible roar issues from Dickie as he launches himself at Ripley)

DICKIE (cont’d)      I’ll kill you!

(Ripley finds himself pushing him away, picking up the oar, kicking off Dickie’s hand around his ankle. The boat is rocking and swerving crazily as Dickie falls against the tiller. Ripley almost loses his balance. His glasses come off. They struggle, locked together in a life or death wrestle to get control of the oar. Dickie’s blinded by his own blood, loses his grip. Ripley, terrified, hits Dickie again and again, the oar like a carpet-beater banging down flat, blood on the blade, blood on Ripley, until he’s on his knees, heaving for breath, letting his arm drop, then realizing, disgusted, that he’s let it rest in a pool of blood. He starts to sob, sprawls there, sobbing, next to Dickie, horrified by what he’s done. Nobody’s in sight. The boat rocks, gently, the sun sparkling indifferently on the waves. Ripley lies by Dickie in the bottom of the boat, in the embrace he’s always wanted. The pretty blue-and-white boat rocks peacefully. The sea calms)

(INT. OPERA HOUSE, FOYER. NIGHT. Ripley heads past the Beautiful People on his hunt for the Men’s Room, and walks straight into a young and cultured Englishman. They greet each other and suddenly MARGE is beside them)

MARGE (as if she’s seen a ghost)  Oh my God. Tom.

RIPLEY  Marge, how are you? What are you doing in Rome?

MARGE   Is he here? Are you with Dickie?

RIPLEY  No.     (to Smith-Kingsley)   Hello, I’m Tom Ripley.

PETER  Peter Smith-Kingsley. I’ve heard about you, of course – from Marge, and Dickie.

MARGE   (works out what’s strange)  No glasses. He fishes out the glasses.

RIPLEY   (to Peter)  Ditto.

PETER  Where are you hiding him? He’s impossible, isn’t he?

MARGE  Is he really not here?

RIPLEY  Marge, you know Dickie has ‘I hate Opera’ tattooed on his chest.

MARGE  You were going to Venice.

PETER  Yes, what happened? I heard you were desperate to come. I was looking forward to rowing you around.

RIPLEY   I am. I really am. And I’ve been travelling. I just can’t seem to get that far north.

PETER  Well hurry, before we sink. (reaches into his jacket) Should I give you my telephone number in Venice?

RIPLEY  Thanks.

(The INTERVAL BELL’S ringing. Peter hands over his card to Ripley, sees Meredith)

PETER  Look there’s Meredith thingy – who’s that, Marge? – they’re in textiles… Meredith – (embarrassed at not remembering) God, how awful, I’ve spent Christmas in her house…!

MARGE  I don’t know her.     (to Ripley) He hasn’t called, he’s hardly written, just these cryptic notes. You don’t just dump people.

(The last INTERVAL BELL. There’s a mini-stampede to return)

PETER  Will we see you later?

RIPLEY   I can’t later.

PETER  And tomorrow?

RIPLEY  Tomorrow’s possible. Do you know Dinelli’s? Piazza di Spagna?

PETER  I know the Piazza di Spagna. What time?

RIPLEY  Ten thirty?

PETER  We’ll be there.

RIPLEY  Okay. Marge, see you tomorrow.   (to Peter) It’s really good to meet you.

(INT. BOX, OPERA HOUSE. NIGHT. Ripley goes straight to Meredith and grabs her)

RIPLEY Let’s go.

MEREDITH  I thought you were enjoying yourself?

RIPLEY  Let’s take a Carozza and look at the moon.

MEREDITH  You’re crazy! It’s freezing out there. He’s looking past her, where a mirror reflects Marge wading through the audience, Peter’s elegant head getting dangerously near as they approach their seats.

RIPLEY   C’mon, I need to talk to you. Just the two of us.

FREDDIE  (he starts to explore)  Are you living here?  (Now he starts to hammer a nasty boogie-woogie on the piano)

RIPLEY  (returning, flinching)  No. No, I’m staying here for a few days, in Rome. That’s a new piano, so you prob –

FREDDIE  (O/S)  Did this place come furnished? It doesn’t look like Dickie. Horrible isn’t it? – so bourgeois. Now he’s poking at the Hadrian bust.

RIPLEY  You should watch that!

FREDDIE  In fact the only thing which looks like Dickie is you.

RIPLEY  Hardly.

FREDDIE  Have you done something to your hair? Ripley starts to smile, his eyes darting around the room.

RIPLEY  Freddie, do you have something to say?

FREDDIE  What? I think I’m saying it. Something’s going on. He’s either converted to Christianity – or to something else.

RIPLEY  I suggest you ask Dickie that yourself. Otello’s is on delle Croce, just off the Corso.

FREDDIE  Is it on «delle Croce, just off the Corso»? You’re a quick study, aren’t you? Last time you didn’t know your ass from your elbow, now you’re giving me directions. That’s not fair, you probably do know your ass from your elbow. I’ll see you.

(AND HE’S GONE. Ripley shuts the door, smooths the silk runner on the table where Freddie’s hand had rucked it. He goes back to the door, opens it and looks over the rail)

MACCARRON  Did you know at Princeton Dickie Greenleaf half- killed a boy?  At a party. Over some girl. He kicked the kid several times in the head. Put him in the hospital. The boy had a wire fixed in his jaw. Why do you think Dickie’s father sent him to Europe in the first place? The Rome Police didn’t think to ask Mr Greenleaf.  Nor did they think to check whether a Thomas Ripley had ever been a student at Princeton University. I turned up a Tom Ripley who’d been a piano tuner in the music department.

You see – in America we’re taught to check a fact before it becomes a fact. We’re taught to nose around when a girl drowns herself, find out if that girl was pregnant, find out if Dickie had an embarrassment there.  Mr Greenleaf appreciates your loyalty. He really does. Marge, she’s got a hundred theories, but there are a few things she doesn’t know. We hope she never knows.

RIPLEY  I hope she never knows.

MACCARRON  Three different people saw Dickie get into Freddie’s car. One man who won’t identify himself because he was jumping someone else’s wife at the time saw Dickie removing license plates from a red sports car. The Police know about this man because he happens to be a policeman.

I found these in the basement of Dickie’s apartment. They belonged to Freddie’s car. Mr Greenleaf has asked me to lose them in the canal this evening. 

Mr Greenleaf also feels there was a silent promise in Dickie’s letter to you which he intends to honor. He intends to transfer a good part of Dickie’s income from his trust into your name.

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