Sunday, April 18, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

The first time I saw "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999), I was disappointed.

And that was even before I learned that the original complete title was "The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley."

But over the years, as I have seen it many, many times on TV, it has become one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Like "The Way We Were" (1973), which I actually walked out of in disgust, but now I cannot help but watch every time it appears on the box, "Ripley" falls into that large category we can call Not a Great Movie By Any Stretch, But Boy Do I Ever Enjoy Watching it.

Look at the list of Oscar winners involved in "Ripley."

Anthony Minghella, Director (The English Patient); Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting); Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love); Cate Blanchett (The Aviator) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote.)

An that's not even counting Jude Law, who as Dickie Greenleaf almost stole the movie entirely. Except, of course, for Hoffman's wonderful turn as the too-clever-for-his-own-good-by-a-half Freddie Miles.

What keeps drawing me back to this schlock?

Well, the fact that much of it is filmed in Italy doesn't hurt as I have spent a lot of time over the last 15 years there, so just seeing many of those locations and hearing the language sends me back vicariously.

The central character, Tom Ripley, makes up much of his life as he goes along, following always some curious inner script.

Without copping to murder or any other crimes, I can identify with that.

Ripley, of course, is the creation of the great writer, Patricia Highsmith, who continued Ripley's lunatic adventures in a few other novels.

"Ripley's Game" (2002), with John Malkovich as an adult and still treacherous conniver, is not nearly as good a flick, but two things make it thoroughly watchable.

The first, of course, is Malkovich, who could make reading a Wikepedia entry on practically anything watchable.

And the second is the Palladian mansion used as Ripley's house in the movie. It's worth the price of the rental just to take an inside look at one of the great designs by one of the world's greatest architects.

And speaking of Highsmith...

Last night, TCM ran the movie version of her book, "Strangers on a Train" (1951), a wonderful classic from Alfred Hitchcock.

This terrific film, includes among other great moments, Hitch getting on a train carrying a bass fiddle. Hahahaha!

Farley Granger and Robert Walker, both huge stars at the time had curiously shortened careers.

Walker, because he died at such a young age. He was an alcoholic, and a combination of medicines provided by his shrink killed him.

Granger, because, although he has continued to work sporadically in films and TV all his life, he really hated Hollywood and bolted for New York, where he enjoyed working for some years on stage.

Granger was married for a short while to Shelley Winters.

I had the pleasure of spending an hour on the telephone with Shelley Winters, broadcasting in 1983. She told me that she called him "Farfel," which is basically matzoh crushed up into little pieces for baking or for a breakfast cereal. When I was a kid, who knew from Corn Flakes? I practically lived on farfel until my obsession with kosher hot dogs kicked in.

"Strangers on a Train," by the way, is currently being re-made.


It's only perfect as is.