Ranking Mr. Ripley’s Speedos, From Alain Delon to Andrew Scott

The schemes of Patricia Highsmith’s murderous demon twink Tom Ripley have been adapted for screens several times since she first published The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1955. Technically, more men have played Ripley than have played James Bond, but the most notable instances remain Alain Delon in the 1960 French adaption Purple Noon, Matt Damon in the 1999 Hollywood classic The Talented Mr. Ripley, and as of this week, Andrew Scott in Netflix’s gorgeous new series Ripley.

Those three interpretations of the character vary greatly, yet some facets of his story remain the same. No matter who is playing him, Thomas Ripley is going to lie, he’s going to murder, and he is absolutely going to wear a teeny, tiny swimsuit on some remote Italian beach. Bond has his tuxedo, but Ripley has his speedo.

Like the character, the origins of the swimsuit are literary. In her first Ripley novel, Highsmith describes them as “a black-and-yellow thing hardly bigger than a G-string,” and notes that Ripley “hated bathing suits,” especially this “revealing” one in particular. The character Marge (played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the ’99 version, and Dakota Fanning in the Netflix version) seems to like them. She suggests Tom keep them on when they go up for a martini after a day at the beach. Though, maybe she’s teasing him. Later in the book, Tom is ashamed after he’s caught checking out a beach acrobat in his own “g-string.” (We’ll have to take Highsmith’s word that the male g-string was truly that common on 1950s Italian shores).

Though never quite a g-string, the embarrassingly “revealing” swimsuit has made its way into all three major adaptations of the book, and in its own way the look’s on-screen treatment provides insight into each project’s specific take on the character. Here, a ranked history of Thomas Ripley’s speedos.

3. Purple Noon

Unlike future versions, Alain Delon’s Ripley comes off less awkward and simply a bit naive and mildly nervous. Then again, it’s hard to fully convey an aloof outcast when you look like Alain Delon. Though Highsmith was always as ambivalent about the character’s sexuality as she was her own, this version is also intentionally the least gay. It was the ’60s after all. Ripley is made into something of a lady’s man, and whatever queer subtext there is between him and Dickie Greenleaf is erased in favor of an outright romance with Marge.

So it follows that this Ripley swimsuit is not only the largest but also the least narratively potent. It’s worn matter of factly with no hint the character is ashamed to wear it. It looks nice, but without any other context, we’d assume this was what all men wore for their beach scenes in 1960s French cinema.

Side note if this is your first exposure to Delon: yes, he is intensely gorgeous, but save yourself and don’t look up his political opinion, what he may or may not have done with the French President’s wife in 1969, and certainly don’t look up why the French police raided his home last month. Just let him exist as a gorgeous little specter in your mind.

2. Ripley

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Steven Zaillian’s Ripley gives us the on-screen origin of the speedo, turning a few sentences in the book into an entire scene in which the character buys it because he forgot to pack any other option. Like in the book, it’s absolutely clear the character hates wearing it. It must have been an easy scene for Andrew Scott to play because he hated wearing it too. “I didn’t love being in the Speedos,” Scott told Decider. “But anyway, the audience will just have to understand that the horror will all be over pretty quickly. So not to, not to worry too much.”

That attitude certainly fits in with Scott’s overall portrayal of Ripley. This version doesn’t especially seem to enjoy doing the things he has to do —whether that’s wearing swim briefs or outright murder— but more resigned to the fact that this is his only path to a better life. He’s distant and aloof, and terrified of being exposed either metaphorically or, in this case, figuratively.

As for the swimsuit itself? Well, it’s a tacky little thing in a garish pattern (its color obscured by the show’s use of black and white) with a built-in belt-lette. Someone with a bit more confidence and intentionality could pull it off, but all together this comes off as a more embarrassing “forced to wear a speedo” scene than even Ben Stiller in Meet The Parents.

1. The Talented Mr. Ripley

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Even with the new entry in the cannon, Anthony Minghella’s film remains the queerest. Matt Damon’s Ripley perfectly illustrates the archetype of a shy twink realizing he’s a sexually viable being capable of unimaginable evils. That’s a tale as old as time, and one that plays out every time a shy theater club kid gets accepted into NYU and goes out to Hell’s Kitchen for the first time.

Damon stumbles onto the screen in his lime green briefs as wobbly as a newborn giraffe, but you’re also left with the impression that this version of Ripley doesn’t totally hate his swimsuit. In the film, we don’t see him purchasing the item, but you kind of figure he might have even specifically picked it over other options. A calculated sartorial step towards the man he wants to be instead of the result of low stock at the beach store. You get the sense that this version sort of enjoys his evil exploits more than the others. Maybe any swimsuit awkwardness is less about his body being revealed, and more about revealing his true character.

Whatever the case, it remains perhaps cinema’s most famous speedo, and certainly the best version Ripley has worn.

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