The American Friend
|The American Friend|
(Der amerikanische Freund)
German film poster
|Directed by||Wim Wenders|
|Produced by||Wim Wenders|
|Written by||Wim Wenders|
|Based on||Ripley's Game|
by Patricia Highsmith
|Music by||Jürgen Knieper|
|Edited by||Peter Przygodda|
|Distributed by||Filmverlag der Autoren|
|26 March 1977 (Cannes)|
24 June 1977 (Berlin)
|Budget||3 million DEM|
The American Friend (German: Der amerikanische Freund) is a 1977 neo-noir film by Wim Wenders, adapted from the novel Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith. The film features Dennis Hopper as career criminal Tom Ripley and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmermann, a terminally ill picture framer whom Ripley coerces into becoming an assassin. The film uses an unusual, "natural" language concept, meaning that Zimmermann speaks German with his family and his doctor, but English with Ripley and whilst visiting Paris.
Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) is a wealthy American living in Hamburg, Germany. He is involved in an artwork forgery scheme, in which he appears at auctions to bid on forged paintings produced by an accomplice and artificially drives up the price. At one of these auctions, he is introduced to Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz), a picture framer who is dying of leukemia. Zimmermann refuses to shake Ripley's hand when introduced, coldly saying "I've heard of you" before walking away.
A French criminal named Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) asks Ripley to murder a rival gangster. Ripley declines, but in order to get even for Zimmermann's slight, suggests Minot use Zimmermann for the job. Ripley spreads rumors that Zimmerman's illness has become suddenly far more serious. Minot offers Zimmerman a great deal of money to kill the gangster. Zimmermann initially turns Minot down, but becomes greatly distressed by the thought that he may not have long to live and wants to provide for his wife and son. He agrees with Minot to come to France for a second medical opinion. Minot arranges to have the results falsified to make Zimmermann expect the worst. Zimmermann agrees to shoot the gangster in a Paris Métro station. Ripley visits Zimmermann in his shop before and after the shooting to get a picture framed. Zimmerman is unaware of Ripley's involvement in the murder of the gangster, and the two begin to form a bond.
Minot visits Ripley again to report his satisfaction with Zimmermann's performance. Ripley, who has grown to like Zimmerman, is appalled when Minot says he plans to have him murder another rival gangster, this time on a speeding train using a garrote. Before Zimmermann can complete the murder, the bodyguard of the second target catches Zimmermann. Ripley appears on the train and overpowers him. Both Zimmermann and Ripley execute the target as well as a bodyguard. Ripley and Zimmermann meet outside and Ripley confesses to his role in suggesting him to Minot, and declines Zimmermann's suggestion to keep half of the money for the second hit. Ripley advises Zimmermann to tell Minot that he did the job on the train alone. Back home, Zimmermann argues with his wife, Marianne, who does not believe his stories of being paid to undergo experimental treatments.
Zimmermann has been receiving mysterious phone calls and suspects the Mafia is trying to find him. His fears grow worse when Minot tells him that his own flat was recently bombed. Ripley picks up Zimmermann and they drive to his mansion to wait for the assassins Ripley expects to appear. Ripley and Zimmermann ambush and kill the assassins. Ripley piles their bodies into the ambulance in which they arrived. Before he and Zimmermann can leave to dispose of the bodies, Marianne appears and tells Zimmermann that he was deceived by the altered medical reports. Ripley explains that she and her husband can settle matters later, but now they need to dispose of the bodies. They drive to the sea, Ripley in the ambulance and Marianne driving her husband in their car. On an isolated beach, Ripley douses the ambulance with gasoline and sets fire to it. Watching him, Zimmerman drives away with Marianne, abandoning Ripley. Moments later, he has an unexplained medical attack and dies at the side of the road. Ripley watches from the beach and says: "We made it anyway, Jonathan. Be careful."
- Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley
- Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmermann
- Lisa Kreuzer as Marianne Zimmermann
- Gérard Blain as Raoul Minot
- Nicholas Ray as "Derwatt"
- Samuel Fuller as The American
- Peter Lilienthal as Marcangelo
- Daniel Schmid as Igraham
- Jean Eustache as Friendly Man
- Sandy Whitelaw as Doctor
- Lou Castel as Rodolphe
- Andreas Dedecke as Daniel
- David Blue as Allan Winter
Wenders was a fan of Patricia Highsmith and wanted to adapt one of her novels to film, especially The Tremor of Forgery or The Cry of the Owl. When he learned that the rights to these novels and Highsmith's other novels had been sold, he met with her and she offered him the unpublished manuscript of Ripley's Game, which was published in 1974. Wenders also uses elements of Ripley Under Ground, though he did not have the rights to do so.
Wenders wanted to cast John Cassavetes as Ripley, who declined and suggested Dennis Hopper for the part. After casting Hopper, an experienced director, Wenders decided to cast directors in all of the gangster roles, including Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller. Wenders disliked the title Ripley's Game and shot the film under the title Framed. He also considered the title Rule Without Exception. He credits Hopper with suggesting the title The American Friend.
American popular music is heard at several points in the film. Ripley quotes the song "Ballad of Easy Rider" from Easy Rider, a film that Hopper starred in and directed. He later quotes from Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" and "I Pity the Poor Immigrant." Jonathan Zimmermann plays or sings songs by The Kinks, "Too Much on My Mind" and "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl" in his shop. Summer in the City, the first full-length feature film from Wenders, was dedicated to The Kinks. Ripley mentions to Jonathan that he's "bringing the Beatles back to Hamburg," and Jonathan quotes their song "Drive My Car" later in the film.
In A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir, David N. Meyer says: "Though the plot may not make a whole lot of sense the first time around — and the thick European accents of a couple of the major actors doesn't help — The American Friend is worth the effort. Few movies from any era or genre offer such rich characters, realistic human relationships, gripping action sequences, or sly humor."  In Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir, Barry Gifford writes, "Of all the 'homage' films made since the 1940s and '50s meant to evoke noir, The American Friend succeeds more than most because of the spaces, the sputters, and sudden shifts of energy that allow the characters to achieve veracity."
The film was entered into the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. It currently holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Critics Consensus reads "The American Friend is a slow burning existential thriller that does justice to the Patricia Highsmith source novel."  Roger Ebert gave the film three stars (out of four), writing: "[Wenders] challenges us to admit that we watch (and read) thrillers as much for atmosphere as for plot. And then he gives us so much atmosphere we're almost swimming in it." David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews had a more mixed reaction, calling the film "occasionally thrilling" and praising "Ganz's subtle, thoroughly compelling performance" but criticizing what he feels to be a "disastrous final half hour."
Highsmith initially disliked the film but later changed her mind. Joan Schenkar's biography The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith quotes Wenders: "I was really happy with the picture and couldn't wait to have Patricia see it. But then, to my great disappointment, she was quite disturbed by it, didn't conceal that either and didn't have anything good to say about it after the screening. I left utterly frustrated. Months later, I got a letter from her. She said she had seen the film a second time, this time in a public screening on the Champs-Élysées during a visit in Paris. And she had much better feelings about it now. ... And she was full of praise for Dennis Hopper, too, whom she had flat-out rejected the first time. She now wrote that my film had captured the essence of that Ripley character better than any other films. You can guess how relieved I was!" A 1988 Highsmith interview with Gerald Peary notes that she praised the film's "stylishness" and that "she thinks the scenes on the train are terrific."
- List of submissions to the 50th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film
- List of German submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
- Ripley's Game (a remake of this film)
- "The American Friend" (PDF). Wim Wenders Stiftung. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
- Schenkar, page 485
- The American Friend DVD - Commentary by Wim Wenders, Dennis Hopper - Starz / Anchor Bay, 2003
- David N. Meyer (1998). A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir on Video. Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-79067-X.
- Barry Gifford, Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir, University Press of Mississippi, December 2000, p. 8, ISBN 978-1-57806-290-4
- "Festival de Cannes: The American Friend". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- The American Friend - Trailers - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes
- The American Friend :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews
- Anchor Bay's Wim Wenders Collection - Reviews by David Nusair
- Schenkar, page 485-6
- Gerald Peary, "Patricia Highsmith", Sight and Sound, Spring 1988, Vol.75, No.2, pp.104-105, accessed 8 December 2015
- Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Schenkar, Joan. The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith. St. Martin's Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-312-30375-4