The American Friend

cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Nicholas Ray, and Sam Fuller

director: Wim Wenders

126 minutes (15) 1977
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail
[released 23 June]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens

In Hamburg, Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) deals in paintings done by Derwatt (Nicholas Ray). As Derwatt is thought to be dead, the paintings are worth more. Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz), a framemaker, snubs Ripley at an auction because of this sharp practice. Meanwhile, mafia boss Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain) has asked Ripley if he knows a non-criminal who would carry out a couple of contract killings. In return for the slight, Ripley suggests Jonathan, whom he also knows has terminal leukaemia…
The American Friend is based, fairly loosely, on Patricia Highsmith’s novel Ripley’s Game (just remade under its original title by Liliana Cavani, starring John Malkovich, and playing in British cinemas as I write this). Highsmith didn’t like Wenders’ take on her novel, and you can see why: it is much more Wenders than Highsmith. There are references to western rock music, and Wenders gets in his homages by casting fellow directors Ray, Sam Fuller and Jean Eustache in small roles. Wenders as a filmmaker will forever have a slow metabolism. The American Friend is a slow-burner, but it does build up to some well-crafted action scenes, no doubt influenced by Fuller. This wasn’t Wenders’ first feature not in black and white, but Robby Muller’s photography goes for strong, bold colours. Also, the fact that most of the dialogue is in English, helped The American Friend pick up a considerable cult following, especially in the US. It’s interesting to watch it now, on the other side of Wenders’ two mid-1980s triumphs with Paris, Texas and Wings Of Desire, and wonder how much talent should have gone awry so drastically since then.
Anchor Bay’s DVD is mastered from a NTSC source, hence the running time matching that of the cinema print. It has an anamorphic transfer in the 1.85:1 ratio. The soundtrack is the original blend of English and German, available in the original mono and remixed into Dolby digital 5.1 (though not so you’d notice). Disc extras: director’s commentary, deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary, trailer, and a stills gallery.