The American Friend. 1977
A film looking for a plot and an audience. I first saw it in its initial release in 1977 at the Film Forum (where else) and was not whisked away by its obtuseness no matter how colorful and strange it all is. By way of a story it’s based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith and uses her famous character Tom Ripley who has had about as many lives on film as a cat.
The most memorable and important appearance of him was in “Purple Noon” and some years later in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. In this film Ripley is played by Dennis Hopper who is not as crazy as he usually was in films but he's still dangerous in his cowboy hat, a lonesome cowboy.
Ripley/Hopper dabbles in art dealing and other schemes a little bit more dangerous than selling forged insipid paintings by a dead blue chip painter that are painted and is played by the eye patched exiled director Nicholas Ray who is holed up in his Soho late 70's loft, which I think was actually Ray’s home.
The film which was directed by Wim Wenders focuses on the soulful and wonderful Bruno Ganz who is a picture framer in Hamburg and is dying of a strange blood disease (and I thought Cologne was dismal) who has a jittery wife and a sweet boy child. One day Gérard Blain who plays a gangster and brings references from the French New Wave to this film of the German New Wave enters the shop and out of the blue wants to hire Ganz to murder some other gangsters and this is blurry and sketchy at best. Blain offers Ganz a lot of money and a visit to the American Hospital in Paris for a through medical examination in return for his taking on this job. I'm not making this up.
Ganz takes the bait (he wants to leave his wife and child money for security after he dies) and there are two killer thriller sequences on the metro and a speeding railway train that commands attention but there are also deadly patches of incoherence plot twists and threads that go nowhere. This is also a film about films and movie making and several directors make appearances all playing criminals including the already noted Nicholas Ray and Gerard Blain and also Daniel Schmid, Jean Eustache and most memorably Sam Fuller with his ever present stogie stuck in his mouth playing a creepy pornographer. The film is simply gorgeous to look at with color drenched cinematography by the great Robby Muller, and is presented in a terrific transfer by Criterion which makes it if nothing else a wonderful visual feast but definitely not for everyone’s taste.