Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gerard Blain, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Jean Eustache, Peter Lilientha, Daniel Schmid, Rudolf Schundler, Sandy Whitelaw, Lou Castel
Written by: Wim Wenders, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith
Directed by: Wim Wenders
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 127
Date: 06/24/1977

The American Friend (1977)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ripley's Believe It or Not

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The American Friend is one of Wim Wenders' best films, and one of the best adaptations of a Patricia Highsmith's novel. Based on the 1974 novel Ripley's Game, the movie stars Dennis Hopper as a cowboy-hat wearing Ripley, who is currently selling artwork by supposedly "dead" painters. But the story's main character is actually a terminally ill art framer, Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz), who is pegged as the perfect guy to pull off a hit in exchange for a free doctor visit. His murder, in the Paris subway, is as quietly tense and as knuckle-biting as they come. He's, of course, asked to perform a second murder on a train, and Ripley unexpectedly shows up to help.

Wenders is less concerned with thrills here, and dives straight into Highsmith's world of sociopaths with adoring, artistic patience. There's a lot of detail here, and a lot of time to admire it. Two great directors, Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller, make guest appearances, as an art forger and as someone connected to the first victim, respectively. Highsmith's novel was adapted again in 2002, with John Malkovich.

The Criterion Collection released a new Blu-ray for 2016, mastered in 4K and 5.1 Dolby stereo under the supervision of Wenders; it looks and feels gloriously moody. It comes with a wonderful commentary track by Wenders and Hopper, recorded back in 2002 for the Anchor Bay release. There are new interviews with Wenders and Ganz, deleted scenes, and a trailer. Francine Prose provides the liner notes essay.

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