The American Friend  

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The American Friend (German: Der Amerikanische Freund) is a 1977 film by Wim Wenders, loosely adapted from the novel Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith. The film is of the neo-noir genre, and 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 source novel Ripley's Game (1974) was cinematically adapted a second time as Ripley's Game (2002).


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 to drive 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, 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 suddenly worsened. 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 to go to France with Minot 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. Zimmermann is unaware of Ripley's involvement in the murder plot, 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 target's bodyguard catches him. Ripley appears on the train and overpowers him. Zimmermann and Ripley execute the target and the bodyguard. They meet outside and Ripley confesses to suggesting him to Minot, and declines Zimmermann's suggestion to keep half the money for the second hit. Ripley asks 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 arrives and tells Zimmermann that the French medical reports are fake. 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. Zimmermann drives away with Marianne, abandoning Ripley. Moments later, he dies at the wheel; Marianne pulls the emergency brake and survives. At the beach, Ripley says to himself, "We made it anyway, Jonathan. Be careful."


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