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Wednesday July 17th 2024

Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) | 1977

Wim Wenders films Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game as a Hitchcockian thriller, with Dennis Hopper taking on the mantle of shady wheeler-dealer Tom Ripley, who turns the essentially decent picture framer Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) into a contract killer. The book's French setting, Fontainebleau, is shifted to the scuzzy Harbour area of Hamburg, Germany.

A few miles west of downtown Hamburg on the Blankenese road, you' ll find Ripley's grand, if dilapidated, mansion where shifty French crook Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) calls to hire a killer.

It’s Saulenvilla, Elbchaussee 186, overlooking the riverside suburb of Ovelgonne, high above the north bank of the Elbe.

Back in Hamburg proper, you can see Zimmerman's picture-framing shop – actually a hat shop – it’s Langer Strasse 22, on the corner of Kleine Pinnes just to the south of the S-bahn Reeperbahn Station near to the sleazy St Pauli district.

A little to the east on the corner of Davidstrasse and the waterside road of St Pauli-Hafenstrasse, near to the old St Pauli Fishmarkt, is Zimmerman's waterfront apartment.

And it's on Hamburg's U-bahn railway that Minot makes his proposition to Zimmerman, on the stretch from St Pauli at the eastern end of the Reeperbahn along the Elbe waterfront to Rodingsmarkt in the Altstadt.

Convinced he's suffering from a terminal blood disease, Zimmerman's increasingly panicky visits to the doctor take him down the seemingly endless escalators (there's now a life/elevator) to the oppressive Old St Pauli-Elbtunnel (a newer motorway tunnel a couple of miles to the west was completed in 1974).

Built between 1907 and 1911, to relieve the pressure on the Elbe ferry to the docks of Steinwerder, the twin tunnels are not for claustrophobes. 490 yards long, the carriageways are a mere six feet wide. They're closed at night and on Sundays, but the rest of the time there's free entry (on foot, vehicles pay a toll).

The funfair Zimmerman takes his family to is the Hamburger Dom, a huge goose fair held annually in November-December in the Heiligengeistfeld, also in the St Pauli district.

Zimmerman is taken to Paris for a second opinion on his condition. The hospital where he undergoes tests is the American Hospital, 63 boulevard Victor Hugo, Neuilly-sur-Seine, northwest Paris (métro: Anatole France).

Convinced he's on the way out, Zimmerman agrees to carry out a hit on the Paris Métro as his victim changes trains at Étoile. He actually manages to complete the task one station further west on the RER 'A' line, on an escalator at La Défense Station, west of the city centre.

His second assignment is to whack the mob boss 'The American’ (Samuel Fuller – a cameo by one of several movie directors), on the no-longer operating Munich-Hamburg Express, where Ripley turns up to help out. The flight of steps down which The American finally takes a tumble are further away from Saulenvilla than they appear in the film, toward the waterfront.

The opening scene, which was filmed outside 388 West Broadway, between Spring Street and Broome Street in New York, features another cameo, from veteran movie-maker Nicholas Ray, who directed Hopper alongside James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.